mediating messages

a paratextual approach to design

Patricia Childers
book cover

The installation for this thesis was scheduled to take place in the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, Vermont, in April 2020. Diagrams were sent to the installation crew and materials ordered. However, the coronavirus (COIVID 19) interceded, and shut down schools and universities throughout the country.

Although the exhibit was never installed, its paratext, the memory of what could have been, is forever with me. And in my mind, it was, and will always be: perfect.

floor plan

Paratext, a term coined by literary theorist Gerard Genette, describes anything other than the text. As an interface between reader and text, it exists in a liminal space, a space of transition that lies between “what was” and “what is next.” Transformation occurs here.

Thesis, as a synthesis of graduate work, documents a transition. Its exhibition, much like the thesis itself, creates a base for outward extending paratextual connections. As a paratext, it makes the “text” (in this case the thesis) known.

Before entering, we read a single word—para—a prefix meaning beside, near, or apart from. Sheer panels obscure the exhibit from the outside world so that traces from inside the vestibule, like the word “text,” appear muted and reversed. When crossing the threshold, you enter a text enabled by a paratext. Multiple bibliography-like portals not only indicate influences, they provide the context necessary for communication.

Directly ahead, etched in the top of the large window, is the word text. On the wall to the left, the word “paritext” and to the right the word “epitext,” divides the room into three sections. 

The text area, centered in front of the window, contains a narrow 11-inch transparent scroll printed with Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire poem, that extends from ceiling to floor and continues across to the opposite wall where the remainder curls upon itself forming a large layered circle of overlapping text.

Directly in front of the window, a narrow white monolith, 8.5 x 11 x 66,” (the width of the scroll,) sits atop the scroll. Composed of 130,000 sheets of plain white paper, it represents a text without a paratext to support it. 

Centered in the room, a video projected from the ceiling dances on a round screen that sits on the floor on top of the scroll. Viewers can observe this portal of overlapping paratext from any direction.

On left side, the peritext, translucent panels printed with textural terms gently sway and overlap, randomly forming new terms as they extend and share their influence.

The right side, the epitext, sits outside the side window. The telescope positioned there provides the artery to the outside and to eight QR codes visible only with a telescope. Each code contains a different message. Attach a mobile phone to the telescopic devise and the camera will decode the message you focus upon.

1 What are you doing?


With no leaves on the trees, the view from my window provides me with first-rate entertainment. 

Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

2  Welcome

Linger, enjoy the view.

Because Airtime encompasses the time. 
from the moment you open. 
to the moment you close this app, 
this devise will engage automatically to save you time. 
Your phone is billed automatically. 

The rate today is as low as $15, however,
surge pricing is in effect. 

Do not respond directly to this message.

red qr code
wine qr code
barcode qr code

A palimpsest, overlapping layers of text describing paratext and the role of the author and designer, run the length of the wall to the right of the smaller window continuing around the corner on the rear wall.

Patricia Childers

New York, New York

Patricia Childers is a designer and educator in New York City. She is the founder of P Childers Design and teaches at the City University of New York (CUNY). Her design practice focuses on typographic solutions for communication problems, her research focuses on cultural voices inherent in typography. Her previous experience includes positions as varied as creative director of two universities and art director at Malcolm Grear Designers. Patricia has attended Rhode Island School of Design, New York University, and Vermont College of Fine Arts.


Name three words that describe you.

1. san-serif   2. counter   3. crossbar


Flashback to when you were 10. What did you want to be when you grew up?

a printer


Name a book you really enjoyed reading while in graduate school?
Writing for the Design Mind and Just Start Somewhere


What is a goal you have made for yourself that you want to accomplish in the next year related to graphic design that has been influenced by going through this MFA program?

Spend at least a month at the home of each faculty member.