redesign-levistrauss-01The first volume of Lévi-Strauss’s Mythologies, Le cru et le cuit (The Raw and the Cooked) was too lovely a title for us to pass up for Words Matter project. It describes natural oppositions that affect human way of thinking and the creation of abstract notions. It is also a wonderfully inspiring title from a designer’s point of view.

We chose a fairly direct approach of illustrating the titular opposition but initially we intended to use potatoes, as we already had a good experience, working with them (as you can see here). In fact, we prepared the whole set of letters:

redesign-levistrauss-12 redesign-levistrauss-08 redesign-levistrauss-09But then we realized potatoes might not create the most exciting opposition between the raw and the cooked version. Instead we thought about beets, with their lovely color and we made a test run, frying a slice of beetroot with a letter X cut out in the middle. The result was very promising visually (if less so taste-wise) and so we sat down again to re-doing all the letters in the new material.

redesign-levistrauss-11It actually took a few trips to the local grocery store. While beets are not extremely difficult to work with (just very dirty), we couldn’t get the right sizes and amounts at first.

redesign-levistrauss-07 redesign-levistrauss-10 redesign-levistrauss-05 redesign-levistrauss-06As you can see, we didn’t go for literally “cooked” because fried beets looked so much better.

We opposed the two words not only by processing the second group of beets but also by making the first word a series of stamps and the second stencil cuts. Arranging the “cuit” part on an old-fashioned plate with garnish added the cultural aspect, so important in Lévi-Strauss’s studies.

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For the back with the WM logo we could emphasize the opposition in a different way, using two halves of the same beetroot with the shapes being negatives of each other.

redesign-levistrauss-03 redesign-levistrauss-02(Also, just a minor side note: we are now updating Mondays rather than Sundays. Sometimes we simply need to spend one day away from the screen and Sunday is usually our only chance.)

redesign-behaviorism-04The use of body in tangible typography was an important part of our PhD thesis and so we included such a design in the Words Matter series. The opportunity came with John B. Watson’s Behaviorism, a book about how human beings’ behavior is essentially programmable. We decided that the image resembling a punch card (as used to program old computers) combined with the image of human body was a perfect illustration of the concept. Placing the writing on the inside of an arm holds an additionally menacing aspect because the concept of behaviorism is also somewhat menacing when you think about it.

After studying old punch cards (which, obviously, did not use typography as such, just seemingly random patterns) we used the grid to design the title:

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And then the thing to do was to transfer the writing to an arm. The arm itself posed a slight problem because we preferred a male arm as less coded but R refused to pose (and he needed to take photos anyway). Then our friend A (hi, A) generously offered to help. We started searching for a tool that would be making the right kind of imprint and even considered going to a hardware store and asking the clerk for suggestions but we balked at the idea of explaining what exactly we needed and why (too Fifty Shades, I guess). We finally settled on a wooden chopstick, which turned out to be making just the right kind of imprint. But after a test ride it turned out the process was extremely time-consuming and rather irritating. So we decided we didn’t want to risk our friendship with A and had to settle on a female arm (which we still find less than ideal).

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The main problem was the fact that only a few letters at a time were clearly visible so it took many partial shoots to get the whole word. (And yes, the marks remained a little visible for a while, but not beyond one day, in case you wondered.)

We feel the idea is strong and very appropriate for the subject matter, with just right symbolic meaning. But the legibility is not perfect and this is probably one of the least practical covers we designed, at least in purely commercial terms.

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redesign-easter-board-4As promised last week, we want to share a few photos of our Easter card for this year to prove that we make questionable decisions with our time (I mean, we did make all these plasticine eggs and rabbits but we didn’t exactly clean up all the kitchen cupboards for Easter).

This year we decided to honor one of our favorite holiday pastimes, which is boardgames. After designing the board itself we made a list of all the 3D elements we wanted to include and set down to modelling. In the background we played Kiki’s Delivery Service: this is off-topic but we’re always happy to recommend this charming movie.

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A big part of the work was mixing the colors because we only had a very basic set. Luckily, since our work on the surrealist manifesto, we had a lot of white plasticine left and we used it to make prettier, pastel colors. This was a very painterly part of the design.

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Carrots and eggs were fairly easy to make but the real challenge and fun came with shaping the animals.  Of course, we’re particularly proud of the fox.

redesign-easter-rabbits redesign-easter-fox-rabbit redesign-easter-flowers redesign-easter-basketOnce all the elements were ready we arranged them on the board so that there would be a bit of dramatic tension.

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As we try not to be hoarders (which, we find, is a bit of an occupational hazard) we kept the board for a week as an Easter decoration in our living room but then we recycled the elements. This allowed for making this neat infographics illustrating which colors appeared in what amounts. All in all, working in this organic way was extremely refreshing and we only wish we had more opportunities to do this in everyday work.

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redesign-easter-15-ENHave a wonderful time this Easter, spend it with your friends and family
and maybe play a board game or two.

