Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange: Digital Edition | Naguib & Fadilah/Mother & Father

Our next ambigram for the Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange: Digital Edition comes to us from Naguib & Fadilah, also known as NAGFA (http://nagfa.blogspot.com/.) Read on to find out more about their thought process and insight. Thank you for the wonderful submission, and congratulations on the birth of your baby girl!

The Naguib & Fadilah/Mother & Father ambigram

It was done by hand - as needed - in the hospital on the night Nayla was born. When I started designing this, I was inclined to doing something to do with the birth: so phrases like 'It's a Girl!', 'Nayla Najwa' were experimented on and discarded. I personally like doing symbiotograms freehand, firstly because I need not be super-careful with the symmetrical aspect of it when drawing the other half. Secondly, because I like to see how well two phrases with different lengths could rotate into each other, and in a way challenging myself in the process.

So the phrase 'naguib-fadilah' rotating into 'mother&-father' was chosen. After writing (more like drawing) down the two phrases, the challenging bits are the b-f and &-f. This we tried solving by writing different variations of the letters and comparing it with the corresponding letters. After getting the most suitable combination, the final draft was produced (as attached).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange: Digital Edition | Merry Christmas

I suspect that my word choice for this ambigram sketchbook project was strongly influenced by the upcoming holiday season. Last year I made a general Happy Holidays ambigram card, but this time, I wanted to be more holiday-specific.

The Merry Christmas ambigram

Initial Brainstorm
This is my first step in every ambigram design that I work on. I write out the word, and then write it upside down beneath the first word. Usually I use either uppercase or lowercase letters. There are several reasons why I like this approach. First and foremost, it helps me determine the letter ratio, whether it’s 1-to-1, 2-to-1, 3-to-1, etc. The basic handwriting eliminates visual aesthetics (for now), as focusing on aesthetics too early in the process can hamper legibility and readability. Most importantly, this simplistic approach allows me to visualize the transitions between the letters. I might do a few doodles here and there, but depending on the complexity of the word, I usually have a good visual of the ambigram in my mind before I even attempt more detailed sketches. The vertical line that you see splitting the word in two simply tells me that there is an even number of letters and I only have to sketch half of the word, flip it over, and complete the ambigram. Had there been an odd number of letters, I would’ve had to overlap the center letter (this will make sense in the following sketches.)

First complete rough
This looks like a very messy sketch. Well, there is a very good reason for that! After visualizing the ambigram with the help of my quick brainstorm, I had a pretty good idea of what each of the letters would look like. First, I started drawing with very light pencil strokes and shaped the letters out one by one until I got to the ‘C/H/R/I’ combination. Throughout this stage, I rotated the paper countless times & sketches from both directions; when developing an ambigram, it is very important to rotate it consistently to make sure that all the letters are legible. I stopped at the ‘H’ because it was the midpoint of the word. However, after the first rough sketch, I realized that the ‘C/H/R’ transition will be the most complex in the whole word. I had trouble visualizing it in my head & realized that early during my sketching stage, which is where the next page of sketches came in.

In any ambigram, you can have 99% of the letters & transitions worked out, yet there will be that one pesky letter combination that you might never get to work. When starting to work on the ‘C/H/R/I’ combination. The ‘H/R’ did not cause that much of an issue. If you analyze the two letters, they both have a cross-bar (more prominent in the ‘H’ than the ‘R’) and at least one shared vertical side. Having common verticals, horizontals & curves in two or more letters makes one’s life a lot easier when trying to create an ambigram! The bigger problem was the ‘C/I’ combination. The ‘I’ (in most common alphabets) is a perfectly geometric character without a single curve, while the ‘C’ is nothing but one continuous curve. The challenge here was to curve the character enough to have it represent the ‘C’ in Christmas, while retaining enough geometry and rigidity to appear as an upside down ‘I’. As you can see from the sketches, I tried several uppercase and lowercase versions, as well as mix u/c & l/c together. Also I attempted to merge the ‘C/H/R’ together as one graphic and then add a lowercase ‘I’, but that didn’t work very well, as the block of letters seemed disjointed. Finally, in the last sketch you see (bottom right) I decided to ignore the ‘C’ and attempt the ‘H/R/I’ combination. While sketching the leg of the ‘R’ where it comes close to the bottom of the ‘I’, the stroke naturally curved around the leg of the ‘R’. When I rotated the sketch upside down (as I do multiple times throughout the ambigram process) it looked more like a ‘C’ then any previous sketches. Finally!!! After this sketch, I was also able to visualize the ‘C/H/R/I’ combination working well with the rest of the word. Next!

Now that the most difficult block of letters was more or less solved, I turned my attention to the easier letters. The ‘MERRY/STMAS’ (the STMAS being upside down of course) came out similar to the first rough sketch, as the merging of the letters and transitions from letter to letter were very clear in my head. You see some slight refinement in these sketches, but that’s about it. I experimented slightly with the connection of the ‘M/E’ and different serifs on the ‘R’s’ and the ‘E’. In the end, I decided to keep the serifs similar to the rest of the letters in the ambigram. I also attempted an uppercase ‘T’ instead of a lowercase, but discarded that idea as I thought it looked a bit harsh.

Final Ambigram
Up until now, I’ve switched between plain paper and graphing paper (1/4 inch grid) because in the later stages, I wanted a basic grid for my sketches. For the final rough, I switched to graphing paper that had a 1/8 inch grid, because I wanted more control over the finer details of the ambigram. As you can see, I’ve made some slight adjustments to the previous sketches & ideas that I had. I curved the ‘I’ a bit more, and visually your eye carries over from the leg of the ‘R’ into the ‘I’, so it’s an implied (but not an actual) transition. Other then some slight aesthetic changes, the ambigram did not change much from the first rough. When I bring this ambigram into the computer, I might make some other miniscule changes, but in terms of development on a paper with pencil, I think it is pretty complete. I used three different types of paper in this ambigram development; plain paper for some initial brainstorming & smaller sketches (as the ‘CHRI’ block), graph paper with a 1/4 inch grid for some of the roughs, and graph paper with a 1/8 inch grid for the final rough. In the end, the final design took about four pages.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange: Digital Edition | Louis Armstrong

Our first participant for the Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange: Digital Edition (please click the link to find out more about ASE) is John Langdon. He has taken the time to create a fantastic ambigram of Louis Armstrong, who also happens to be one of my favorite jazz musicians. Now, here is John's ambigram along with a written explanation from the artist.

