Week 5: Visual Writing


  • Research into the genre of graphic designers who write, from the following options: A news story; a children’s story; a launch document for a new brand; a love letter; a business plan; a diary; a manifesto; a speech.
  • Analyse digital and print production techniques used by designers to tell a story.
  • Deliver a 400-word article, exploring one of the preselected themes, that is presented as a typeset In-Design document, or similar.
  • Deliver a sketch to outline how you will use digital or print production techniques to elevate the content of your article.

Research into the genre of graphic designers who write, from the following options: A news story; a children’s story; a launch document for a new brand; a love letter; a business plan; a diary; a manifesto; a speech.

I work in children’s publishing, and I’ve steered away from projects on the industry before in the course so I can expand my experiences outside of it. This week though seems a good week to get stuck in. So here is subject: children’s story.

To start with I went to my local Waterstones to get some inspiration. To tell whether a  book was illustrated and designed by the same person, I checked the imprint page that the illustrations and words were wholly attributable to one person alone. Usually, books are illustrated by one person and written by another, sometimes these collaborations coming together organically, or the publisher pairing two compatible people together.

From classics to modern books, a number of books have been illustrated and written by lots of people. BUT is illustration and design the same thing? Where do the lines blur? For example, the book Malamander was written and beautifully illustrated by Thomas Taylor, but Ben Norland designed the cover and I designed the insides of the book (typesetting). Is it the same? Not really.

So I googled “Designers Who Wrote Children’s Books: and came up with these examples:

Sparkle and Spin by the Rands is described as “With its bold, playful interplay of words and pictures, the book encourages an understanding of the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression, a lens we’ve also seen when Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco introduced young readers to semiotics in the same period.” (Brain Pickings)

Analyse digital and print production techniques used by designers to tell a story.

There’s a lot of discussion about how this brief could be interpreted, and in 400-words, I can only focus on one of them. The topics include:

  • Interviews from children’s illustrator/designers/authors: how do they come up with their ideas, which comes first, words or images?
  • What do they think of the publishing process?
  • A proposal for an article covering the above
  • Using the books I have at my disposal, investigate:
    • Typefaces used
    • Lexical analysis

I could write it addressed to a child, starting it off as: “Reading is important. Sometimes, authors write short sentences. [parts of the sentence are highlighted and marked] The structure and meaning is clear for readers, like you and me. Authors do write really long sentences with lots punctuation; for example, like this sentence will be when I come up with enough words (and most sentences like this are needlessly complicated)”


“We are all creative. Some of us write words into stories, some us paint and draw colours and shapes into art, some of us play and sing musical notes, some of us build tall, tall towers. Some of us are creative with numbers, some of us bake and cook delicious food.

“We are all creative in our own mixed-up, higgedly-piggedly way. How are you creative?

“Some people write and draw stories…”

I work at Walker Books and so have (and have had in previous roles) the privilege to work alongside many talented authors and illustrators, including: Shaun Tan, Chris Riddell, Jack Noel, Daisy Hirst, Lucy Cousins, Gary Northfield, Tom McCaughlin and Oliver Jeffers. Most of these would describe themselves as illustrators rather than designers, and in publishing this does play a crucial role.

julius-zebra-intro-1Some illustrators, like Chris Riddell (Goth Girl), come from a political cartoon background; Simone Lia (They Didn’t Us THIS is Worm School!) is a cartoonist for the Observer; and Gary Northfield started out writing comics. Their work can often come in the form of comic strip-styles

Gary Northfield writes an entertaining series about Julius Zebra, a zebra going through different historical periods (such as Romans, Egyptians), following the primary school curriculum. The text comes in short, digestible chunks often in the form of speech bubbles or asides. For children, this makes it manageable as they learn to read, and introduced them to speech patterns like a surprise (exclamation marks) and streams of consciousness (ellipses).

It might be thought that designers/illustrators think in different ways, one in words and one in pictures. Gary Northfield said in an interview about his creative process:

How do you conceptualize/construct a piece?  Do you think of it as a story, snapshot, or abstraction?

Always as a story. I love comic strips and the art of comic strips and my brain is hard-wired to see the world in comic strip form.

– Gary Northfield, in interview with Tiny Pencil

Here’s what ties designers/illustrators and authors: both disciplines tell stories through their work. It is natural to create stories and characters visually and come up with the words that they speak and situations they are in to form the character, and hey presto! There’s a book. (Not quite…)

Salisbury and Styles point out that the unique developmental capacities of children shape the stylistic suitability of visual texts, presenting their own set of paradoxes and challenges:

“Many publishers and commentators express views about the suitability or otherwise of artworks for children, yet there is no definitive research that can tell us what kind of imagery is most appealing or communicative to the young eye. The perceived wisdom is that bright, primary colors are most effective for the very young. The difficulty is that children of traditional picturebook age tend not to have the language skills to express in words what they are receiving from an image. They can also be suggestible and prone to saying what they imagine adults want to hear. So, even with the best designed research projects, the world that children are experiencing will inevitably remain something of a mystery to us.”

