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The Golden Bough by sir James George Frazer is a classic of anthropological and mythographic writing: a book in which Frazer examines early religious beliefs and how they influenced contemporary customs still to be found in folk culture (well, contemporary to him anyway). Also, unlike many such works, it has a very pretty, evocative title, which partly influenced its inclusion into the Words Matter series and resulted in one of our favorite of all these covers.

In fact, we approached the design twice: at first we wanted to use mistletoe as appearing on one of the classic editions of the book but not only is mistletoe hard to get by outside of the Christmas season but also the one we did find didn’t look all that impressive in the end. So instead we settled on oak branches with their extremely characteristic (and pretty) leaves. We picked a lot of them and then we spent some time spraying them golden.

We were quite happy with the decision to go with oak because not only is it way more striking visually (sorry, mistletoe) but its symbolic meaning is also very powerful.

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We did a die-cut lettering in a piece of golden paper, in art deco-like typography whose simplicity doesn’t distract from the whole idea and which is very elegant.

redesign-goldenbough-05And then we arranged the leaves and the letters in such a way that the leaves come out from under the writing, illustrating the staying power of myths and how they permeate our culture. It looks fairly simple, but arranging the composition took quite some time and required quite a few decisions.

As happened so often with this series we turned out very happy with the result exactly because of its simplicity.

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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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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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