The Character Message

The last decades have seen rapid changes in the use of character-based communication. We now freely use our predominately phonetic alphabetic writing system in ways that are logographic or syllabic, for example a colon and parenthesis for a smiley face or the number glyph “8” to represent the sound syllable “ate.” Cell phone texting has only increased this trend. Explore and exploit the boundaries of text-based communication to craft messages in 140 characters.

Obviously, the biggest challenge and requirement is efficiency. You must pare down your message to the words that will have the most impact within the limit of 140 characters. One possible source of inspiration is the Japanese poetry form known as haiku.

even in Kyoto when I hear the cuckoo I long for Kyoto -Basho

Illustrated setting for Basho's "even in Kyoto" haiku poem showing a white and gray cuckoo bird in a blue sky with white clouds and red blossoms.

A particularly intriguing aspect of haiku is described in the Wikipedia entry:

The essence of haiku is “cutting” (kiru).[1] This is often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas[2] and a kireji (“cutting word”) between them, a kind of verbal punctuation mark which signals the moment of separation and colours the manner in which the juxtaposed elements are related.

Another source of inspiration would be our very own Kyle Callahan’s One Forty Fiction.

Above all I want you to experiment wildly, push the boundaries of character-based communication, and craft elegant, tightly-focused messages for a marketing or advocacy purpose. Please post draft versions of three different messages.


About Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor teaches photography, graphic design, and visual art in a wide-variety contexts from Burlington City Arts, to the Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center, to Green Mountain College and Castleton State University. In 2005 he was selected as a University of Vermont Teacher of the Year. He has been a working graphic designer since 1993, and a photographer and visual artist since 1995.
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