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Dr. Axel Vogelsang


University of The Arts, London, Central Saint Martins




visual narrative, hypertext, non-linear media, transmedia storytelling, storytelling, design, visual communication

Thesis Title

An investigation into the role of text and image in the design of hypertext networks with specific consideration of the World Wide Web


The idea of the iconic turn relates to a perceived increase in the use of images and icons for communication purposes during the 19th and particularly the 20th century. More recently, various theorists have further argued that digital media and specifically hypertext media are a catalyst for this development. The multi-linear approach of hy-pertext, the increasing integration of pictures, moving image and animation in the In-ternet as well as the dominance of the graphic user interface (GUI) are seen as major indicators for a paradigm shift towards a dominancy of the image for the purpose of information exchange. The argument culminates in the idea that the envisioned change will come at the expense of alphabetic text and will amount to the end of the use of prose for communication purposes.

This thesis questions such notions concerning the iconic turn with respect to digi-tal writing. It compares them to the status quo of design practice particularly in digital media networks such as the Web and reveals fundamental discrepancies between the-ory and this practice. It will be demonstrated that hypertext and specifically the Web to the contrary are still very much text-based environments, strongly built on both the diachronic1 and synchronic qualities of language and the two-dimensional expression that is possible through alphabetic writing. This work also explains how proponents of a pictorial approach towards digital communication have been misled by early day phenomena and wishful thinking.

This thesis draws from cognitive science, cultural history, information theory and linguistics as well as from current design practice. Design practice plays an important role in the discussion regarding digital writing and the iconic turn as it is held partly responsible for the shift from alphabetic text to the image by some of the theorists ar-guing in favour of image writing. A new understanding of the role of the designer in the context of digital writing will be proposed because, as it will be demonstrated, no-tions of graphic design as a catalyst for the decline of the alphabet are based on a fun-damentally flawed perception of the role of the designer in digital media.



Axel Vogelsang made an apprenticeship as a typesetter and worked for several years as an art director in advertising before he turned towards digital media design/interface design. In 1999 he moved to London, where he did an MA in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins College/University of the Arts. There he also received an PhD in Art & Design in 2008. The title of his dissertation is "Hyperimage Network? - An investigation into the role of text and image in the design of hypertext networks with specific consideration of the World Wide Web".

Since 2000 Axel Vogelsang also worked as a freelance web designer and information architect in London and lectured for several years at the MA Communication Design at Central Saint Martins College.

In summer 2008 he moved to the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, were he works as a researcher and senior lecturer in the department art & design. Since 2011 Axel Vogelsang is head of the research group Explanation & Services. From 2015 he will lead the research group Visual Narrative. His research topics are the communication, narration and visualisation of complex information and topics in digital and social media. In the recent years he received grants for projects (e.g. Audience+ and Audience+ STORY) looking at how social media can support the work of museums and how they can extend the exhibition space.

For several years Axel Vogelsang was in charge of the supervision of the written part of the MA thesis at the MA Design. Since 2015 he teaches the stream Service Design at the MA Design.

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