redesign-roman_decline-01One of our first attempts at tangible type was a poster for I, Claudius, where we used the idea of Roman letters shattered into pieces. However, back then we used paper for only a metaphorical illustration of the broken monuments/memories/etc. When revisiting this idea for the Words Matter cover of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – a classic historical study on why the Roman Empire weakened and fell – we wanted to try a more challenging approach: we wanted to use material that would be a more direct illustration of crumbling stone.

Of course, using actual stone might be cool but there were two problems with that. One, it would have to be machine-cut and the project was about manual creation of typography. Two, we probably couldn’t really afford it. However, we found an alternative which proved so, so much fun to work with: clay.

Back in art school we had some experience with clay during a sculpting class. It was a most discouraging experience and the worst part wasn’t even the rumor that the clay we had to use had worms in it (could it really? I don’t know). So we were at best wary of working with clay again but it turned out the kind they sell in arts supply store is very clean and very easy to work with.

redesign-roman_decline-09redesign-roman_decline-11 Once we had the letters ready, we dried them and arranged into the whole composition as designed before. We chose an orange background to loosely evoke ancient art and for its associations with burning but also for the energy it added to the design.

redesign-roman_decline-08 redesign-roman_decline-06 redesign-roman_decline-07 redesign-roman_decline-04Finally, another fun part came. We had to break the letters into smaller pieces. Luckily, they were brittle enough (not something you could expect from actual stone) and you had to simply tap them here and there.

redesign-roman_decline-03This is another cover based on a simple idea and quite minimalistic means so, as you can probably guess, we really like it. It’s always satisfying when the simple solutions pan out and the message comes across easily. Of course, we enjoy a convoluted, poetic solution every now and then but directness often makes for good communication.

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redesign-deuxieme_sexe-01Some of the previous tangible type projects we worked on before Words Matter, were actually meant as sketches for this large project. And so the idea of pin typography on a cushion appeared already on this blog, as you might or might not remember. While then it was only a formal experiment, this time we wanted the elements of the composition to relate meaningfully to the work they illustrate, namely The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir – another classic of feminist thought.

While approaching femininity in The Feminine Mystique (here) we focused more on its meaning as defined by a social role. For this cover, we focused more on the physical and sexual aspect of the problem. We wanted to evoke the atmosphere of an elegant bedroom, with the subtle, fleshy color of the pillow and the smooth material underneath it.

redesign-deuxieme_sexe-03The lettering is a feminine script, shaped into a triangle to suggest, together with the pillow’s color, a woman’s body. However, the lettering is not embroidered: it is formed of black-headed pins. This brings additional meanings of pain and discomfort to illustrate the difficulties of the definition of femininity.

redesign-deuxieme_sexe-09redesign-deuxieme_sexe-08Of course, it took a while (and a whole lot of pins we bought for the occasion) to create the whole lettering composition.


redesign-deuxieme_sexe-05 redesign-deuxieme_sexe-04But I think shooting it was more difficult than arranging the pins.

redesign-deuxieme_sexe-06redesign-deuxieme_sexe-02At any rate, we enjoyed working on this project. We felt it included making some less obvious decisions along the way: some alternative solutions we could’ve chosen would have probably subtly changed the meaning and these things are always interesting to explore.

redesign-psychoanalyse-01As Words Matter includes various classics of thought, we knew from the beginning Freud will probably be there. We wondered for a while how to approach this particular writer because while some of the books we dealt with are relatively lesser known, Freud’s writings have become a part of everyday culture. And so in the end we decided to go with that and rely on the simplest, probably even primitive for some, association of Freud and a cigar. Cigar typography didn’t sound too exciting so instead we decided to create ash typography. In this decision we proudly followed in the footsteps of some brilliant designers who had already experimented with powdery substances, such as Marian Bantjes and Danielle Evans.

