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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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re-pensees-01The next book cover in our Words Matter series is a classic of religious thought by a 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal: his Pensées or Thoughts (as you will see, we used original titles for all the covers).

I will be honest with you: we’d wanted to use nails as a typographic material for a very long time. So we were extremely pleased to find the perfect cover for that. After his conversion to Catholicism Pascal not only wrote in defense of the Roman Church but also led the life of an ascetic, which supposedly included some painful self-mutilating practices. Even more importantly, nail is a very potent Christian symbol, being tied to Christ’s death on the cross. And finally, despite its simple function and status, it may be very decorative and the way we used it, it begins to look like much more precious material.

This cover was much, much more time-consuming than the one we showed you last week but this wasn’t unpleasant work. The material was fairly easy to manage.

re-pensees-07re-pensees-08 re-pensees-09In the end we used some rusty nails in addition to the shiny silver ones to create more of an impression of precious stones, as used on some covers of very old Church books or religious objects. We believe this really added to the texture and color scheme.

re-pensees-05Once this was done, we filled the background with shorter nails. This was mostly mechanical work but it was fairly easy to mess up the rows so it took some concentration, a lot of time, and a few episodes of a silly show about witches that was on in the background.

re-pensees-04re-pensees-06 re-pensees-12 re-pensees-10As you may see if you compare the making-of photos with the finished project, this cover took a lot of photo editing. It wasn’t the most difficult editing of all the covers, but it might hold the second place. But we’re sure it was worth the time because it might be the most complex design, meaning-wise.

For the back we didn’t want to repeat the same process, just the same material, so we chose a much simpler arrangement of the logo from nails:

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re-motivation-02Last week we introduced our project Words Matter, a series of book covers employing tangible type so it’s high time to start sharing the covers. The first one is one of the simplest (and definitely, definitely the easiest and fastest to make) but it’s still one of our favorites because of the simple fact: the letters of the title form a pyramid so well and it illustrates the book so perfectly. When we discovered this we were really excited and the cover almost designed itself.

Abraham Maslow, one of the great in the history of psychology, studied child development and came up with the idea of the hierarchy of needs, which he expressed in 1954 book Motivation and Personality. He illustrated the idea with a neat diagram in the shape of a pyramid. Unlike for other covers we didn’t create the letters: we used ready-made children blocks. We actually bought a whole set of the classic-looking wooden kind, similar to ones we had as children. We really liked the vivid colors and emphasized them with the bright warm yellow background to add to the sense of fun and play.

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As was our plan with all the covers, the selected material and form illustrated the important themes of the book: not only the pyramid itself, but also children and their way of combining fun with education.

As you will see, for all the covers we offset the extravagant tangible type with simple typography used for the name and spine and the logo we described last week. Back covers were not actually a big part of the academic project, just a chance to play some more with the solutions chosen for each cover. For each back we created the WM logo in the same way as we did the title on the front. As you may see, the design of the back cover also includes the space for a blurb but have not written the blurbs, not yet anyway, so for now the backs are fairly minimalistic.

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re-shop-friendsAnd a completely different thing that you might find interesting: it’s another week of free shipping on Society6 so if you wanted to buy a poster, that’s as good a chance as they get. Simply use this link.

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We have a series of covers to show you but first come two thematic posts on the occasion of St. Valentine’s Day. This week’s poster is a design for Experyment Science Center, which, while normally mostly focused on activities for children, for Valentine’s prepared an evening for adults. We looked for a way to combine science and love in a not-overly-serious way that would also be consistent with the other posters for children’s events that we design.

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Also, stay tuned for our next Saint Valentine’s Day post next week.

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