The LOUIS ARMSTRONG ambigram, step by step.

Page 1 Looking for a word. If I recall correctly, I started with an Angels & Demons theme, trying LUCIFER and BEELZEBUB. Then went to HEAVEN and HELL (the first two ambigrams I ever did, in the early 70s), and they led to NIRVANA and VAN HELLSING (sp?). Then to TYPOGRAPHY and EXQUISITE, which made me think about a name of someone who produced exquisite work: SHAKESPEARE, and then LOUIS ARMSTRONG.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG fell into place fairly well, with both an O and an S repeating at regular intervals. Making use of that starting point meant that the ambigram would have to be a chain, which needs two self-contained inversions. The G was an easy one. The ARM would be a bit trickier.
Although this page was turned both 180 degrees and 90 degrees during the exploration process, I have shown it here “right-side-up” as regards the LOUIS ARMSTRONG development. To the east-southeast of the upside-down word BEELZEBUB, is the upside-down word LOUISARMSTRONG. (I start by writing things upside down, rather than writing them right-side-up and then turning the page.) Immediately below that is my first shot at converting the letters to ambigram glyphs. The ARM at this point looks more like ARN. After a couple of experiments with ARMs in the lower left part of the page, I see that by extending the upstroke of the R, I can make the M seem more M-ish, as can be seen in the lower right. The previous ARM, employing script forms, also suggests that an angled style will be better than a vertical orientation.
Page 2 At the top is my somewhat carefully drawn interpretation of my previous sketch, with letters a little less than 1” in height. There are also two quick sketches to see whether I’ll want two or three iterations of LOUIS ARMSTRONG around in a circle to complete the infinite chain. Although the right hand one, which approximates two iterations, provides a better letter height-to-circle size ratio, I think the readability will be better with the three-times-around approach, seen on the left. Below that is an amusing result of trying an optional shape for the chain-linking G.
Page 3 After enlarging the relatively tight drawing on page two by three or four hundred percent, I trace that drawing, making careful measurements to ensure consistent letter height and angle and stroke weight. The letters are drawn in outline, forcing me to be very committed as to where the edge of a letter is. No fudging allowed. I’ve drawn only half of the O, S, and G, as I’ll want each of those letters to be perfectly symmetrical in the end.

Page 4 The O, S, and G have been completed, and all the letters strung out in order. Then that stage is copied and repeated, arranged in full ambigram form, completing the name, with the extra G that will link to the next iteration. This is as far as I would go without using the computer. From here, I would create finished vector art of the letters, then arrange them around one third of a circle (a trial and error process). Then the tops of all the letters (farther from the center of the circle) and the spaces between them will need to be split, allowing them to fan out along radii of the circle. Much adjusting of spatial relationships and some redrawing of letters is involved at that stage. Because the letters appear in both a right-side-up and an upside-down orientation, the R/U glyph, for instance, will need to be split and repaired in both its configurations, making it more efficient to do that work with vector-formed letters, rather than having to draw each letter twice. (I’ll take this project to completion in Adobe Illustrator in the next few weeks, and all that will become clearer when you can SEE what I mean.)

John Langdon Nov. 18, 2008

John, thank you for your wonderful submission & insightful glance into your ambigram design process! To see more of John Langdon's work, please click on his website under the list of Contributors. For more information on the Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange: Digital Edition, click here!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ambigram identity in the real world: Blacklist.tv

A perfect ambigram identity needs to reflect the concept & company it is representing; it also needs to be legible & readable. Due to that very reason, it is very difficult to necessitate a need for an ambigram identity for any company. It is even harder to find a successful example of an ambigram that not only works as a successful logomark, but also reflects the nature of that company. Well, I believe that we have found that company! Say hello to Blacklist, a division of Psyop, based out of New York City. Their production coordinator & designers that developed the ambigram identity were kind enough to answer a few questions regarding Blacklist’s ambigram identity, as well as provide some insight to the concept and idea development for the identity. Take a look at Blacklist’s website under the ‘Contributors’ section of the blog, and keep reading for the full interview!

Used with permission from Blacklist.tv

1. Most companies would be reluctant to use an ambigram as their mark. Why did you think that an ambigram was the correct solution for Blacklist?

The logo concept was developed with our client, Adina Sales, EP of Blacklist and the creative directors of Psyop. We wanted to make Blacklist a bit like a secret society. We found some elements of the term "secret society" interesting and relevant to how we saw Blacklist.

A secret society is seen as fraternal, as being immensely powerful, with self-serving financial or political agendas (more or less: advertising) and with a global reach (Blacklist seeks international directors and work). The organization is exclusive. It claims to own special secrets. It shows a strong inclination to favor its own.

Blacklist was set up by Psyop. We also loved the relationship between Blacklist, a "secret society", and Psyop (which stands for Psychological Operations).

The ambigram came about because we wanted there to be a little secret somewhere that could be discovered. However not so obscure that no one was able to discover it, but obscure enough that, when one does discover it, it brings that person a feeling of delight and wonderment. Also what comes with a private discovery like this is a little sense of owning a secret. It brings out a tiny bit of the child within us.

What and/or who was your inspiration for the ambigram mark?

It was Lutz who brought up the idea of an ambigram. It was not derived from the very popular book cover of 'Angels & Demons' (written by Dan Brown), as afterwards many people asked us whether this was where we got the idea from. We had brought many things to the table. Special coding, matrixes, Morse code. Works of M. C. Escher. I was into exploring the concept of a 'doppelgänger' or a 'vardøger' (which is not seen as evil as the doppelganger is). I liked the idea of a duplicate but not an exact duplicate. The ambigram was a natural progression from these leads in finding something that fit for Blacklist.

