This is part two of a five part series detailing how I interpret certain values using various letterforms. In Part 1 I shared the process I use to visualize a certain idea through letterforms. Today I am going through example number 1, Community.
Note that the order in which I’m writing this is not necessarily the order in which I work. This is essentially a breakdown of part of the Conceptual Phase of my lettering process. Ideas come in stream of consciousness, and that’s the most efficient way to explore them—as they come. But breaking down the process after the fact can help to hone and refine how I work, making it easier in the future.
If you haven’t read Part 1, I encourage you to do so. What follows is just a rundown of that process as applied to this specific example, in order to highlight how each portion of the process can potentially benefit a given project.
What do I associate with Community?
The easiest place to start conceptualizing is with free association. I typically start with a mind map. I’ll write the word(s) I’m going to letter (in this case “Community”) and circle it. Then I start writing whatever word comes to mind. I’ll circle that and connect it to the word I was just thinking of. The more connections the better, but sometimes I just hit on a good idea. If the flow is there, I won’t interrupt it. If I get stuck, I may come back to the mind map.
It’s hard to parse this process sometimes, as my sketchbook just ends up being a mess of notes on the page. And that’s totally okay.
In the case of Community, I associate it with connected, group, shared, body, people, close, and together. This is a very small mind map, but for a brief personal project it will do. Logo projects with a creative brief will have more “moving parts,” more specifics, and therefore bigger mind maps.
What are some historical associations with Community?
Historically I might think of religeous communities, planned developments (gated suburban communities), apartments, neighborhoods, schools, and professional associations.
The context for this particular word was much broader and more inclusive. I was thinking of community as humanity come together. All of these historical associations necessarily limit the group, while the idea I was going for is deliberately non-exclusive.
I stated in Part 1 that if history is limiting based on culture, time and geography, then I can find other associations with a broader reach.
What kind of body language communicates Community?
We have body language that communicates universally across humanity. Letter forms have a body language of their own. So what kind of body language communicates “connected” or “group” or “together?”
Standing close together, hugging, reaching out to another person, huddling and crowding are all human ways of showing Community. How do I apply these human attributes to letterforms?
I immediately think of condensed letterforms with tight letterspacing. If the letters are not only physically close together, but also “squished” or pushed in toward each other, then they look more like they are huddling, crowding, hugging, or pressing together.
This idea resonates strongly with me, so I note it. I’ll keep exploring anyway.
How would I write while feeling or embodying Community?
This is a lot harder to figure out. Community isn’t an emotion as much as an idea. It’s difficult (though not impossible) to feel Community. My first thought, though, is handwriting.
Writing letters to another person is a time honored way of connecting. Using a cursive hand physically connects the letters as well. Putting this in practice I was dissatisfied with the results. The running hand always felt too spread out. It felt strained, as if the letters were trying to run away with or from each other, rather than pressing toward each other. Sure they’re connected, but not “feeling the love” as it were.
Which results demonstrated
If I go back through, the free association and body language were most fruitful. If I’m using highly condensed, tightly letterspaced letters, what kind of type style would work best? Sans serif letters can get closer without serifs in the way. The neutrality and informality of sans serif seems more “universal” and therefore inclusive. So a condensed sans seems to be the way to go.
As I thought over my associated ideas I got a bit more illustrative. What if I made the letters out of a crowd? How about dots to represent a crowd? If I made the condensed letters out of dots, then They could represent a large group of people coming together.
This ideas struck me as best for what I had in mind to begin with. To finish it off after digitizing, I used the Pantone SkinTone™ swatch book in Adobe Illustrator to give a range of skin tones to the dots.
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So ta-da! There’s Community, difinitively visualized through letterforms, never to be touched, as it has now reached is perfect ideal through my process. Of course I’m just kidding. Lettering is as subjective as any art. But the idea gets closer to conveying what I intend by putting it through this process.
In the next post I’ll start into Integrity, and see what this process can do to help communicate that idea.