And traditionally next week we’ll share a bit of making-of story for this year’s card.

re-shop-friendsAnd a slight update: Easter is not necessarily a time for gifts but if you want to test that tradition, Society6 offers free shipping this week if you follow this link.

re-purity-1Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger examines the cultural notions of dirt and taboo. For this installment of Words Matter we chose a relatively straightforward approach, contrasting visually the two terms from the title and equating danger with dirt.

The rendering of the word “purity” might be one of the more literally sculptural endeavors of the whole project because it is sculpted in a bar of soap. We haven’t tried anything like that since the early years of primary school but we may say now that soap is a very graceful material, easily shaped – except when you let it dry and it begins cracking and breaking. At any rate, we like how imperfect the soap sculpture is. It looks like something Boo Radley could’ve made.

re-purity-4“Danger” is simply written in brownish red liquid that slowly disintegrates. We wanted it to bring about associations with physiology, bodily harm and danger.

re-purity-5Now, this project might not have involved all the excitement of our adventures with ants but each cover presented its own challenges and here it was definitely shooting the composition in a very, very small bathroom where we found an appropriately old-fashioned bathtub. It was some job to fit a large lamp and a tripod into that space where we could hardly both fit (we definitely couldn’t with all the equipment in). But we really wanted the bathroom setting to provide additional context. First, we considered white tiles but then we decided that the mere hint of white ceramics suited the concept of purity better while the drain adds a, perhaps slightly disturbing, grounding element.

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re-ants-02The challenge and thrill of working with real-world materials when designing is how they surprise you. Today we’re sharing a story of a project which turned out completely different than we had planned because of our complete and utter lack of entomological (formicological?) knowledge. The next installment of Words Matter: The Ants.

When we found out about this book by Wilson and Hölldobler, possibly the only scientific study to ever get the Pulitzer Prize, we knew we wanted to include this. Not only is the subject matter irresistible but also we like to use the nearby woods as a source of design inspiration. However, when we thought about it, we somehow assumed ants act like flies: tempted with honey they will swarm to it and create a composition of ants. In fact, here’s a wikipedia picture of how we imagined the result:

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It clearly is possible. However, that’s not how things worked out in our experience. It was a hot summer day (first question: too hot? wrong season?) and after creating the honey typography at home we first tried to lure small ants that live in our garden to come onto it.

re-ants-05But even though some ants came and went, you could never call it swarming. In fact, it looked rather unimpressive. So we moved on to the original plan: we decided to use the bigger forest ants. First, we went for a scouting excursion (and it was so hot!) and failing to find a single anthill at least we found a secluded path full of large ants. We waited a little till it got cooler because we started to suspect that it was too hot even for ants to think about eating and we carried the tile with the writing two kilometers into the woods (and it’s quite a task to do that without ruining the lettering, let us tell you).

These ants looked great. They were big and pretty and numerous. Only, they couldn’t have cared less about the honey. Forget the swarms, not a single one came close. We had some theories: maybe they were soldier ants that didn’t gather food? Maybe this was not a food-gathering season? Maybe this kind of ants didn’t eat honey? Well, none of that helped. Finally, we got desperate and we moved ants to the honey and photographed them before they ran away. Ants are very, very fast.

re-ants-07Also: don’t worry. No ants were hurt in the process. That was our assumption from the very beginning and we’re happy that at least this part worked out.

So yes, The Ants cover turned out to be more of honey typography than ant typography, which is not necessarily wrong but it illustrates how important research is in this kind of bio-design. We like how the result is more minimalistic than we had planned. But if we wanted to repeat this idea, we would start this time by consulting a formicologist.

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re-surrealisme-05When creating the Words Matter covers sometimes we looked for novel ways of building tangible letter forms but sometimes we reached for things remembered from childhood. Now, plasticine was the toy of our early years and I still remember how it would always get stuck in a carpet or Lego blocks. I had a love-hate relationship with it at best. But we really wanted to use plasticine for letter building because it’s in a way a natural tool to explore and because we hadn’t done this kind of letters before. So we decided to pair it with Breton.

When we first chose Breton’s 1924 Manifest of Surrealism to design, we had very different ideas: we wanted to gather weird objects maybe suggesting sexual meaning, or to recreate elements of famous surrealist works of art. But we realized it was all too complicated and too literal and so we decided upon this more abstract approach.

We used many rolls of white plasticine to which we added some red in order to create a splotchy, fleshy color and of this we formed the letters. We wanted them to suggest something a little flesh-like, a little dream-like, with elements loosely resembling works like Tanguy’s or Arp’s, but which would most of all be a unified collection of letters. (It took a whole of Fame to form these, in case you wondered.)

re-surrealisme-01re-surrealisme-07re-surrealisme-06We didn’t want the letters to be too perfect so they retain finger and nail marks, which adds to their slightly disturbing quality.

re-surrealisme-08 re-surrealisme-03Once we had the whole collection (and we fixed all the structural problems because some letters simply refused to stand as we wanted them too) we arranged a theatrical-like scene, with letters fixed on threads. It looks simple but it took many photographic attempts to get it right as the letters tended to swirl and some were a bit too heavy to hang up easily.

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