The Blacklist mark has a distinct blackletter/gothic look, which is a common trend in ambigram design. Yet it is set apart by the pixel pattern/grid within the logo and gives it a different aesthetic. What was the idea behind the grid?

The blackletter is great because in most cases it is highly legible. It also has useful motifs that give you flexibility to use to an advantage when developing an ambigram. We did explore creating a modernized pixilated font instead but we felt it had lost a certain character and feel. The grid came from the other ideas that we were developing along side the ambigram. It was hinting at Morse code-like patterns and digitalisation (the bulk of Blacklist clients are in Broadcast). We also felt it was a good way to give Blacklist a modern twist.

Does the logo exist in digital format only, or are there applications of it to various stationery and printed marketing materials? Would it be possible to see some examples?

It is mostly digital. It is also on business cards and various of other things.
Adina made a branding iron out of it.
Ha! Yes ... Adina was branding everything with it - that was brilliant!

Do you think the mark accurately represents Blacklist and what you do?

Yes. Very much so.

6. Is the purpose behind it to be more of an abstract mark or is it intended to reflect the company's capabilities?

There are many ways you can look at it. We think Blacklist seeks to represent handpicked talent; up-and-coming directors who we think are jam packed with potential, talent and simply need a company to nurture, guide their development and provide opportunities to work on projects that will really break away from how we would predictably perceive the way things should be done. We feel an ambigram encapsulates this. To turn it around and to discover something that you had not noticed before. Like a new director, turn things around and you will find that they are capable of things that you never thought. It also touched on the idea that Blacklist is a boutique - seeking to create work that is special, unique and that will stand out from the rest.

What was the most challenging aspect of the design & development process of the ambigram mark?

Zoe put all her typography knowledge into the logo to make it perfect. In all the phases and different versions that we had, we added details, removed details, made some letters bolder, thinner, it all had to work together.
It is actually a lot more difficult than we thought. When we set out to create this ambigram we realized that making it balanced and making it feel solid and finished is not an easy task. What ever you do on one end had to happen in mirrored reflection on the other end ... so it was like designing by rubbing your tummy and patting your head but simultaneously rubbing your head and patting your tummy!

Are there any other thoughts or comments you would like to mention that I didn't touch upon?

We were always aware that the initial readability of the ambigram was a bit tricky, however we felt better knowing that if someone held the business card in his hand and was able to read it, the impact of it would be much stronger. It is the pleasure/surprise effect that we wanted. If you are able to 'get it', you just passed the 'initiation' test. You are now are part of the club; the secret society of Blacklist.

I had no idea what a big thing ambigrams are, and we loved finding out more about secret societies.

9. Are there any ambigram artists that you personally admire?

Respect to anyone who made ambigrams work, especially in a time without CTRL+Zs. It's a lot of fiddling around.
I don't know of any ambigram artists. I just now 'googled' to see if there was anyone who's work I recognized but didn't know the artist, and there isn't anybody. Even M. C. Escher doesn't really come up under the term ambigram. I really only found out what an ambigram was per se when Lutz brought it to my attention. I discovered the idea of an ambigram around ten years ago when I got really stuck into the novel 'The Poisonwood Bible' written by Barbara Kingsolver. I was struck by the character Adah in the book, the middle child in the family. Adah was not only a twin (doppelganger), she was well-versed in poetry - in particular the works of Emily Dickinson (incidentally my favorite poet). The key thing I adored about the Adah character was that she was very clever and liked creating palindromes. Adah's (or Ade) ability to bring clever humor into situations continually throughout the book was the very reason I read every word from start to finish, I looked forward to the next palindrome.

A palindrome is essentially an ambigram, so I will leave you with two of my favorites: "Never odd or even" and, "Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to a new era?".

A big thank you goes out to Adina, Alex, Zoe & Lutz for this great interview! For more information about Blacklist and their work, click on their website, located under the 'Contributors' link.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange

Ok all you fellow ambigrammists! Here is an idea that I would like to get off the ground by January. Read below, and email me if you'd like to join!

Ambigram Sketchbook Exchange

Rules for the exchange
a. A master list of participants is compiled
b. An empty sketchbook is purchased (by myself since I am proposing the idea) and sent to the first person on the list.
c. Each person gets up to 4 pages in the sketchbook to develop an ambigram of their choice.
d. Only tools allowed are pencils for initial development and a ball-point pen to trace the final ambigram. (The idea behind this is that no-one uses any tools that can leak through and ruin other pages, such as markers/permanent markers, calligraphy ink, etc)
d. That person then mails the sketchbook via registered/certified mail (so that it can be tracked, and wouldn't get lost) to the next person. The next person creates their ambigram, then sends it to the next participant.
e. The book makes its way around to all the participants until it makes its way back to me. I then make hi-res scans of all the pages, and dedicate a section of my ambigram blog to all the scans, along with information about each participants process.

Some thoughts..
Most important aspect to discuss: The sketchbook would have to be sent from participant to participant via registered/certified mail, so that it is easy to track, and won't get lost!!! I know that within the USA it will not be that expensive, considering the sketchbook itself will be small, and the shipping would be quicker. BUT......I really would LOVE to make this an international project! and not just limit it to artists in the USA. For USA participants, the time frame would be 1-2 weeks, including shipping to the next person. For international participants, the time frame would be 1-3 weeks, including shipping it to the next person. I would be willing to help with international shipping fees (to be discussed at a later point once the list of participants is complete.) I do not think it's fair that the person who's shipping it internationally has to pay more, or vice-versa.

- I would like to keep this to 20 people or less. If everyone takes the full 2 weeks (2-3 for international participants) to deliver the book to the next person, it would take almost a full year for the sketchbook to make the full rounds and to come back to me.

