Saturday, July 21, 2012

Manuscript/Book Graphic Design Review


After Elizabeth Blackwell’s cousin/husband’s financial woes lead him to debtors’ prison, she took it upon herself to provide for her family and erase her husband’s debts by undertaking the arduous task of creating “A Curious Herbal”, published from 1737-1739. This resourceful woman who had some background knowledge of medicinal herbs and plants, created a go-to herbal with botanical illustrations which included new plant species form the Americas. Along with drawing, engraving, and coloring the illustrations herself, she also included a description of the plants, their common names, scientific names, and their medicinal properties. She would eventually catalog 500 species, free her husband from debtors’ prison (even though he was later executed for political conspiracy), and provided for her family in a time of desperation. She may not be the most recognizable Elizabeth Blackwell (the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S.), she proved to be a pioneer and gave new meaning to the endearment “devoted wife”.

Concerning the four basic principles of graphic design, described by Robin Williams (no, not that one) in “The Non-Designer’s Design Book”, “A Curious Herbal” by Elizabeth Blackwell encompasses many qualities that prove functional and aesthetically pleasing. Though her work doesn’t provide much contrast and there is a lot of blank space on every page, its simplicity is what made this collection so popular. It was easy to find and identify the plants because her illustrations were not crowded or overbearing. The text was aligned in the same way on every page, divided by crisp clear lines and equal amounts of space and “type”. The proximity of the information presented was adequate, but predictable. The consistency and repetition is what made this collection functional and popular for centuries. Her keys and descriptions were easy to identify and provided the reader with the information necessary to make a quick decision in what was often a life or death situation.

What we’ve learned from this passage:

1. Men never learn.
2. Never underestimate a woman.
3. "A Curious Herbal” would look much different if held to the standards of Mr. Williams.

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