This is part four 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 3, Kindness.

  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 Kindness?

In Parts 1–3 I noted that 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 whole point of mind mapping and free association is to get ideas out, and to try to get concrete visuals out of them. I let the ideas flow freely, without constraining myself to only come up with visuals. As soon as I’m done, though, I want to look for visuals in the mess, or try to come up with some visuals in connection to the mess.

My mind map for kindness produced words like delicate, gentle, active, giving, light, moving forward, humble, and lowercase. Just as with the previous posts, this is a small mind map, sufficient for a brief personal project. Larger projects with a creative brief will have more “moving parts,” more specifics, and therefore bigger mind maps.

What are some historical associations with Kindness?

Honestly I draw a blank when it comes to historical markers for kindness. I might think of Mother Theresa or the Random Acts of Kindness Day, but neither of these conjure typographic specifics with any real connection to kindness.

It’s okay, though! That’s why I don’t rely on any single one of these methods to come up with ways to visualize an idea. Where one method fails, others succeed.

What kind of body language communicates Kindness?

Just as humanity has a common vocabulary of body language, letter forms have a body language of their own. So what kind of body language communicates Kindness? How would I express “gentle,” “active,” “giving,” and “humble” with my body?

Embracing and reaching out are gestures often associated with kindness. The act of giving involves extending a hand to another person. Humility, as seen in body language, often involved a bowed head or turned in shoulders—ways of making oneself seem smaller. How do I apply these human attributes to letterforms?

My first thought was italic letterforms, as each letterform seems to lean toward the next. I also associate the lowercase with humility, so using those forms seemed natural. After writing out “kindness” I noticed that the lowercase k looks (to me) almost as if it’s gently smiling; the upper loop being kind of a crinkly eye, and the curve of the leg mimicing a smile. The leg also seems as if it is reaching out to lift up the adjacent i.

Additionally, the ascender of the k is already leaning over the i slightly because of the angle of the italic. So if I lean it all the way over and ligature the ball terminal of the k with the dot of the i, then it looks as if the k is reaching down to give the dot to the i.

How would I write while feeling or embodying Kindness?

As with Community and Integrity, Kindness is not clearly an emotion as much as it is an idea. It’s hard to feel Kindness 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 kind, I might do so gently, carefully, and maybe beautifully (which is even more subjective).

The italic letters are already farly graceful, and indicative of a gentle hand. The points at the terminals might be a bit harsh, so I soften them up with a bit of a curve.

Type nerd side note: The terminal anchors on this are not at points of extrema. This is the easy way out, and not best practice. But since it’s for a one time illustration, not for rendering type, I can get away with it. If I were to turn this into a typeface, I’d have to fix that.

Which results demonstrated
Kindness best?

As I look back through these notes, using body language to inform the letter styles seems to have led to good results. This aspect of my approach helped with the last two examples as well. However, in the last two examples the designs leaned a lot more heavily on other aspects of the process. In this example, in the absence of really strong concept from the other 3 facets of my process, the body language approach really came through.

After digitizing the lettering I used color and some outer glow effects to soften the look of the words and help express kindness. (Use of color is a subject for a whole other blog post.)

The result of this lettering example is one that could be acheived readily with calligraphy or brush lettering in myriad other iterations and interpretations. This is one of those times when a specific creative brief can really shape the outcome of the letters.

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The last two exmples of this series highleighted the free association and historic association portions of the process, while this one centered on body language. Up next, the final post in the series will be on Joy, which will highlight the last part of the process: the act of writing or forming the letters as an interpretive tool.