- The sketchbook would be small..no larger then 8.5x11inches

- You are allowed up to 4 pages for your design. This could include sketches, brainstorms, written out thoughts/ideas, etc. Anything is game for your 4 pages, as long is it is ambigram related.

- I can make hi-res scans after the sketchbook makes its way back to me, OR...as each artist is finished with their entry, they can send me scans of their work so that I can keep update the blog as the sketchbook makes its way to each participant. (I would prefer the latter idea as it would be a unique twist and would allow us to 'geographically' track the sketchbook as it progresses from artist to artist!!!) Especially if consider the time frame, the latter idea is probably the better one.

- Each USA participant would get 1-2 weeks (including shipping) to finish their ambigram and send it out.

- Each INTERNATIONAL participant would get 1-3 weeks (including shipping.) I know that everyone has jobs, family, and other events in their lives, so the time frames for US/international participants seem reasonable to me. Considering you do not have to finalize the ambigram on the computer, the allotted time should be enough. (As long as by the time you are done sketching your ambigram, it is more or less complete and ready to be re-created in the computer, if that was your next step.)


Any thoughts & suggestions are always welcome.

If you are up for it, and think what I proposed is good, email me the following:

My email for this project: ambiblog@gmail.com

1. Your name (you can use your real name or Flickr/any other pseudonym you want)
2. Your mailing address (if you are somewhat uncomfortable with this, feel free to email me so we can discuss this via email. Hopefully I will be able to convince you!) In any case, I can keep the master list and only sent out the address of the next person on the list once the previous person is ready to send out the sketchbook
3. Your email address
4. What mail carrier you can use in your area (FeDex, DHL, UPS, etc)

After I received all the participants' information, I will compile a master list, mail the sketchbook to the first participant and let them know who the next recipient is. (Ideally, I don't want to disclose EVERYONE'S mailing addresses to people, so you would only be receiving the address of the person who you're sending the book to next.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interview with Nikita Prokhorov on FlipScript

I recently conducted an interview with Mark Hunter, the creative mind behind the most sophisticated ambigram generator on the internet. He decided to return the favor and interview me! This interview can be found on his blog, as well as other insightful information on FlipScript & the ambigram generator he developed. Thank you for the interview Mark!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Interview with Mark Hunter

It is always great to meet people who have a passion for what they do, and even more so when that passion revolves (pun fully intended!!!) around ambigrams! Recently I met a fellow ambigrammist online, Mark Hunter, who is the creative mind behind the most sophisticated ambigram generator on the internet. We exchanged several emails, spoke on the phone, & I asked if I could interview him to get an in-depth look at the ambigram generator and the idea behind it. And now, for the interview…
Mark, Nikita, & FlipScript ambigrams. (Ambigram designs used with permission from Mark Hunter)

Nikita Prokhorov: I'm here with Mark Hunter, the author of
the ambigram generator, which is said to be the first true ambigram generator on the Internet. Mark, why don't we start with a brief background, just so our readers know who you are. Tell us a little about yourself, so we know where you're coming from.
Mark Hunter: Sure thing, Nikita. Well, I tend to get a little bored by traditional corporate America, especially if I don't have a creative outlet, so I'm always looking for new and interesting opportunities. I've started a few companies, and they always seem to be in far-out niche markets, where there is usually little (or no) competition... and then I try to grow the space. Most recently in 1999, just as the flat-screen revolution was beginning, I wrote a software package to calibrate video for home theater, and grew that company to over $1M in sales until the company was acquired a couple of years ago by a big corporation that brought the technology to Best Buy and Circuit City where you can still use it today.

After moving on from the home theater video calibration niche, I decided to set my sights on the ambigram space.

NP: How did you first become trapped in the world of ambigrams?

MH: (laughing) Doesn't it always start with reading "Angels and Demons"? After reading the book in the year 2000, I made a nice ambigram of my first and last name, and decided to have it done as an ambigram tattoo. I actually thought that getting an ambigram tattoo was an original idea, and back then, it very well might have been! After evaluating that idea for a while and deciding on a body location, I realized that the fingers are actually one of the most easily rotated parts of the body. Realizing that I'd probably have to turn to a life of crime if I got my fingers tattooed, I decided that it would actually be much cooler to have my ambigram laser-carved into a man's ring. It cost me quite a bit to have the ring custom-made out of solid Gold, but the jeweler said that the soft metal would be the only thing that would work for his laser-carving machine.

Beijing ambigram. (Ambigram designs used with permission from Mark Hunter)

NP: Oh, so, your first ambigram ended up on a ring?
MH: Right. I only realized that there could be a market for this when all of my friends told me how cool the ring was, and how great it would be for the couples/engagement market. I started creating ambigrams of some couples I knew, and they were blown away by how cool it would be to have a ring with those designs.

Of course, the technique of taking days to hand-draw each ambigram and having it custom carved into solid Gold wasn't exactly scalable. (laughing)

NP: So, how did the idea for FlipScript come about, and was it a solo or joint effort between you & another person (or people)?
MH: Well, I started writing the code in the summer of 2007 after leaving the home theater industry, but it wasn't even close to where FlipScript is today. It was just an experiment originally. I just wanted to see if I could write a software system to create really good ambigrams automatically.

I realized that I needed an expert ambigram partner to take it to the next level, and so I contacted all of the big names in the ambigram space: John Langdon, Tiffany Harvey, Martijn Slegers, Mark Palmer, and others. I'm sure I'm forgetting a few. Of the people I contacted, one didn't think the ambigram generator would work. One didn't quite understand how it was supposed to work. And one was concerned of what such a device would do to the hand-drawn ambigram space, and wasn't sure he wanted the tool to exist at all. Only Mark Palmer from WowTattoos said, "Let's Do It!". So, we did.

Brisbane, Australia symbiotogram. (Ambigram designs used with permission from Mark Hunter)

So, who was involved with the development of the ambigram generator for Flipscript?

