Wysocki, Anne F. “awaywithwords: On the possibilities in unavailable designs.”

Wysocki, Anne F. “awaywithwords: On the possibilities in unavailable designs.” Computers and Composition, vol. 22, 2005, pp. 55-62.


Constraints in our use of communication materials are often socially and historically produced; to ask after the constraints as we teach or compose can help us understand how material choices in producing communications articulate to social practices we may not otherwise wish to reproduce. In this writing, I consider the constraints Gunther Kress often applied to “word” and “image,” questioning their temporal and spatial structures.

Keywords: Affordances, available design, new media, space, visual representation, visual rhetoric


  • entwining context, purpose, audience, and communication strategies (including material choices)—is an approach that helps people working both within and across disciplines or materials to produce effective communication (56).

  • it is always worth asking how our materials have acquired the constraints they have and hence why, often, certain materials and designs are not considered available for certain uses (56).

  • I wish to question what becomes unavailable when we think of word and image as Kress has suggested we do, as bound logically and respectively with time and with space (56).

  • The development of consistent spacing of words—of a consistent notion of what constitutes a “word” on a page and hence conceptually—seems to have accompanied a shift from the social reading of texts to silent and individual readings (57).

  • Susan Howe (1993), for example, has argued that editing practices that constrain punctuation and unconventional uses of spacing in writing correlate to an American desire to tame space by shaping wilderness into a bright, tight comprehensible regularity—whether wilderness be the dark forest at one’s door or the imagined darkness of women’s internal lives (57).

  • If we are to help people in our classes learn how to compose texts that function as they hope, they need consider how they use the spaces and not just one time that can be shaped on pages. They also need to question how they have come to understand the spaces of pages so that they can, if need be, use different spaces, potentially powerful spaces that—as Howe, for example, has described—have been rendered unavailable by naturalized, unquestioned practice (57).

  • we should acknowledge that when we work with what is on pages or other surfaces, alphabetic text is always part of what must be visually arranged and can be designed to call more or less visual attention to itself (with the current academic and literary convention to be that of calling less attention to itself) (58).

  • to use image to name some class of objects that function in op- position to word is thus either to make an arbitrary cut into the world of designed visual objects or to try to encompass a class so large the encompassing term loses function. To say that all these objects rely on a logic of space is to miss their widely varying compositional potentials (59).

  • If human practices do entwine … to the extent that the spacing of lettershapes on a piece of paper reflects and helps continue unquestioned restrictions on behavior or that a habit of understanding words and images as opposites reflects and helps continue beliefs about relations between men and women, then it is possible that trying new spaces on pages or exploring the visuality of alphabetic text can be seeds for changes in such practices and beliefs. But we can only do this if we look beyond what appear to be constraints (59).

  • [James Gibson 1979] “affordances are properties of things taken with reference to an observer but not properties of the experiences of the observer” (p. 137) (60).

  • [Donald Norman] ‘perceived affordance’ … in design we care much more about what the user perceives that what is actually true (60).


  • Drucker, Joanna. (1994). The visible word: Experimental typography and modern art, 1909–1923. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

  • Gibson, James J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

  • Haraway, Donna. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and Women: The reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge.

  • Howe, Susan. (1993). The birth-mark: Unsettling the wilderness in American literary history. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP.

  • Kinross, Robin. The rhetoric of neutrality. Design Issues, II(2), 18–30.

  • Kress, Gunther, & van Leeuwen, Theo. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. London: Routledge.

  • Kress, Gunther. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition, 22(1).

  • Mitchell, W. J. T. (1986). Iconology: Image, text, ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Norman, Donald A. Affordances and design. Retrieved August 15, 2004, from <http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/affordances-and-design.html&gt;.

  • Romanyshn, Robert. (1989). Technology as symptom and dream. London: Routledge.

  • Romanyshn, Robert. (1993). The despotic eye and its shadow: Media image in the age of literacy. In David Michael Levin (Ed.), Modernity and the hegemony of vision (pp. 339–360). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  • Saenger, Paul. (1997). Space between words: The origins of silent reading. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Steiner, Wendy. (1982). The colors of rhetoric: Problems in the relation between modern literature and painting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • The New London Group. (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. In Bill Cope & Mary Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures (pp. 9–37). London: Routledge.


  • ‘In a painted portrait or photograph of a single person or a small group that fills the frame of the image, we see the composition as singular, and then—in looking at the image’s elements to understand better how the composition works—we see how the elements relate to each other, what is at top, what is at bottom, what is at left, what is at right: We notice how the elements have been arranged so that we see them in some ordering’ (58).  Do we see them as ordered, though? Or is is that the viewer makes order of elements, whether or not in the same order as the photographer/painter intended? Not sure I agree with Wysocki on this small-ish point … 

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