We started by creating a stencil form to use (predicting, rightly, that ash will not be heavy enough to form letters just by pouring it, which you can do with e.g. sugar) and this was just about the only easy part of the enterprise (the photo shows, of course, a negative of the form).

redesign-psychoanalyse-04But the first big problem came with cigars. We wanted this to be authentic (and we needed the cigar for the photo, too) so we bought actual cigars (the cheapest we could get, mind you) and faced the task of turning them into ashes. Now, we’re very much not smokers so just getting down with a bunch of cigars and smoking them casually was out of the question. Instead we ended up crouching in the porch with matches, a couple of igniters, lighters and candles, hoping very much not to cause a fire (we didn’t) and getting increasingly frustrated. It took us forever to figure out the best way of burning around the cigar (and not burning our fingers) and it still took another forever to get this pitiful (though pretty) amount of cigar ash.

redesign-psychoanalyse-07We had about five such cigars and in the end we persevered through burning them all but I don’t think any other project ever has made me so nauseous – literally speaking, of course, because if we’re talking about figurative nausea, there were many worse designs.

It was obvious from the start that we would never get enough cigar ash for the whole design so we decided to fill the main part of it with actual furnace ash (much less smelly, but much more dirty and unpleasant to touch).

redesign-psychoanalyse-06 redesign-psychoanalyse-05This process only created the bare bones of the design: the letters were barely legible and it took much fine-tuning of the edges to arrive at the result we wanted. Obviously, we could hardly breathe around the composition for fear of huffing and puffing it off the table, so holding our breath was additional fun (and us still dizzy from all the smoke). And then we needed to position ourselves with the camera tripod on the table, over the whole thing. You should have seen us (but not heard because by that point it was indecent with all the swearing).

redesign-psychoanalyse-08As you can see, the cigar was definitely not long and impressive enough to form the final image: that took some photoshopping later.

redesign-psychoanalyse-03This is actually another design we’re really happy with. It starts with an idea so simple it borders on a joke but the somber color scheme and heavy wood (plus heavy typography, evoking 19th-century letters) offset that and bring in the whole masculine, often oppressive world of Freud’s ideas. We find it quite appropriate, considering how psychoanalytic ideas have functioned in society: somewhere between a serious, somewhat depressing theory and a pop-cultural gag. And, of course, a cigar might sometimes be just a cigar but more often, when coupled with Freud’s name, it will also be a most common phallic symbol and that’s how we used it (and also, as a context for the letters to make their material clearer, and a fun place to put the logo, if we’re being very precise).


redesign-zapytaj-06The Museum of Emigration in Gdynia asked us to prepare materials for their Ask about Poland workshops and meetings. The action invites people who emigrated and then returned to Poland to talk about their experiences and the reasons for their decisions. The museum wanted to emphasize both emigration and the fact of discussion, of various points of view coming together in the project, which inspired our idea.

The first element of the design was a poster to inform about the action taking place. We jumped at the opportunity to create another paper composition, this time based on speech bubbles that would symbolize the conversation and make good canvas for the extensive amount of typography that we needed to include. We added paper boats and planes converging on a point to suggest the return.

This is a fragment of the actual composition as arranged on our floor.


And this is the result.


Once the poster was ready we started working on the leaflet. We had the opportunity to use die cut and so we decided to create a real version of the effect that we created on the poster with two different background colors. For the leaflet we decided upon an irregular cover shape so that darker blue comes from underneath the cover.


We often regret that we don’t get more chances to use such fun printing techniques and so we really enjoyed working on this leaflet and really like the result, especially with the lovely paper – thick and not too white – that was chosen.

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And here is the whole poster, plus one of many web banners that we also created.


redesign-goldberg-06Experyment Science Center asked us to design a poster for their winter break program for kids. The theme was ecology and it included such activities as various games, recycling workshop and building an eco Goldberg machine. we mostly remember these kinds of machines from childhood cartoons and I think there was a game once which I found quite difficult (and fairly tedious after a while; I’ve got the name on the tip of my tongue but can’t quite remember it). But this is actually a great subject matter for an illustration, more challenging than usually because you have to come up with a series of events that would at least look like a working machine. We also wanted the machine’s effect to seem ecological and that’s how we finally arrived at the diagram for the poster.