MH: Well, I built the database schema, and wrote the code for the database builder as well as the ambigram generator. As I mentioned, I had some of the core code written before even writing to the ambigram artists. Mark Palmer created the ambigram designs in a format that we agreed to on a trip I made out to L.A. to visit him. Mark's brother Ryan helped a lot in making everything run smoothly, and in getting the designs into the database correctly. So, it was really the three of us.

By the way, it's not actually the FlipScript ambigram generator. Mark Palmer and I actually formed a corporation called Glyphusion, Inc. which licenses the technology. Companies can license the ambigram generator to create custom designs for their products and services, and FlipScript just happens to be one of those licensees.

NP: There are only two or three other ambigram generators in existence. How does your version compare to them?

MH: Actually, I was only aware of one: the ambi-matic from ambigram.com, written in 1995. In fact, one of the things I did was to rewrite the ambi-matic with a much nicer user interface and without the old frames when I purchased the domain Ambigram.Com from the author of the ambi-matic (Post-note: that page is here: http://www.ambigram.com/matic ). However, the ambi-matic script was never even close to what I had in mind for
the ambigram generator.

I don't think that there is any real competition for the ambigram generator, nor do I think there will be for many years. Between the database, the generator, the supporting applications and the glyphs, there is a total of about 6 person-years of effort invested in the ambigram generator, and it would be a huge amount of work to duplicate. In fact, I'm not sure it will ever be duplicated.
Boston Celtics symbiotogram. (Ambigram designs used with permission from Mark Hunter)

NP: What is the advantage of using an ambigram generator to create an ambigram? Consequently, what is the disadvantage, and how do hand-drawn ambigrams compare to generated ones?
MH: One of the things we set out to do with this technology was to basically replicate the exact steps that a human would go through in creating an ambigram. We didn't want to just have a few graphics that were simple letter inversions and line them up side by side. Most people would agree that such a technique creates a really, really poor ambigram.

In contrast, the ambigram generator actually works a lot like a person would in sitting down to make an ambigram: it evaluates a plan, draws the ambigram stroke-by-stroke as a vector design, inverts the ambigram frequently as it draws (drawing upside-down about half of the time), makes evaluations as to what letters combine best with other letters and would never, ever try to match an "m" to an "i" or an "x" to an "o"! Unlike that other tool that I won't mention. It combines multiple letters together where it makes sense, and the technology is actually smart enough to draw any ambigram that currently exists. In practice, it can't actually do that because it doesn't have all of the data for every ambigram that exists, but the technology does support it. It draws just about exactly like a human would draw, but about 1000 times faster.

In fact, there is no limit to how "good" the ambigram generator can draw a design except for the data in the database. It can create ambigrams every bit as sophisticated as the very best human drawn designs, because it uses the same techniques that a human would, and uses a human artist's designs as the data. However, it will take some time to teach it the full extent of all complex letter transformations.

NP: So, are you saying that the generator is not complete?

MH: Exactly. In fact, I'm not sure it will ever be totally complete. We have a goal of having two "core" fonts in the generator initially: One more masculine and one more feminine. We have thousands of glyphs and strokes in the masculine font, and are about to begin the development of the feminine font.

One fairly aggressive idea I had was to organize the ambigram artists and give them an outlet for their works by allowing them to upload their designs to the database to be used on the growing list of products that can be personalized, and then give them a nice percentage of the profits of anything sold with their design. Kind of like the Cafe Press of the ambigram space, but with better margins for the artists.

Play hard symbiotogram. (Ambigram designs used with permission from Mark Hunter)

NP: How did you know where to even start with the generator?

MH: That's a good question. Actually, getting started was rather tricky. We needed to know what we were going to focus on first, and we agreed that names were the most popular thing to turn into ambigrams . So, I downloaded the US Census Data list of the 1200 most popular males first names and the 1200 most popular female first names, and made a tool that ran on 3 computers for 4 days basically creating all 1.4 million name combinations as unmanifested ambigrams. From there, we knew what glyphs we would need in the database, and approximately what kind of success rate we were going to be getting get when we had them all. In fact, the test calculations were only off by 3% from our actual measured success rate with the live generator, so the prototype was pretty solid.

After we released an early version of
the ambigram generator, an interesting thing happened. When people were actually using the generator, we were able to collect statistics about what designs were not able to be created, and that would create a list of the glyphs that were preventing the solutions from completing. In other words, we were finding out "live" what glyphs people needed... that didn't exist. I started calling it the "Most Requested Glyphs List". These were the glyphs that people were asking for... without even realizing it.

So, we were able to move away from the theoretical US Census Data into real-world data that the ambigram generator was automatically creating for us! Obviously, the ambigrams that people are ACTUALLY trying to make is the most real-world data that we could possibly ask for! Plus, the users were creating designs that are automatically cached, so the system was also getting faster over time as more and more designs were able to be pulled from the cache. Stated differently, the ambigram generator actually gets better... and faster... the more it is used. There aren't many things you can say THAT about!

NP: Do you still design any ambigrams from scratch? What is your personal approach when starting to develop an ambigram?
MH: I have done a few, but lately, my time has been completely consumed with building the generator and the web sites. I wish I had more time to draw more, but my value-add to this project is really in the software development area. My last ambigram was probably the FlipScript logo a couple of months ago.

NP: Finally…What makes ambigrams so unique that people are drawn to them?
MH: Well, if you look at nature, symmetry is all around us, from snowflakes to leaves. There is something very fundamentally attractive about symmetry to humans, and we are not used to our words having such symmetry. It's really surprising to people when they can read a word (or two words) from different orientations, especially a really well done ambigram that is very legible from every angle.
Mostly, I just think that people think they're cool!

Thank you for a great interview, Mark! Hope that everyone can learn as much from your answers as I did. To find out more about FlipScript, please visit Mark's site (a link can be found under the "Co
ntributors" section on the right hand side.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

AC/DC tribute

Original AC/DC logos on the left (b/w & color), my versions on the right.
(Disclaimer: The original AC/DC logos are used here for demonstration/comparison purposes only.)

