Theoretical Research

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

I sourced a bunch of books from the library to aid my research, starting with:

Transforming Type by Barbara Brownie:

After my first reading of Transforming Type I noted my initial thoughts down and also made note of the positive influence it had on my research question, as I began narrowing down my area of interest. My broader question was:

"Explore methods of type practice that engage two or more senses"

This then progressed onto (after my first reading of Transforming Type):

"How can the portrayal of alphabets be transformed to create an intentional change in identity?"

After my second reading of Chapter 3: 'Local kineticism and fluctuating identity' in Transforming Type, my understanding of the subject matter improved and so did my research question which was specified to this:

"By using the poles of transformation identified in the practice of kinetic typography, discover how the limitations of a typeface or a material can aid its change in identity"

In a quick re-test against the criteria laid out to aid the improvement of my research question, I felt confident that it met required specifications. And agains the outcome review questions I made some quick notes...

Going to my readings though. I made some notes which I would like to store here for potential future purposes:

Reading notes, vocabulary and practitioners

Reading notes:

Fluid typography:

"When individual letterforms are not fixed, in location, shape, or identity, they can transform to the extent that they become something else” [pg. 23]

“Peter Cho describes how “malleable typography” may be deformed to the extent that it loses legibility, and becomes no longer recognisable as a letter”. He observes that “in some cases, forms may even “change shape and become a different letter”. [pg. 23] -

• “Contemporary artefacts show, however, that this is not the case. In examples such as those below, letterforms transform, abandoning their alphabetic identity in favour of another, or becoming typographic when they were initially presented as abstract, or pictorial. Such artefacts may not have previously been identified as representing a distinct category of typography because they are not consistently typographic. They blur the boundaries between type and image, being only temporarily typographic”. I don’t full understand what this means but it’s an appropriate definition of the work I’m doing and am currently interested in. [pg. 23]

• “Kac (1997) describes his work as “fluid”. A fluid sign, he tells us, escapes the constancy of meaning a printed sign would have. The same description can be applied to digital, on-screen fluid typography. Fluid signs can present multiple meanings… A single form may be observed in one moment as having a verbal identity, and in another moment, once it has transformed, as presenting another identity”. [pg. 24]

• “Ingo Italic’s Buchstabenegewitter (2012) for example, presents a single collection of straight lines, arranged so that their terminal points form the contours of a circle. The circle rotates, dragging these lines at varying paces, so that their arrangement is continuously changing. Where the lines overlap, they form the contours of each letter of the alphabet in turn. In this way a single continuous transformation presents a total of 26 different alphabetic poles, and numerous abstract glphys in-between”. [pg. 24] -

• “Screen-based fluid typography uses various behaviours to access the poles of transformation. Some employ metamorphosis, in which the contours of a letter fluctuate so severely that its identity changes; some feature construction, in which a letter is constructed from several parts that each have their own, separate identity; others exhibit revelation, in which external changes prompt the introduction of identities that already exist within an artificer but were initially hidden from view” [pg. 24 + 26]


This is a behaviour in which new identities can be introduced through the distortion of existing forms. Whole forms with flexible contours may be distorted so that the form is “reshaped… Only when this kind of distortion occurs to the extent that the initial letter identity is abandoned, and a new identity is introduced, can it be described as fluid” [pg. 26]

Example video used:

• “The introduction of a new identity required the abandonment of another” [pg. 28]


In construction, component parts collaborate in the construction of a whole letterform. The letter is conceived as a modular form, made from separate parts. Each part has its own identity, as an abstract or pictorial object. When the parts align, they introduce a single, shared identity - that of a letter.” [pg. 28].

