Monday, October 27, 2008

Ambigram identity in the real world:

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

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 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, 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:

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.)
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