On Martin Solomon’s “The Power of Punctuation.”

Solomon, Martin. “The Power of Punctuation.” Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Handa, Carolyn. Boston, MA: St. Martin’s. 2004. 282-289. Print.


In this article, Solomon makes the claim that punctuation is often taken for granted and then goes on to describe the different effects that punctuation can have in design.


exaggerated punctuation, illustrative punctuation, typography, design, weight, pica, tonal value

Claims I agree with:

“Exaggerated punctuation should not be used with all messages. The indiscriminate display of punctuation for the safe of design turns these marks into devices unrelated to concept; punctuation used out of context can diminish the effect of a message.” (286)

This makes sense, though it’s not something I have ever thought about.

“Punctuation marks need not be considered only in relation to texts in which they are an obvious part of the design.” (287)

Never thought about this before, but yes. I usually only think of punctuation in relation to sentences, but the telephone number example he gave made sense.

Claims I disagree with:

“Similarly, designers can improvise upon the standards of punctuation.” (282)

Here, I’m not so sure I agree that designers are improvising upon the “standards” of punctuation as he describes them in previous paragraphs. Even if a designer uses exaggerated punctuation to make a point, I would argue that it still needs to be used in a manner that is generally considered to be “grammatically correct.”

Passages to keep:

“Punctuation is to typography what perspective is to painting. It introduces the illusion of visual and audible dimension, giving words vitality. Whether prominent or subtle, punctuation marks are the heartbeat of typography, moving words along in proper timing and with proper emphasis.” (289)

“With punctuation marks designers can create illustrations without pictures. A single line of copy set in a light typeface contrasted with a bold, larger period creates a more dramatic stop than a period of conventional size and weight.”

“Symbols in music perform comparable functions. During the performance of a piece of music, each conductor interprets the intensities and durations of these notations according to his or her own style. Similarly, designers can improvise upon the standards of perfect punctuation.” (282)

3 sources to help read: 

“8 New Punctuation Marks We Desperately Need.” by Mike Trapp. Not so much necessary to understand Solomon’s piece, but entertaining nonetheless.

Some material on typography. Someone reading this without knowledge of graphic design might be confused by some of the terminology in this article.

Background on Solomon’s work.


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