Writing and illustrating means that you can include text into the drawings as your idea is conceived. In the image below, the Zebra work as cheers from the audience and as a reader you can hear the crowd chanting it. It awakens the imagination to other senses, too.


Characters are vital in children’s books, and to take one of the original illustrator/authors is Beatrix Potter who drew her characters before writing the stories to go alongside them. My favourite has always been The Tailor of Gloucester.

Peter Rabbit was written in a letter to entertain her friend’s young son, Noel Moore, who was sick at the time of the letter. Potter went on to publish the tale and as you can see from the V&A Archive, she designed the layout as well as writing the story and illustrating.


Although the combination of images and words for millennia in storytelling culture, children’s publishing is relatively recent. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, developments in the printing process (lithographic printing and half-tones) meant that it was a viable possibility.

Babar, Curious George start to excite children, and the roles of designer and artist and illustrator and author blurred. Saul Bass, creator of film opening credits as we know them, wrote and illustrated Henri’s Walk to Paris. The title text makes the legs of Henri on the cover that also work for other languages:


Colour, shape, text


Type treatment



Interaction between text and illustration is essential. I would like to carry this through into the production and produce a riso-printed booklet to introduce my article. Riso inks can be overlaid to create new hues that symbolise the blending of different disciplines, and also come in bright colours that appeal to children. The build-up of ink can be inventively used, like this:


My instinct is to use colours like CMYK as that is what I am familiar working with! Children’s books will often use spot colours like Pantones, neons, or Pantones to really punch an impression and get a child’s attention. The contrast between colours is vital to a child’s visual development.

Saul Bass also used colours that are reminiscent of riso printing:


It’s more appropriate to share this work as a print project, as the majority of illustrator/authors work with books aimed at younger children. Currently, there is less demand for digital versions of children’s books as eBooks than for YA content. While children are a huge consumer of digital content, it is more likely to be in the form of apps and videos.

Deliver a 400-word article, exploring one of the preselected themes, that is presented as a typeset In-Design document, or similar.

Books are never created by one person alone. A beautiful spectrum of roles and processes combines skills to form them, from a spark between neurons through years of crafting to a place on our bookshelves. A missing step in the publishing journey leaves the idea unloved by all who could.

Stories are an art form; books are a product. Shaping words into dark woods, scary monsters, unrequited lovers, to narrate between people, is not only as old as humanity but a part of what we consider to be human. It is how we understand ourselves, our societies and the world around us.

Books are a new player in the stories game: after the proliferation of the printing press in the fifteenth century, books for children were not conceived until the nineteenth century. Many (not one) factors like lithographic printing and the adoption of half-tone dots from intaglio photography, allowed this to happen. Halftone dots create the optical illusion of a riot of colour as words fashion worlds in our mind.

Children’s books needed one more ingredient: the value of the childhood experience as we know it. Stories had begun to be written especially for children, and not as an adaption of adult tales, prior to the 1870 Education Act which allowed children to stay in education and placed value in them. With a new market of literate readers, and means to produce books for them, children’s books exploded as a genre.

Sometimes author and designer are distinct, sometimes the roles blend into one. Their stories are told through the shape of objects, of words and bring to life all the senses. Saul Bass and Paul Rand are well-remembered designers of the 1950s for jumping into children’s books, playing with how the physicality of books gives presence and how letters are meaning-infused shapes with which to be teased.

The article below explores how the publishing industry approaches children’s books, how illustrators and designers see their role within writing stories and why some creators choose to self-publish. In-depth case studies take us into different graphic schools and explain why, no matter the influence of style, the child reader should be at the centre of the creators’ process.

Deliver a sketch to outline how you will use digital or print production techniques to elevate the content of your article.


I’m not sure if this is work of a mad person, or the beginning thoughts of my project…

With the words written (see above), I have created a storyboard for the first two paragraphs:


I like Futura as a font for the sans serif version of a typeface suitable for children. To customise it a little, I have put the characters through Calligraphr to create my own version. I have amended the majuscule I to give it horizontal bars, minuscule j and l to give them kicks so that they are not easily confusible with any other glyph:

One page to illustrate my words…


Collaborate through group discussions on the Ideas Wall.

Made with Padlet



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