Visual Vernacular

Vernacular Typography

A Vernacular is the native language or native dialect of a specific population, as opposed to a language of wider communication that is not native to the population. If something is described as being “in the vernacular”, it means that the thing being described possesses the characteristics belonging to a specific language. In other words something might be described as being very French or definitely Chinese because of the characteristics it holds. By the same token, something might be in the vernacular of “the street”, of the “nobility” or “rural”, etc.

A Visual Vernacular is a “look” that is associated with or “native” to a particular time, place, event or group. It characterizes the image that comes to mind when referring to any one of these specific things, a visual reference to zeitgeist. Because of this capability to communicate more than simply use interesting combinations of color, pattern or image, visual vernacular instead has the power to represent deeper meaning alluding to style, belief systems, geographic region, time period, or cultural directions, to name a few. It is, in fact, a language all its own.

An example of the use of Visual Vernacular is the design of the book SteamPunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer. The design is composed of a combination of images, typeface choices, decorative elements and other symbols that, when seen together, reference a specific visual language of design—a vernacular.

Typographic Vernacular Assignment

With this assignment the main focus is on your use of typography in a way that emphasizes, illustrates and communicates the zeitgeist of your chosen topic.  Create this contextual meaning through use of appropriate visual vernacular. (ie. imitate as closely as possible the typographic look of your chosen topic).

Pick Any Two of the five paragraphs (numbered below) and set their information in a visual vernacular that accurately represents it by giving the words an appropriate stylistic/visual context.

You will first need to research your topic areas to get an in-depth understanding of the “look” that is associated with them. (colors, patterns, stylistic treatments, type treatments, etc.) Present this information as a book cover dust jacket. The actual size is should fit around an actual book of your choice.

You may edit and/or divide the information up in any way that suits your dust jacket design. That means you should make use of each of the panels on a jacket; the front, back, spine, and inside front and back.

Pay close attention to grouping and hierarchy. You will need to add basic book information such as author, title and publishing company in addition to the copy supplied below for both of your designs. You may also add any additional information that further enhances your design solution.

Although you may add an illustration or other form of graphic, this is primarily a typographic design assignment where the character of the content of the book is conveyed by your application of vernacular treatment to the typographic layouts.

The final layout will also be wrapped around a book and photographed in the studio.


1. Magic show or Illusionist advertisements of the early part of the 20th century.

Chapeaugraphy, occasionally anglicized to chapography, is a panhandling trick in which a ring-shaped piece of felt is manipulated to look like various types of hats. The act originated in 1618 with Parisian street performer Tabarin, the most famous of the charlatans who combined a French version of commedia dell’arte with a quack medicine show.

In the 1870s another French comedian, Monsieur Fusier, revived the act and managed 15 hat-twisting styles in his act.

Although rarely seen today, it was once featured in an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1985, as performed by magician Harry Anderson.


2. The Italian Renaissance

Durante degli Alighieri, (May/June c.1265 – September 14, 1321), commonly known as Dante Alighieri, was a Florentine poet of the Middle Ages. His central work, the Divina Commedia (originally called “Commedia” and later called “Divina” (divine) by Boccaccio hence “Divina Commedia“), is often considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.

In Italian he is known as “the Supreme Poet” (il Sommo Poeta). Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio are also known as “the three fountains” or “the three crowns”. Dante is also called the “Father of the Italian language”. The first biography written on him was by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 –1375), who wrote the Trattatello in laude di Dante.

The exact date of Dante’s birth is unknown, although it is generally believed to be around 1265. This can be deduced from autobiographic allusions in La Vita Nuova, “the Inferno” (Halfway through the journey we are living, implying that Dante was around 35 years old, as the average lifespan according to the Bible (Psalms, 89, 10) is 70 years, and as the imaginary travel took place in 1300 Dante must have been born around 1265). Some verses of the Paradiso section of the Divine Comedy also provide a possible clue that he was born under the sign of Gemini —“As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious”, XXII 151–154), but these cannot be considered definitive statements by Dante about his birth. However, in 1265 the Sun was in Gemini approximately during the period 11 May to 11 June. His birth date is listed as “probably in the end of May” by Robert Hollander in “Dante” in Dictionary of the Middle Ages, volume 4. In summary, most students of Dante’s life believe that he was born between about the middle of May and about the middle of June 1265, but there is little likelihood a definite date will ever be known.


