This is part three 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 2, Integrity.

  1. Community
  2. Integrity
  3. Kindness
  4. Joy

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 Integrity?

As I’ve said in the previous posts, the easiest place to start conceptualizing is with free association. I typically start with a mind map. For more details on mind mapping, see Part 2.

The free-association process is often imperfect and messy, and that’s totally fine. The point is to produce as many ideas as possible and get it out of my head and onto paper.

The results of this mind map show that I associate Integrity with moral, consistent, upright, tall, stable, stone, and Roman inscription. This is a very small mind map, but for a brief personal project it’s fine. Logo projects with a creative brief will have more “moving parts,” more specifics, and therefore bigger mind maps.

What are some historical associations with Integrity?

Historically I think of trusted institutions. I also think of buildings and culture that have withstood the test of time. The stereotype of a bank contiues to stick in my mind. (Although banks are no longer necessarily considered institutions of integrity, the financial systemss they represent continue to be the backbone of our economies and livelihoods.)

The conventional image of a bank is a stone building with Roman architecture: a frieze, big columns, broad steps, etc. Why did banks use that kind of architecture, even if they were built in the last one or two hundred years? Because the history of Roman civilization was one of longevity, strength, and power. It was something people could put their trust in. It had a feeling of integrity.

The material of stone is something that has staying power. There are buildings more than 2000 years old still standing in Greece and Italy. Our current western writing systems are virtualy unchanged from the time of the Romans, and are all derived from letterfroms like those found on Trajan’s Column. It’s easy to make the link between our letters and those in part because they are still there for us to see after over two millenia.

While for me Roman culture doesn’t conjure up an association with honesty and morality, Roman architecture and letterforms have been co-opted for hundreds of years in the service of religious institutions, writings, and art that does have a high degry of moral or ethical association. This is another reason these same aesthetic qualities are used by banks and government buildings: to clothe themselves in the quality of integrity they wish to be known for.

What kind of body language communicates Integrity?

As I’ve mentioned in the previous two parts, humanity has a common vocabulary of body language. And letter forms have a body language of their own. So what kind of body language communicates “honest” or “moral” or “upright?”

Standing tall and looking one another in the eye are human ways of showing Integrity. How do I apply these human attributes to letterforms?

I immediately think of tall (condensed?), upright serif letterforms. The serifs make the letterforms seem grounded and secure. Plus there’s simple tradition: serif letterforms are the standard for definitive texts.

How would I write while feeling or embodying Integrity?

This is another tough one. Integrity, like Community, isn’t an emotion as much as an idea. It’s hard to feel Integrity in the same sense that I might feel happiness or anger or sadness.

So if I were writing something in a way that embodied being honorable, trustworthy, ethical, or moral, I might write with a great deal of deliberation. My writing would be slow and intentional.

This thought brings me back to the idea of Roman inscription. If I’m going to be carving something in stone—something that will last for thousands of years—I’d certainly want to get it right. I’d be lettering carefully, with intentionality. That seems like it would be appropriate for the idea of Integrity.

Which results demonstrated
Integrity best?

As I look back through these notes, the historical approach seems to have yielded some good results. This is followed closely by body language and writing, which seem to back up what the historical facet turned up.

I worked on penciling out Roman brush-style lettering. The final penciled approach would have produced some pretty good vector approximations of Roman inscription letters had I traced it in Illustrator. However, I thought the pencil drawings themselves had a good look to them. In addition to looking good, I thought the idea of being honest and transparent with the method of producing the letters would be another good way to visualize Integrity. So I just scanned the letters into Photoshop and reworked the spacing some.

* * *

So there it is! Another idea visualized with a pretty good deal of success through this process. Considering this was a quick couple hour deal, it worked out well. Imagine if I’d taken the time to actually carve the letters in stone! I’ll add that to the list of things I’d like to learn to do.

The next post will be on Kindness, which will highlight a new aspect of this process.