I originally started this blog with the purpose of exploring the process behind ambigram design & not about showcasing the work. This is the only exception I will make (at least in terms of my own work) as it is an ambigram tribute to my favorite band, AC/DC. I tried to stay as true to their original design as possible. I think that's about all the comments I will make, so take a look, judge for yourself, and feel free to leave a comment!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ambigram Submission: Strangers, Dillemma & others.

The following is a submission and artist thoughts & process from Robert Maitland. He was kind enough not only to provide several examples of his ambigrams, but also a thorough write-up accompanied by some visuals (hey we're artists & designers, so we need visuals!!) Here's Roberts' thoughts and process:

"Both Scott Kim and John Langdon have put forth much helpful advice on the ambigram creation process, so I feel that I don't have much new to add. But I will offer my personal process, for those who are interested.
Generally I can figure out pretty quickly in my head if whether a word will work as an ambigram or not. Potential candidates get jotted down, and the boring and/or unreadable ones (usually about 60-70 percent) get rejected. (See figure 1)

Some words have multiple solutions ('strangers') and get branched out.
Some can be stubborn ('double helix', which I still haven't figured out), at which point other types of symmetry are tried. The hardest part of making an ambigram is the finessing from a sketch to the final digital design. Because each ambigram is unique, there is no one method that is best. Most of my ambigrams are made from various circles and lines tweaked into what is required. It works well, but can be a bit boring if no flourishes are made. All editing is done using Paint Shop Pro 4. (See figure 2)

Some ambigrams are made from existing fonts, if the word is not too difficult. (See figure 3)

Hand-drawing is usually a last resort, if some particular curves are too difficult to achieve on computer. My drawing skills are unfortunately low, so I don't attempt it very often. (See figure 4)

Recently I have been experimenting with vector editing, which makes creating difficult curves much easier, although it does take much longer. (See figure 5)

One one tip that has helped me greatly is to study as many different
typefaces and ambigrams as possible, to get an idea of what works as a letter (in terms of legibility) and what doesn't. Happy Ambigramming!.."

Robert, thank you for your great submissions and suggestions! (a link to Robert's page with more of his amazing ambigrams can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ambigram Submission: Nikita

This submission is an honor to me, as Jose Manuel, a designer from Málaga, decided to create a "Nikita" ambigram! Here are a few of his developmental sketches:

And finally, here is the finished ambigram!

He was also kind enough to email me his thoughts & process on ambigram design. Those will be posted shortly. Muchas gracias Jose, and I am honored that you chose my name for this ambigram submission. Take a look at Jose's blog & other ambigram work! (a link to Jose's blog can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ambigram Submission: Frank Sinatra

Naguib & Fadilah run a blog called Ambigrams by Nagfa. It is a blog that is dedicated to the art of ambigrams. Aside from creating some great ambigram solutions, Naguib & Fadilah also conduct the Ambigram Challenge.

Below is their submission. In this case, a picture is worth more than a thousand words, as their sketches clearly detail their thought process and development.


Solution 1

Solution 2

Wonderful sketches and submission!
(a link to Nagfa's blog can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)

Ambigram Submission: Revelation, Typophile, Roxanne & Sins

Mark Simonson is a type and graphic designer working out of Minnesota. I met him on the Typophile forums, and he offered to submit some beautiful ambigrams, along with sketches, a detailed though process and tips & suggestions for other ambigramists. (Is that even a word? It is now!)
Here are his submissions.

As a result of the discussion on Typophile, I was asked to create this design for a tattoo. I've attached sketches and some of the exploratory artwork.

Sketch 1

First sketch shows a bit of brainstorming. The basic idea seems to have come pretty quickly, but I don't remember exactly how. It's strange that there are two non-starters, then something not far from the final idea. I must have had a "revelation." :-) As I recall, my basic approach was to work from the outside in, the inside out, or both at once, trying to picture it upside down as I went. Rotating the drawing frequently is essential.

Sketch 2

Second sketch shows a refinement of the basic idea. (There is also a blackletter variation shown that I didn't pursue further.) Only one half is drawn, which was then traced in the next sketch.

Sketch 3

Third sketch is on velum, traced from sketch #2 in both orientations. This was to see whether it read well and looked good. I guess I wasn't quite happy with this.

Sketch 4

Sketch four shows the same idea rendered upright instead of slanted, just one half of the design.

Sketch 5

Sketch five shows some more refinement of the same idea. At this point, I scanned it into the computer in order to work with the design more efficiently in Illustrator.
First vector draft

Here is the first draft of the design in Illustrator, based on the last sketch. The final forms are nearly worked out, but need more refinement.

Final variations

This shows the final variations. The top is a refinement of the draft shown previously. As an option, I did two variations with flourishes added. The bottom one was chosen.

This was done as part of the discussion about ambigrams on Typophile.com. I did several others before arriving at this solution. You can see the others online at Typophile.com.


Another commission. This one was very easy to work out, almost a natural ambigram. It's both legible and aesthetically pleasing. I spent most of my energy on the formal qualities, since there was very little to work out in the symmetry.

This was another commissioned design. I like the way it looks, but I don't think it reads very well, and therefore not very successful (in my opinion)

Ambi-tips (sounds catchier then ambigram tips, no?)

- Rotate the design frequently when you are working on it. The process is very iterative, and needs a lot of push and pull.
- Once you have drawn half of the ambigram in Illustrator (or another graphics program), you can copy and rotate it for the other half, or to replace one side when you've made changes to the other.
- Keep an open mind to ambiguous forms. (This is probably the hardest part.)
- Calligraphic and script forms tend to work better than typographic forms because the elements tend to be more ambiguous and modular.
- Too much ambiguity can make it unreadable.
- Consider the different forms a letter may take.
- Part of one letter may be part of a different letter when the whole is rotated (the best ambigrams have this quality).
- A decorative element may be part of a letter when the whole is rotated, or vice versa.
- Strive for visual and stylistic unity (not strictly necessary, but always makes it better).

