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Stamp Design: Micro-Narratives

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Design Age Levels Post-Secondary, Adults

The postage stamp has a long and rich history within our visual culture. It is a carefully crafted micro-narrative, which often exhibits everyday representations or the spirit of a nation. A good micro-narrative can have a substantial impact in a quick timeframe. They often come from our shared culture – they are parts of stories we communicate, that mark our achievements, struggles, and understanding of our collective culture. They are concise and lead us quickly into making better sense of the world we are in and designing for. 

The postage stamp in its limited real estate, is a wonderful study of a carefully crafted micro-narrative. It can build a shared sense of national belonging amongst humans or a sense of tribalism through national identity. They are composed of three essential pieces of information in their design: subject, stamp value, and country of origin. The reference of the country provides context for the subject, which often reflects the country’s national and cultural identity.

This collection serves as a visual aid to expose and explore the design principles and techniques necessary to communicate a concise message within a restricted space. 

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CONSIDERATIONS: use of visual components in a formal, conceptual, and systematic method

TYPOGRAPHIC
The design and arrangement, or appearance of typeset matter.                            

+ Type as a system and vehicle for communication.                               

+ Type used as image, type as form, typographic color, typographic structure, typographic systems        and hierarchy, active white space as punctuation, tempo, and rhythm. 

IMAGE
A tangible or visible representation and/or a vivid or graphic representation or description.

+ Images used as a vehicle for communication and storytelling.   

+ Photographs, illustrations, and visual representations like icons, indexes, and symbols. Images
    used as type,  images used as form, images used as color, and images used as structure.                  

+ The Hierarchy of images, i.e. alpha, beta, infra.

FORM  
The shape and structure of something as distinguished from its material. Geometric and organic form, graphic simplification, patterns, textures, abstractions, reductions.    

+ Form used as type, form used as image, form used as color, and form used as structure. 

+ Form/counter investigations, navigation and direction, active white space. 

COLOR
A phenomenon of light or visual perception that enables one to differentiate otherwise identical objects. 

+ Color can be used in both a functional and symbolic role.

STRUCTURE
Something arranged in a definite pattern of organization. Grid systems, visual organizations, and compositions.     

+ Structure used as type, structure used as image, structure used as form, and structure used
   as color.

CONNECTIONS
Formal (syntax) and conceptual (semantics) connections.

CONTENT
Information to be communicated or “story being told.” Thematic cultural, social, and historical reflection. Conceptual story, metaphor, or message.  

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VOCABULARY

Semiotics - se.mi.ot.ics: a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals primarily with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises syntactic, semantics, and pragmatics.

• Semiotic theory is a branch of linguistics that has become a useful tool in two-dimensional design for understanding the relationships between the viewer/user, the form that conveys a message, and the message’s meaning.

Syntactics – syn.tac.tics: A branch of semiotics that deals with the formal relationship between signs or expressions in abstraction from their signification and their interpreters.

• Syntactic refers to the formal relationship among elements in a composition or among related forms. When analyzing a form for its syntactic qualities, you might ask yourself: Are all the parts of the form arranged to appear unified?

Semantics – se.man.tics: a branch of semiotics dealing with the relationship between signs and what they refer to and including theories of denotation, extension, naming, and truth: the meaning or relationship on meaning of a sign or set of signs.

• Semantic refers to the relationship between form and its meaning. When analyzing a form for semantic qualities, you should ask yourself: Does the form adequately reflect its meaning? Is the meaning singular or multiple, ambiguous or clear? Which of these is more desirable?

Pragmatics – prag.mat.ics: relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters: Practical as opposed to idealistic.

• Pragmatic refers to the relationship between a form and its user. This aspect examines a sign when it is applied. When analyzing a form for its pragmatics, consider these questions: Is the form related to its context? Is it understandable in its context? 

• Excerpts from Introduction to Two-Dimensional Design: Understanding Form and Function by John Bowers, pg. 22 

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Brenda McManus
Assistant Professor  | Art Department | Pace University-NYC   

Co-Founder
BRED | a collaborative design lab
www.brednation.com
Instagram: bred_letterpress

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