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Now, we’re (clearly) no engineers but we hope the sequence of events is clear and so is the welcome outcome.

Speaking of welcome developments, this is another week of free shipping on Society6 if you click this link so if you’re in a mood for our Friends  or Iconic Painters stuff, this is a good chance to get it and save some money.

redesign-feminine_mystique-01The next book in Words Matter series is a feminist classic, a sociological study by Betty Friedan The Feminine Mystique from 1963. The book describes a situation of housewives trapped in their role, with their opportunities limited by what Friedan famously described as “feminine mystique”.

We like working with feminist texts because there is so much iconography to use. Here, we decided to play with what one might imagine as symbols of femininity, particularly of those women constrained to their kitchen and living room. We chose a slightly more complicated but most traditionally feminine technique of embroidery, with the book’s title embroidered on a simple kitchen cloth. This was particularly appropriate in Polish where the equivalent of “cloth” can serve as a disrespectful name for a woman (not a swear word exactly, but definitely offensive). But we feel even without this additional linguistic sense, the very object of a kitchen cloth is sufficiently disregarded to put our point across.

an-il-07As embroidery is not one of our strong suits (or something we would even know how to start) we asked for the help of my mom, who’s been developing her own embroidery technique all her life and agreed to help with the project, transporting our design to an actual cloth. The pink gingham pattern we chose for the background makes the design both casual and girlish. We chose script typography, which can be associated with womanly writing but also with various kitchen- or restaurant-related designs. Finally, we added a simple ornament, which we intended to be between a typical plant ornament and something more, well, anatomical.

Once the embroidery was ready, it turned out it took many attempts to arrange the cloth properly. We wanted the impression of a cloth casually dropped somewhere, without any second thought, so that is looks like the valueless object that it is. Here are three of many more attempts we rejected (on our all-purpose Ikea table):

redesign-feminine_mystique-04Whether we actually dropped the cloth, hoping for a random natural arrangement or tried to arrange the folds ourselves, we weren’t happy with the result because the top part took too much attention. These arrangements were not terrible but still not what we had in mind, so eventually we settled on something much simpler.

redesign-feminine_mystique-03What we like about this cover is that we think we managed to reflect the subversive nature of Friedan’s title, its irony. It is also always exciting to employ a traditional technique in a meaningful way, which was actually one of a few points that we tried to make in Words Matter project.


redesign-fairy_game-02Once upon a time we showed you a sneak peek of an illustration we were working on and promised to show you the rest soon. Soon is clearly today because having received the print version we’re sharing with you a small board game for children that we designed. Our friend designs for a local children’s theater and for Children’s Day celebrations (that’s June, 1st here) they publish a small magazine for kids with activities prepared by designers.

Due to budgetary constraints, this was a pro bono job and these are always tricky in that everyone needs to come up with their own reasons to do or not do stuff for free. We actually have a whole set of conditions that we use to decide. In case you’re interested, here they go. 1) We need to have time to do the project, obviously. This is a basic condition. 2) The project needs to be interesting in graphic terms so we see it as a fun challenge or a chance to try out new ideas. 3) We need creative freedom (if you want to influence the design, that’s great but not free). 4) It can’t be a commercial project that someone is making money off of. 5) We need author’s copies. You’d be surprised how often people ask you to do stuff for free but refuse to give you even one copy of the finished work. (Of course, it helps if a friend asks but that’s not really a condition.)


This time we decided to use the opportunity to play a bit with a certain illustrative style we’d wanted to try out for a while but never had a good project for that. We also decided to treat this as a tribute to one of our favorite pastimes ever and make a very simple board game.

redesign-fairy_game-04The rules are as simple as they come. You go along the way through the woods to get to granny’s hut and every now and then you meet a fairy tale character who makes you go forward, backward or stop for a turn. We came up with a whole host of those characters. They’re all drawn by hand and colored digitally, with a new method we came up with for the project. It turned out quite time-consuming but now we know we would probably return to it some time.

redesign-fairy_game-08Then we assembled all the illustrations into one board, added the rules and the game was ready to play.

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And here are some other activities.



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