Material Voice:
Substrate communication in graphic design

MFA Thesis in graphic design

Material Voice: Substrate Communication in Graphic Design is the culmination of my graduate thesis research on the ways that materials and substrates impact the communication of graphic design. My research explores the relationship between semiotics, haptics, visual haptics, and nontraditional substrates in past, present, and emerging graphic design.

This text observes, catalogues, and questions the ways that we interact with different design elements in both real and imagined spaces. It references things like physical and visual texture that are familiar and beloved, and yet not always in the forefront of our minds until close to the end of our design process; explores the messaging that these physical elements themselves communicate to the viewer; and speculates ways that design practices can evolve by integrating substrates into the design approach from the beginning of the process rather than saving it for the end.


The book was constructed by hand, in an edition of three original copies. Each chapter has been printed on its own specific substrate, and marked not with page numbers but by a series of shape indications and a growing increment of punched holes down the side. There are also an array of different substrates that have been discussed in the text that are physically present as individual pages as well. The reader is thus able to read about a substrate while physically interacting with it as well.

The pages are held together only temporarily with a set of binder rings, encouraging the reader to take them out, interact with them, and arrange the sections in an order that they see fit. For this reason, the table of contents is not a list but a spinning wheel that indicates only the title of the section, the substrate it has been printed on, and the identifying die-cut shape with which to find it.

The cover of each copy was constructed by hand by covering book board with cotton cloth that was hand-dyed (by Meridyth) with indigo. The title and author text was letterpressed into the cover with a handmade bottle jack press built by Robert Espindola, and custom letterpress plates from Boxcar Press.

The printed interior pages were laser printed and cut to size at Air Graphics in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Two copies are housed in the Gary Library at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the third is owned by Meridyth Espindola.