The mandate of this final poster design course was to use graphic design to bring awareness to a social issue. Posters have an urgent, pressing character and hold an incredible amount of influence, if done right. The challenge was to use this potential successfully and communicate a message that would resonate with people.
I chose the issue of illiteracy, which is the lack of ability to read and write. A large number of people in Canada suffer from functional illiteracy, which makes them struggle to perform tasks that require reading and writing skills beyond a basic level. This hinders work and personal life, but also mental and physical health. The issue is seldom talked about because people affected are ashamed to admit it, and in many cases keep it from family members. Illiterate and functionally illiterate people are stigmatized and disregarded as belonging to certain specific groups, when in fact illiteracy can have many causes and be a burden across social and economic backgrounds.
The challenge was to represent illiteracy in a way that was accurate, but also respectful. It wouldn't do to illustrate it as garbled type or scrambled words, as has previously been done — illiteracy isn't dyslexia, or vision loss. Most people who struggle with literacy, in the case of English, can see perfectly well, can identify letters, and may slowly be able to read given enough time and care. I had the idea of putting the observer of the poster in the shoes of somebody struggling with the problem. But how?
I chose to put my target audience — the passersby who do not struggle with literacy, and are unaware of how widespread it is — in a position where they too would be overwhelmed by the prospect of reading. The A0 poster thus became filled with text, small at its 8-point size but perfectly legible in itself. The 8 columns of paragraphs were set with leading that would be used in standard body copy and a sans-serif font that no one could argue wasn't clear enough to read. Except for the use or paragraphs and tabulations, no contrast was used in order to keep this mass of text as intimidating as possible.
The text featured as body copy is On Writing Well by William Zinsser, ironically a guide to writing non-fiction.
The result is a poster that leaves hardly anyone indifferent. The sight of the massive amount of text causes instant reactions ranging from proclaimed headaches to disbelief, which gets the point across in the intended way. One of the most effective ways to make people care about an issue is to make them empathize with it — and, by looking at this poster, for a few seconds at least, they can feel what it is like to struggle with language.