2/13 Brooke Note: Graphesis (pp. 1-64)

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production


Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Harvard University Press, 2014, pp. 1-64.


The inside flap summarizes the book explaining that “Graphesis provides an ambitious overview of the field of visual knowledge, its history and critical development, with emphasis on developing a descriptive analysis of the ways schematic graphical forms construct meaning. Drawing on fields as diverse as semiotics, gestalt psychology, cognitive studies, history of cartography and statistics, art history, and aesthetics, this unique contribution to our understanding of graphical forms of knowledge production lays the foundation for study ahead.”

The first part of the book explains that it is important to explore graphesis (the study of visual production of knowledge), because it is a large part of our culture (3). Drucker also emphasizes that she uses the humanistic perspective to inform the book. Drucker then sets the tone of the book by providing definitions for the words that are important for readers to know: information graphics, graphical user interface, visual epistemology, and languages of form. On page 20, Drucker provides eight “approaches to the systematic understanding of visual epistemology that form the core of [her] approach.” These eight approaches include knowledge and/as vision, languages of form, dynamics of form/universal principles of design, gestalt principles and tendencies, basic variable, understanding graphics and editing, processing images, and typology of graphic forms. Pages 21-55 explain these approaches in further detail with visual examples. Then, pages 56-63 provide brief descriptions and visual examples of graphical forms in information visualizations and interface designs.


  1. Knowledge production
  2. Visual
  3. Images
  4. Graphical
  5. Humanistic perspective
  6. Principles of visual communication
  7. Information visualizations
  8. Interface designs


Crane, Walter. Line and Form. Bell and Sons, 1925.

—. The Bases of Design. Bell and Sons, 1898.

Jones, Owen. The Grammar of Ornament. Day and Son, 1856.


“The marks and signs that make up an image are neither semantically consistent–that is they don’t represent meaning or value in a dependable way–nor are they graphically consistent, unless they are produced with mechanical means..Visual images are not constructed by a given set of rules…Visual images are not governed by principles in which a finite set of components is combined in accord with stable, fixed, and finite rules” (24).

“The complexity of visual means of knowledge production is matched by the sophistication of our cognitive processing. Visual knowledge is as dependent on lived, embodied, specific knowledge as any other field of human endeavor, and integrates other sense data as part of cognition. Not only do we process complex representations, but we are imbued with cultural training that allows us to understand them as knowledge, communicated and consensual, in spite of the fact that we have no ‘language’ of graphics or rules governing their use. What we have are conventions, habits of reading and thought, and graphical expressions whose properties translate into semantic value–in part through association with other forms and in part through inherent properties” (51).


I’m interested in the idea of the “book of the future” that Drucker briefly described on page 63. Where did this idea come from? Is this her own idea or did she adapt this idea from somewhere else? Will she explain this further throughout the rest of Graphesis?