Music, Visual Design

Twelve Glyph Challenge

Challenge: design glyphs to represent the numbers one through twelve.

Consider the numbers arranged on a clock face.  Your glyph system should have the following properties:

  1. The glyphs for two numbers that are opposite on the clock face (like 12 and 6) should have some visual qualities that bind them together as a pair.
  2. If you look at the glyphs for any two numbers that are adjacent on the clock face (like 1 and 2), it should be easy to see which glyph represents the “lower” number in clockwise order, and which glyph represents the “higher” number.
  3. The glyphs for any three numbers that form an even division of the clock face into three parts (like 12, 4, and 8) should have some common visual feature that makes them recognizable as a group.
  4. The glyphs for any four numbers that form an even division of the clock face into four parts (like 12, 3, 6, and 9) should have some common visual feature that makes them recognizable as a group.
  5. The parity of a number (whether the number is odd or even) should be somehow discernible from its glyph.

Thinking of this problem in musical terms, the glyphs could represent the 12 notes of the octave (assuming 12TET).  Looking at any glyph, you should be able to quickly discern the following things about the note it represents: which of the four augmented triads does the note belongs to?  Which of three fully-diminished seventh chords does it belong to?  What is its tritone, and what is that tritone’s glyph? What are its upper and lower chromatic neighbors, and what are their glyphs?

I haven’t solved this.  But, to jog your imagination, here’s one of many glyph systems I’ve come up with while considering the problem.  Do you think it has any nice properties?  Can you do better?

12 Glyphs

Language, Visual Design

Swearing Prohibited

Swearing Prohibited (Censored)

I created this sign to remind everyone that swearing is prohibited on the Internet.

Actually, I created it as an experiment in communicating with visual and textual symbols. There are three elements at play here: a red circle, the words “SWEARING PROHIBITED,” and a grawlix (“$@&#!”). When you put those elements together, what message do they make?

Last night, I asked a couple of friends at Venture Cafe. Most of my friends were willing to take this sign at face value.  Whether or not they agreed with the idea of prohibiting swearing, they felt the sign did convey a sincere message.  (In fact, a similar sign containing a grawlix in red circle has appeared in Virginia Beach as part of an anti-profanity campaign.)

For me, the sign is hard to look at without laughing because I find it fundamentally hypocritical: it swears!

Where do we draw the line between a symbol and the thing it represents? Specifically, do we take “$@&#!” as mere notation for the idea of a swear, or does it make us think and feel as though we’ve just heard someone actually swear? (This question brings to mind a joke by Louis C.K. where he says that the expression “The ‘n’ word” offends him because whenever someone uses that censored phrase, they are forcing him to say the avoided word — nig[BLEEP] — in his own mind.)

Now for me, “$@&#!” is so strongly associated with swearing that when I view it in this sign, I become witness to a curse.  And then I begin to wonder who’s cursing, and how the curse might relate to the rest of the sign.  Is someone cursing because they don’t like the prohibition against swearing?  Or do they really, really agree with it?

Even if you don’t experience the grawlix as an actual curse, you might notice a mismatch between levels of formality in this sign. SWEARING PROHIBITED sets a tone of severe formality, and yet “$@&#!” is the kind of icon we might see in a comic book. The sign has the same contradiction as a statement like: DO NOT SPEAK COLLOQUIALLY OK?

As I worked on the sign, I couldn’t resist the temptation to make an intensified version, which you’ll see below. For a while I thought that what I had come up with was so contradictory that no viewer could take it seriously. And yet, as I stared at this second version, my perceptions shifted. Where it had seemed that the swear words were subverting the circle by shining right through its porous front, now it seemed that those bold and brazen words were still captured inside the circle and still negated by it. Who wins, the circle or the swears?  I don’t know: either it’s the most obscene sign I have ever seen, or the most uptight one.

As I was finishing the sign, I had a software crash and lost a lot of unsaved work. When that happened, I assure you, gentle reader, I did not say any of the terms herein depicted:

Swearing Prohibited (Uncensored)