For my Expressive Typography course this past term, I tried a new project that worked "backwards" from our usual process. Normally, we work with both concept and form at the same time, attempting to marry the two in a way that builds meaning beyond the interpretation of the words themselves. And sometimes, with students, they get stuck on either form or concept, and they struggle to find a way to make both equally strong.
I wondered what would happen if I took away concept completely. What if they had to design only with form, playing with letters in a way that actually ignored the meaning of the words? I had a phrase in mind from the start that would be loaded with meaning in a way that may conflict with their free-form compositions, but I thought those juxtapositions may turn out to be interesting. And I liked the idea of struggling to marry two conflicting sets of meaning (the aesthetic and the semiotic), and accepting that some processes may fail, but the benefit was in the process of struggle itself.
In step one, the students were given "dummy type" of equal word and letter length to work with, and had 5 days to simply explore an aesthetic composition they liked. In step two, they substituted my phrase for their dummy type in a straight exchange. Step three involved reconciling for meaning, making adjustments to refine the composition, and preparing for presentation.
Overall, I was happy with the quality of the compositions in the end. However, there were some drawbacks to this way of working. Some students seemed to fall in love with their original experiments, and were resistant to making changes in step three. Others had such a chasm of meaning to cross that they simply were lost in how to refine, and really find much benefit to the final reconciliation process. I also discovered that my own description of this as a "triptych" left some students feeling restricted in what they could and couldn't do for the third piece. In the future, I believe it would be better to allow the third piece to stand alone as single composition and allow for more changes in the third phase.
Below are a few of the more interesting processes and compositions. The phrase was "Cash rules everything around me," obviously a lyric from the Wu Tang clan's C.R.E.A.M. off 36 Chambers, a song released before any of my students was born.
Above is a gallery of a few of the final pieces in the series. Pieces by Joan Cheung, Genna Mettler, Sydney Wisner, Phoenix Thompson, and Brooklyn Cochran.