social_justice_wk4studio_26 (1)

The Meaning of Typography

A 4 week individual project with an emphasis on graphic design and typography inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise.

Concept Development

Selecting Phrases

Reading the poem out loud for the class made me connect with three particular phrases.

  1. Bitter twisted lies
  2. Rooted in pain
  3. Beset with gloom

Trying to decide on which one of the three phrases I should select.  I sketched several pages of ideas down but immediately connected with Rooted in Pain because I could feel the emotion behind those words. The other phrases felt to literal as where rooted in pain has so much meaning intertwined with the text.


Digital Drawings

I moved from hand drawn sketches to digital mock-ups to see if it changed which phrase I wanted to move forward with.

Option 1

These words feel unattractive. They are very literal in their meaning. They have the most characters per word.

Option 2

Rooted in Pain appeals to me the most because of the emotion behind the words. It is the hardest option out of all three.

Option 3

This could be an interesting phrase but it doesn’t feel as challenging as the other options. It feels safe.

“Up from a past Rooted in Pain,” Maya Angelou

Critique Sessions

Feedback: Incorporate more textures. Play with the words! Move away from literal interpretation of words. Rooted reminds people of actual tree roots but that is too playful for the emotion these words need to convey. “In” should not be emphasized in the phrase.


Thoughts: Working on movement and placement of the words. Rooted needs to be grounded on the page. Rooted should be bold and deep. Pain is hard to think about and deal with especially when referring to slavery.


Actions: Use bold text and italics to invoke hierarchy. Find the beginning, middle and end. Where does the eye start, continue and end? Look at examples of digital textures.

Exploring Textures

Trying to conveying meaning through the use of textures.

Experimenting with the weight of the words by overlapping them physically and digitally to express that the pain is actually root in the past. I cut out the gaps in the word rooted so you could see the word pain. The dripping word rooted hides the word pain and is supposed to convey the downward weight of the word.

Exploring Materials 

I felt that the digital tools were limiting my ability to express emotion and I am more comfortable using raw materials. When I think about texture, I think about materials. I was worried about going too far outside the boundaries of the project requirements but the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive.

The quickness of the brush strokes and the concentrated pigment show the anger behind the words. The trailing smoke encapsulates the word pain and seems like one cannot escape the other.

The charcoal was used to reflect the pain and ugliness of the past that is forever stained. The soot and grime associated with charcoal conveys this meaning.

The weight of the cinder block represents all the oppression pent up over the course of history for African Americans. The weight is suppressing the pain  because it is too hard to think about the past and because pain is synonymous with the past.

Combining Two Ideas

The reflection of the words symbolizes that the past is made up of painful memories; the past is forever linked to the pain. The medium, charcoal, does justice to that emotion.


Going Two Directions

I couldn’t let the desire to do a physical installation go. The opportunity to get feedback and see if what I was thinking actually made sense to others was something I couldn’t pass up. So at the last minute I decided to do both a 2D and 3D version of my project after mulling on the idea since I brought in the cinder block.

Final Design


Final Decisions to be made:

  • Paper Type and Color
  • Placement of Word on a 6×6 square
  • Font size

Final Products

I knew rooted needed to be anchored at the bottom of the square. Separating the two words also adds to the mirroring concept. I chose a heavy textured paper for the charcoal and pastels to really show the depth and texture.

This display really was going out of my comfort zone. I really liked it but was worried it wouldn’t make sense to people outside of the class so I decided to do this in addition to the 2D version. You can write a painful memory and submerge it in the water. The word pain is visible from the front of the display. The idea of submersion is the washing away of pain. You can see the slips of paper build into stacks symbolizing a collective and that you are not alone.