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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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17
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
The runic alphabet (rune means “letter” or “inscription” in ancient Norse and
implies a mysterious and spiritualist language), which emerged in the first
century A.D., was originally fashioned from twigs, accounting for its rigid
angularity. Around the eleventh century, runes cropped up in stone inscriptions
throughout Northern Europe. Although they never became as widespread as the
Latin alphabet, runes were frequently carved into gravestones and used in
mystical tracts. In the nineteenth century, some racialist and nationalist
Germanic cults adopted the runes, and in the twentieth century the Nazis made
this alphabet central to their symbolic language and graphic identity. Because
runes are a perfect evocation of a lettering system crafted from materials other
than pen and ink they have resonance today, especially as making letterforms
from a vast array of dimensional materials is enjoying a popular revival.
Perhaps as a response to the computer's capacity for soulless
perfection or, conversely, its incredible ability to produce virtually any quirky
special effect, contemporary designers have both broken their digital bonds and
exploited new programming technologies in the creation of metaphoric alphabets
designed to communicate multiple messages and establish conceptual contexts.
These may not be runes in a strict sense, but they are mysterious, spiritual,
and elaborate alternatives to conventional practice.
The 2005 posters promoting a Japanese cultural magazine, Y
asei Jidai
(“Wild Age”), published by Kadokawa Shoten Co. Ltd., incorporate ambitious
examples of letters cobbled from other objects. “I made these letter with
balloons, abacus, and other ordinary tools that we find easily around us,” says
designer Yuka Watanabe, “because I wanted to express human feelings as more
than just letters printed by a computer.” Each rendition required ingenuity as
well as arduous hours of fiddling, forming, cutting, sewing, and photographing
(with little or no help from the computer), not simply to convey a direct
typographic message but to invoke the idea that the magazine is on the
sharpest cutting edge. While some of the techniques have been tried before—
for instance, forming letters from balloons derives from a popular party
entertainment for kids (and so looks very kid-like), and stitching letters dates to
the early samplers found in parlors in many homes—each is produced here
with a new degree of sophisticated virtuosity. Logistically speaking, the abacus
and tape posters demanded extreme patience—indeed, making the former into
proper Japanese characters is not as easy as moving beads into place—and
making certain the latter convincingly gave the illusion that the characters were
underwater required that some of the taped letters actually be photographed
under water. But the most remarkable feat of all was the painstakingly
meticulous placement of thousands of Post-it notes used to form the words.
Yet while this is obsessive and mind-boggling, it is not fully innovative.
Medieval scribes launched the trend in metaphoric or transformational
letters on their illuminated tracts. Later, during the late eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, steel and wood engravers created letterforms out of
animal shapes—real and imagined—and humans in all kinds of dress or
undress, and sometimes erotic positions. Log Cabin or Rustic, as it was also
known, Vincent Figgins's nineteenth-century alphabet made of logs and branches,
is still used today as a novelty face. The practice continued throughout the
twentieth century, with books of so-called natural alphabets made from
everyday objects that resemble actual letterforms to more contrived iterations
made from wires, ribbons, strings, ropes, and tape. Sometimes the letters
are formed of negative spaces, as in the word
bugs! made from a swarm
of roaches. Computer functions are also fair game for the metaphorical
typographer: The example shown here of yellow stickies (found on all
Macintosh computers) are contorted into letters in a clever transformation.
Unlike the codified runic alphabet, these typographic concoctions are one-
offs or novelties that serve a specific conceptual objective. But, like runes, they
prove that there is no one perfect or correct alphabetic system, for once a
quirky or anomalous approach is deciphered, it will be understood. In the case
of Yasei Fidai these messages are not only easily understood, they are
appreciated as marvels of pure craft.
Yasei Jidai (Wild Age)
Art Director: Norito Shinmura
Designer: Yuka Watanabe
2005 Yasei Jidai (“Wild Age”), promotional posters
cd,ad: Norito Shinmura d: Yuka Watanabe p: Kiyotusa Nozu
s: Shinmura Design Office c: Kadokawa Shoten
Promotional posters for the cultural magazine, Yasei Jidai (“Wild Age”), published by
Kadokawa Shoten Co. Ltd., with lettering done by Norito Shinmura.
One element creating type
Cut-out type
Twisted and folded type

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