Great submissions and some wonderful tips! Thank you Mark!
(a link to Mark's website can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Interview with Scott Kim

Since 1990, Scott Kim has been a full-time independent designer of visual puzzles and games for the web, computer games, magazines and toys. His puzzles are in the spirit of Tetris and M.C. Escher — visually stimulating, thought provoking, broadly appealing, and highly original. He has created hundreds of puzzles for magazines, and thousands for computer games. He is especially interested in daily, weekly and monthly puzzles for the web and portable devices.

In 1979, Scott Kim work was published by Omni magazine. The works published were referred to later on by Scott as 'inversions', and...well, why don't you read the interview below to find out the rest?

Scott Kim's work can be found on http://www.scottkim.com/.

1. The first time you became known for inversions was in 1979 through an article in Omni magazine. How did you come up with the term ‘inversions’, and what was your first inversion?
The term “inversion” didn’t exist when Scot Morris first wrote about them in Omni magazine. Instead, he called them “designatures,” a word we have both decided is best forgotten.

I came up with the term “inversions” as a title for my book, which came out in 1981. I knew I wanted a title that inverted to become my name, and after considering several titles, I settled on Inversions as the word I liked best and could make a legible ambigram. Incidentally, the word “ambigram” came much later, coined by my close friend and fellow ambigram artist, Douglas Hofstadter. (Actually the term was coined by Doug and his friends in conversation, and no one is quite sure who first said it.)

I created my first ambigram in 1975 (coincidentally the same year John Langdon started creating ambigrams) in response to an assignment in a visual design class. The assignment asked me to create a design in which the foreground (“figure”) and background (“ground”) were equally interesting shapes. Most students chose to draw abstract shapes or natural forms; I chose to work with the words “figure” and “ground”.

I struggled for a while to write the word “figure” in black so the space around the letters spelled the word “ground” in white. I couldn’t do it. So I changed the problem and instead wrote the word “figure” in black so the space around it was the word “figure” in white. Once I succeeded in creating a figure-figure figure, I started wondering about what other symmetrical designs I could create with letters, and the whole world of ambigrams opened up to me. In retrospect, my first ambigram was one of the most unusual and difficult that I have created.

2. Did any artist or art period influence you when you first began creating inversions?
Not at first. I struggled just to make the words legible. Later I studied the history of lettering design, and learned about classical calligraphic forms from the Renaissance, and the eye-popping geometric lettering of Herb Lubalin, both of which have influenced my lettering.

The only direct art influence was M. C. Escher, who inspired me to create poetic designs of both mathematical and visual beauty. I did not try to follow directly in his footsteps, but instead to develop my ideas as fully as he developed his.

3. What is your approach to ‘thinking upside down’?
“Thinking upside down” means to me not just literally looking at a design upside down, but also metaphorically turning ideas of all sorts on their heads, considering them from unusual angles and points of views,

4. What is the easiest part about creating inversions?
The initial sketch is easy and fast, often taking as little as a minute. Refining the design — making it both legible and attractive — takes much more work.

5. Is there a set number of steps that one can follow to create an inversion, or is it a more open-ended process?
There is a definite process with steps I have taught many times when I give talks about ambigrams. But because ambigrams are all about breaking rules, the process always involves a bit of improvisation and creativity.

6. How does your background in programming and mathematics education help you when creating inversions?
Creating ambigrams requires a methodical mind similar to what is required in programming and mathematics. I have found that typeface design requires a similarly meticulous approach to problem solving.

7. What’s the best advice you can give to someone who is starting to experiment with inversions?
Always show your ambigrams to people you don’t know, to see if they can read what you wrote. You are never the best judge of legibility when it comes to your own lettering.

(This interview was conducted on June 9th, 2008)

Ambigram Submission: Friend/enemy, black/white, Naomi & Botanica

Some great submissions from David Foster, a designer living/working in Australia. A quote from the designer...

"...I do most of my work straight into illustrator, although I do sketch quite alot I just never scan them, I use them for reference. I really dislike ambigrams that are illegible.
My process is usually the following:
1a. Either a client or a friend needs one, in which case I will try, not all words work.
1b. Alternatively, I just find a concept or word/words I like, black and white is meant to say alot about how we are different but the same
2. I open illustrator and look at the words from different angles with different spacings in different fonts
3. I open my sketchbook and have a shot at it that way, it's a trial and error process
4. I generally then build it from scratch OR I use parts from existing fonts to make the shapes i need..."z`

The friend/enemy & black/white ambigrams are known as 'symbiotograms', where the word on the bottom is different from the word on the top. Those are some of the hardest types of ambigrams to work on, as the success depends on a lot of factors, including whether the words match up in number of characters and how similar the shapes of the characters are. Very nice job Dave, on both the symbiotograms and the rotational ambigrams! Now how about some color? :D
(a link to Dave's website can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ambigram Video Submission: How Your Perception Evolves

Very interesting video submission from Chong Lai, a designer working out of Singapore. Some very unique ambigrams and portrayals of different types of ambigrams. Great video work and ambigrams Chong!
(a link to Chong Lai's website can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Ambigram Submission: Ambigrama

So...if a picture is worth a thousand words, what's a video worth?

The above submission is from Txescu from Barcelona, and it means "ambigram" in Spanish, Catalan and Portuguees. Here is a quote directly from the artist:

"...That was a personal work. I am not good at drawing and I do not have much knowledge in graphic design, so I follow a very simple method to compose my ambigrams. I use to cut, rotate and paste different parts of a letter in order to create another that can be reversed (as you will see in the video). Normally I make that with MS Paint as only software and using a different font for every ambigram, some typographies fit better to a word than others. That method is not as
creative as others but it is very effective for beginners or for non designer ambigramists..."

While Txescu (aka Francesc) did not have any actual sketches, he had the following to offer:

"...I don't have any sketch from this ambigram but my brother and I had made a video showing the process...

A video??? Even better then a sketch, here you can actually see someone's process unfold in front of your eyes! It shows another approach, with the same end result (a great ambigram), yet completely unique. This also shows what someone can do with an open mind, creativity and basic computer functions.

