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!
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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!
5. 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.
7. 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!
8. 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.