Representational language

I discovered an excellent resource over the weekend that I’ve been (and will be) digging through in my spare time. All of a sudden, I’m starting to understand the logic behind Braille by reading through the incredible information at Dotless Braille. It’s a site written and constructed by a sighted person, or — in the words of the author — a “dot-challenged” person, to help other sighted persons get past the hurdles of understanding Braille. It’s purpose, from the website itself: is a non-commercial and commercial-free website dedicated to demystifying braille and to presenting new ideas for learning and presenting braille.

Braille has always fascinated me. And confused me. I’ve walked into elevators or up to posted signs in the metro stations in SF, and reached out to touch the Braille rising from the same lines of visual text. Wow. It’s amazing that letters, words, concepts… even an entire language can be communicated with such a simple configuration of six dots.

Why is a visual designer who deals with physical arrangement of objects and type on a page so interested in a system developed for blind people? I think there’s actually a very logical explanation and a strong parallel with my profession. It’s the same reason I’m also fascinated by Sign Language. They’re both representational languages. And in my mind, that’s exactly what graphic design is. A system of type and shapes and images which (sometimes) represent a more complex language or set of ideas. Design is not standardized like Braille or Sign Language, and is much more open in its construction and interpretation. But the parallels in communication with symbols, code, and patterns are highly intriguing.