3. Jazz era


The term flapper in the 1920s referred to a “new breed” of young women who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to the new Jazz music, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. The flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting conventional social and sexual norms. Flappers had their origins in the period of liberalism, social and political turbulence, and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of the First World War, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe. The first appearance of the word and image in the United States came from the popular 1920 Frances Marion movie, The Flapper, starring Olive Thomas. Thomas had starred in a similar role in 1917 though it was not until The Flapper that the term was used. Her final movies were done in the flapper image. Other actresses would soon build their careers on the same image making them quite popular including Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Colleen Moore, and Joan Crawford.

In the United States, popular contempt for Prohibition was a factor. With legal saloons and cabarets closed, back alley speakeasies became prolific and popular. This discrepancy between the law-abiding, religion-based temperance movement and the actual ubiquitous consumption of alcohol led to widespread disdain for authority. Flapper independence may have its origins in the Gibson girls of the 1890s. Although that pre-war look does not resemble the flapper identity, their independence and feminism may have led to the flapper wise-cracking tenacity 30 years later.

Writers and artists in the United States such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Held Jr., and Anita Loos popularized the flapper look and lifestyle through their works, and flappers came to be seen as attractive, reckless and independent. Among those who criticized the flapper craze was writer-critic Dorothy Parker. She penned “Flappers: A Hate Song” to poke fun at the fad.

A related but alternative usage in the late 1920s was a press catch word, which referred to adult women voters, and how they might vote differently than men their age. While the term flapper had multiple usages, flappers as a social group were well defined from other 1920s fads.


4. Colonial Americana

Mount Vernon was home to George Washington for more than 45 years. First known as Little Hunting Creek Plantation, the Estate was originally granted to Washington’s great grandfather John Washington in 1674. It eventually passed to Washington’s older half-brother, Lawrence, who renamed the property Mount Vernon after his commanding officer, Admiral Edward Vernon of the British navy. George Washington inherited the property upon the death of his brother Lawrence’s widow in 1761.

Over the years, Washington enlarged the residence and built up the property from 2,000 to nearly 8,000 acres. He divided the acreage into five working farms, including the Mansion House Farm, where he lived with his family. At the Mansion House Farm, Washington sought to create a landscape combining beauty and functionality in a serenely harmonious setting.

When Washington inherited the estate, the farmhouse that we now call “the Mansion” consisted of four rooms and a central passage on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second. The process of enlarging and improving the house began in the years before Washington’s marriage in 1759, when he raised the structure from one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half stories and extensively redecorated the interior. The north and south wings of the house were begun just before the start of the Revolutionary War. The very last room, the Large Dining Room, was completed after the war’s end.

In the meantime, Washington also transformed the Mansion’s modest frame exterior, using a process called “rustication.” This meant replacing the original plain wooden siding with bevel-edged pine blocks that had been coated with a mixture of paint and sand to give the appearance of stone.

Further, Washington added a stunning two-story porch, or “piazza,” overlooking the Potomac.  Here family and guests would gather in warm weather to enjoy the breeze off the river.


5. Post-modernism of 1980’s digital

Michael Vanderbyl (born 1947 in Oakland, California) is a multidisciplinary designer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the principle of Vanderbyl Design.

Vanderbyl received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design in 1968 from California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as California College of the Arts). He has taught graphic design at CCA for over 30 years and currently serves as that college’s Dean of Design. Vanderbyl was among the designers who in the early 1980s established the San Francisco Bay Area as a center of the postmodern movement in graphic design. He established his practice, Vanderbyl Design, in San Francisco in 1973. Over the years his work has expanded from graphic design into the design of furniture, products, showrooms and retail spaces. Clients have included Esprit, Baker Furniture, The Walt Disney Company, IBM, AmericaOne, Robert Talbott, Teknion, The Blackstone Group and Luna Textiles. He has designed products for McGuire Furniture, HBF, Esprit, Boyd Lighting, Bernhardt Furniture, and most recently Bolier & Company.

In 2000 Vanderbyl was awarded the medal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). He has been a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 1987. He was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) in 200. His work is in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and the Library of Congress.

In addition to Vanderbyl there were four other “Michaels” who were instrumental in establishing the look of post-modernism in graphic design and design in general. They are Michael Osborne, Michael Graves, Michael Manwaring and Michael Cronin.

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