Muchas gracias a mi amigo nuevo de Barcelona para su sumisión. (a link to Francesc's website can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Ambigram Submission: Steph

This is an ambigram submission from Steph Doyle, an incredibly talented designer from Maryland. He submitted several sketches, or 'scratches' as he called them, a black & white ambigram, and the same ambigram with his signature 3d glasses. The wonderful aspect of the sketches is that you can see on paper how someone's mind is working, the thought progression and how the transformation is happening. Nice work Steph! (a link to Steph's blog can be found under "Contributors" on the right hand side.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Anna Ambigram

Did this for a friend. Probably the quickest ambigram I've done. A few preliminary sketches...and I DO mean a few!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Interview with John Langdon

The following is an interview with John Langdon, who is the creator of the well-known ambigrams for Dan Brown's book Angels & Demons. His work can be found on http://www.johnlangdon.net/.

1. Can you briefly describe how and why you became enamored with ambigrams?
Essentially, ambigrams did not exist when I began finding my way into a career. They evolved quite naturally. My hereditary and environmental influences were quite evenly balanced between language and the visual arts. I have a degree in English with a particular interest in word origins. The driving force behind my work is the yin/yang symbol and its representation of complementary opposites. My most significant art influences were Dali and Escher. My first job was in the photo-lettering department of a type shop. Eventually, I was trying to do things with words that Escher had done with birds and fish and buildings. And yet, my first ambigrams appeared in my sketchbook almost by surprise.

2. What is the hardest aspect of creating an ambigram?
Well, it’s either creating a word that can be read from two points of view, and is still attractive, or it’s having the judgment to know whether or not I’ve succeeded or failed at that.

3. Since Angels & Demons, you’ve probably been inundated with requests for ambigrams. How can you tell when an ambigram is the right or wrong solution for a project?
Before Wordplay was published (1992), most of the ambigrams I did came from the fine art part of my creative self. They were words that were selected to explore and express the natural dualities and balances we find in the world around us. Ambigrams were inherently appropriate to express those ideas. It never occurred to me that an ambigram would be an appropriate corporate logo.

After The DaVinci Code put Angels & Demons on the bestseller list, and led many people to discover my work, I have been inundated with requests for ambigrams. Most of those requests are for “a tattoo of my boyfriend’s name” or some similar decorative purpose. (I have had to stop accepting those commissions, as they are too numerous, and do not really take me anywhere new.) Nevertheless, for tattoos and band logos, ambigrams can be appropriate simply from an aesthetic point of view, or to alert the viewer to an unorthodox approach to the world.

I have had several corporate commissions however, and here the question of appropriateness is a real issue. An ambigram is the right solution when the idea being communicated is relevant to the message. An excellent example is the series I recently did for Grant McCann Erickson in Sri Lanka for a Western Union campaign that promotes the ease of transferring money by way of Western Union across countries, continents and currencies: from rupees to pounds, rupees to riyals, or rupees to dollars, and vice-versa. These can be seen at http://adsoftheworld.com/node/21086 and the News and Updates column on my website (www.johnlangdon.net). When a company that makes widgets wants an ambigram because they think they’re cool, it’s usually not the right solution.

4. Does every word have a potential to be an ambigram?

That’s the hardest question of all. Yes, no, and I don’t know are all right answers. Whether or not the attempt to create an ambigram is successful is an entirely subjective judgment. In my opinion, if the ambigram cannot be easily read and have some (conventional or unconventional) aesthetic appeal, it is not an ambigram. Probably less than 50% of my attempts to create ambigrams reach that threshold. I’m sure that even a few of my published ambigrams don’t pass that test, but I throw an awful lot of failures in the recycling bag.

The kicker, though, is that with some words, I fail and fail and fail to make them work and then, maybe weeks or years later, I succeed. So, I don’t know.

5. A lot of ambigrams have a very heavy blackletter feel to them. In your second Wordplay book, you mention that a blackletter/gothic look is a last resort if an ambigram proves to be difficult. Is the blackletter/gothic style a general trend in ambigram design, or is it truly a last resort?
For me it’s a last resort. I normally let the demands of readability and aesthetic consistency determine the style of an ambigram. Blackletter was enjoying a period of popularity before ambigrams came along by way of the Hells Angels and heavy metal bands. But the extreme popularity of Angels & Demons has made Blackletter the archetype of ambigram design. Because Dan needed six ambigrams in a consistent style, there was almost no other choice. The fact that he wanted an antiquated look was a fortunate secondary factor.

6. Can anyone create an ambigram?
IMHO, a very few people currently create really good ambigrams. As I said, I think most of the ones I attempt are failures, but then, no one except my wife ever sees those. I’m very pleased and gratified about the interest in ambigrams of course, but I think the average quality of ambigrams that we see on the web could be raised if people didn’t typeset the word underneath the image. The underlying factor for me is a great appreciation for conventional letterforms and the guidelines that conventional typography sets out for us.

7. How do you get over the mindset ‘oh it’s too difficult I cannot do it’?

I do have a little mind game that I play. I ask myself, when I’ve gotten to the point of giving up, ‘Well, if it weren’t impossible, how would I do it?” And then I keep going. Most of the time, ‘impossible’ wins. But my little trick has actually worked a couple of times.
There are also words that I have returned to numerous times over periods of months or years. If I can approach the challenge with a fresh start (if I’m unable to recall the failures, that helps) I can often find unexplored avenues.

8. Have you received any unusual requests for ambigram projects
Well, there was the Russian one a few years ago that I had to do in Cyrillic letterforms, despite my total lack of understanding of them. But a better story is the request from a politician (Republican, Texas) who wanted his name as an ambigram to use as a logo in his upcoming re-election campaign. I told him that, as a pretty radical leftist liberal, I would have philosophical qualms about supporting a Republican. I tried to mitigate his disappointment, however, by telling that I had spared him the indignity of having his opponents seize the opportunity to refer to him as a flip-flopper.

© 2008 John Langdon

(This interview was conducted on June 3rd, 2008)

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