Why “A” Is Always For Apple

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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It never ceases to amaze me that I learned to read and write. I vividly recall being taught letters by my immigrant grandmother, which was funny since she spoke English with such a heavy accent. I also recall the illustrated ABC cards that my first grade teacher flashed before the class in order to help us recognize both look and sound. I learned letters from these ersatz Futura letter forms, but I learned how to sound them out from the unambiguous illustrations printed in color. A was for Apple (AHH) but it was also for Acorn (AYY) and so on (add to that my grandmother’s accent – OYY). Whatever buttons these cards pushed, they did their job well (although I sometimes lapse into a New Yawk accent). But there was also a curious disconnect.

While learning our ABCs we were also learning A is for Art and Art did not have to be as realistic as were these illustrations. So, on one hand we were learning two simultaneous languages. The alphabetic one was rigidly-based according to rules, the other was loosely expressive. Of course, if we wanted to learn to draw an apple, it had to be an apple, but if we wanted to experience an apple it could be any circular blob of color. The the bigger the blog the more gold stars (which had to look like stars) we received.

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →