Diminuendo is a term that loosely translated means the gradual diminishing treatment of graphical information or typographic impact”. It is related to the larger compositional concept of visual hierarchy where all elements (type, graphics, photos, etc.) are essentially compared with one another by the viewer. The viewer quickly (almost instantaneously) makes assumptions based on that visual comparison. The most obvious of these assumptions is what information is most important, least important and how everything else in-between relates to these extremes.
The term Diminuendo involves this kind of visual comparison as it applies specifically to the beginning of a story or article. How those first few words are treated typographically should do two main purposes;
- Act as a visual signal that says “begin reading the story here”.
- Act as a visual transition between the visually commanding title or heading and the more subtle treatment of the text type.
There is no set rule about how to do this. It varies from one layout to another depending on the typefaces being used, their size, the meaning of the story, the actual words that start the story. Examples can be given however that illustrate the concept.
Some of the oldest versions are found in the Illuminated manuscripts of the Middle ages. The idea dates all the way back to the 6th century A.D. where the masterpieces of illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells and Lindisfarne Gospels established the technique as a means of attracting attention and leading the reader into the body of the text.
Unless we are trying to mimic the look of a 6th century MS, however this exact look won’t work for most of the time today. So, more contemporary typographic versions of this concept are usually less illustrative and more typographic in their approach.