Talking to Students about the Title Page
March 14, 2015
Once you start looking for it, you’ll notice that many titles seem to have an invisible rectangle around them. There is much to said for fitting a title into a symmetrical geometric shape.
One my classroom projects this month is to work with fifth grade students to create books about the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. One of the details that I hope to focus on is how to design a layout for their title. I won’t have a semester to teach them concepts about design and typography, but I will have about 10 minutes. I’ll try to make the most of it.
To fit titles into shapes, designers will make some lines of letters larger than others, and they will put more or less space in between letters. The students I will be working with will be writing their titles by hand, so the letter-spacing will be within their control. Otherwise, they would need to use a computer program that allows kerning.
This practice of working with type to make a rectangle creates a strong, stable and pleasing visual. Having only a couple of words in a title creates an opportunity for a powerful graphic. The Cooper Hewitt, formerly known as the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian National Design Museum, has streamlined its name. Its now two-word name is easier on the eye and fits nicely into a rectangle. A take-away for my fifth graders is that they could consider using a shorter title than The Foourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. If they want to make a long title, though, rectangles can still be used, but there are more decisions to make.
Here, the seven words on the Hobbit title work because of how the words fit together like puzzle pieces. The alternating lines of different sizes of type create a pleasing rhythm.
This In the Heart of the Sea title seems particularly elegant to me. The smaller words are delicately positioned, The larger words, Heart and Sea are all in capital letters and twice the size of the rest of the text, but everything fits together so that these big words, rather than shouting out, feel profound and mysterious.
Here’s another rectangular design, this time with, count ’em, ten words. So many words could look too crowded and too busy, but the top three words nearly fade into the background, which simplifies the look of the writing, and lets the focus be more on the words that are unique to this particular Narnia movie.
This Snow White title shows another way to create the rectangular look: take just one of the letters and stretch it so that it goes from top to bottom, thus unifying the composition.
Something else that I will want to talk to the students about is that there is no one right way to make a title. The best way to drive this point home is to show them the same title over and over again, each designed in a different way. The Red Riding Hood title above is a tall rectangle, with the word Red emphasized. BTW, I love the little sign on the right.
Here, Red is again emphasized, but, instead of a rectangle, the lines are offset, and which is echoed, thus re-enforced, by the introduction of the sharp, unstable, and scary triangles. This is a more dynamic composition. This point here, also, is that designers don’t always have to choose the rectangle.
Nor is there always a right word to emphasize. Here, Hood gets the spotlight.
Riding Hood gets most of the attention in the title above, but in the title below,
Red Riding are the words in the limelight here. Note, too, that there’s no attention paid to making the title mimic any particular shape.
It is always important to make some of the words in a title bigger than the rest? These designers of the following images didn’t seem to think so.
The focus is on the picture, though the text stands out nicely without calling too much attention to itself. If you think this treatment of the text being all the same size is somewhat old-fashioned, and reserved for text that accompanies pictures, think again, or at least keep looking.
Here, the text is the same size, and, again here’s an example of a composition that feels unstable. This time the danger that this instability implies is enhanced by the spatters of red.
Here, again, in this last image of a Red Riding Hood title, no particular word stands out. Because of all the white space, paired with the text that looks handwritten, there’s a quieter, more innocent tone than what’s in the previous image.
So, here’s the presentation I will be making to the fifth graders. I hope it’s obvious that I am not going to tell them what decisions they should be making . There’s not a generous amount of time that we will have to work on the titles, so it will be interesting for me to see if they are able to make small adjustments to what they might have otherwise done. I am hoping that they will enlarge a word or two, maybe use more than one color on the page, and be mindful of the overall look. What I am mostly hoping for, though, is give them a bit of awareness of design, and to get them realize that they too can make deliberate and considered visual decisions which will enhance their work.