Chapter 5: Visualization


Translated from the online collection catalogue of the Rijksmuseum:

Alphabets in different fonts, attributed to Johannes Condet, 1781. Illustration for the National A-B book, for Dutch youth by J. H. Swilden. Below, a vignette with a ship and powder kegs. Publisher: Willem Holtrop.

For all information provided in the online catalogue, click here, or on the picture above.


Information transfer is not solely done with the use of the spoken or written word, but also with images and with the form in which the content of the message is presented. Centuries ago, long before the invention of printing, documents and manuscripts were already embellished and illustrated with miniatures, drawings and calligraphy. Since books and other documents can be printed on a large scale and thus can also distributed more widely, the importance of a well-considered choice of the graphic and visual design of a text has only increased. The digital revolution of the past decades has further strengthened this need. An enormous range of graphic and visual possibilities has come within reach of both professional and non-professional designers. Without a good understanding of the effects of the various options, it is virtually impossible to use that palette successfully.

Effective visual presentation is not a luxury but a necessity in professional communication. Text and image should reinforce each other, and that is only possible with a well-chosen design. If a text has an informative or instructive purpose, then the design of the text must first be clear, or even guiding. It is important to have a good balance between the different elements: headings, main body of text, lists, tables, illustrations, and so on. The design should support the reader's understanding. If the main purpose of a text is to convince or motivate, other considerations also apply. A well-chosen image can attract and keep attention, convince and evoke emotions. The intended readers also influence design choices. Many older readers prefer a calm and clear design. But a publication aimed at young people can have a more busy and bold layout. If the message has to stand out, a striking, deviant form can contribute to effective information transfer.

As you can see on the print from Willem Holtrop's Vaderlandsch A-B boek, a range of different fonts on offer is nothing new. What is new, is the enormous number of fonts available for use on both paper and screen. The choice of font still influences the legibility and definitely also the appearance of a text. For example, a classic typeface is most suitable for a serious, somewhat formal text, while a trendy, sans serif letter is more suitable for a magazine with a modern look or for a festive invitation.

Chapter 5 provides advice on how to make good use of the contemporary visual toolbox available to writers. A well-considered choice of font is only one of the possibilities – albeit a very important one - that writers can make to visualize their information and give their text a look. The importance of this was already clear to Willem Holtrop in the eighteenth century, when he recorded his eight beautiful fonts.