• "Static examples such as Joseph Albers Stencil (1925), or the De Stijl lettering of Bart van der Leck and Theo van Doesburg (1917), the same primitives serve several different functions, in several different letters (a single rectangle may be a stem, or, when rotated, a crossbar).” [pg. 28 + 29]:

“In fluid construction, component parts are actively seen to exchange on role for another. By being removed from one configuration and becoming part of an alternative configuration, a single shape or object may be seen to form part of several different identities.” [pg. 29]

Artist mentioned: and

• “Harm van den Dorpels Type Engine (2005), these shapes are rearranged into several different configurations over time, so that each shape contributes to multiple different identities over time. [pg. 29]

• Example video used: “In Jess Goricks The Letter “R” (2009), fragments converge to form an “R”. The fragments all share a similar style, resembling that of a hand-drawn illustration, and are similarly coloured, with some pink surfaces and some green. This visual similarity prompts viewers to assume that the separate forms are somehow related. They also display similarity of movement, as they all float freely and then converge at similar speeds. This similarity causes the perception that, though separate these objects are from the same origin or part of a group. Eventually they are so closely proximate that they are assumed to be physically linked as a single object, the letter “R”. [pg 29 + 30]

• “When parts have identities that are so different from the usual strokes of a letterform, it is difficult to predict that they may eventually serve some typographic purpose.” [pg. 30]

• Vincent Viriots ident for Virgin 17 uses layered shapes to construct the negative space around a letter:

Coleen Ellis ‘ABSeeing Book’, not only construction but also subtraction” [pg. 32]


The third main category of fluidity does not allow the audience to directly observe the creation of identities. Instead, it involves the revelation that those identities already exist, but have been previously hidden. Here, as in construction and metamorphosis, the nature of a scene defies audience expectations: forms which are initially assumed to have one identity are ultimately revealed to have another.

“In revelation, alphabetic identities exist permanently in the objects on display, but they are not initially visible. The objects are therefore misinterpreted as being pictorial or abstract. It is only when the scene somehow changes that the true nature of the objects is revealed, and that the viewers encounter the alphabetic message”. [pg. 32]

Example video used:

Revelation can also be an exploitation of the characteristics of 3D objects. In such cases, revelation occurs by rotation or navigation: “from some viewing angles, the structure appears ambiguous, but from others it appears to be a word.”

“All of the above categories share the same fundamental categories of fluidity, in that they present forms that are only fleetingly alphabetic”


Contours - Mould into a specific shape, especially one designed to fit into something else.

Construction - A category of fluid typography in which letters are constructed from component parts, each of which has its own alternative identity. These letterforms are necessarily modular: built from separate component parts.

Elastic typography - A sub-category of local kineticism, in which letterforms appear malleable or pliable. Contours change, but the identity of the letterform remains intact.

Fleeting - Lasting for a very short time.

Fluid typography - A sub-category of local kineticism, in which letterforms transform to the extent that they lose their initial identity and adopt an alternative, replacement identity, which may be pictorial, linguistic or abstract.

Kinetic typography - Encompasses all kinds of kineticism and motion in lettering and typography, in which letterforms move or change over time.

Local kineticism - Change that affects the shapes of individual letterforms.

Malleable - Able to be hammered or pressed into shape without breaking or cracking.

Metamorphosis - A category of fluid typography in which letters are malformed by their fluctuating contours, and thereby reform into a different letter and shape.

Pliable - Easily bent; flexible.

Poles for transformation - It may begin as a letter and then transform into an image, or vice versa; it may begin as one letter and transform into another; or it may transform between abstract and identifiable shapes. These alphabetic, pictorial or abstract identities are “poles” of a transformation.

Revelation - A sub-category of fluid typography, in which a letterform that has previously been hidden is revealed to exist with a scene. It initially masquerades as another object or part of a scene, but its true alphanumerical identity is revealed over time.

Temporal typography - Is typography that appears to move or change over time. It normally appears in screen based media.


Peter Cho - and and his project ‘Type me, type me not’:

Eduardo Kac -

Letters are my friends, Berlin - (could contact - they followed me back on IG)

Coleen Ellis -

Harm van den Dorpel -

What has this reading inspired/influenced:

More reading - ABCing by Coleen Ellis. I purchased the book and full enjoyed flicking through it. Photographing some of my favourite pages. It would cool to contact Coleen to ask of her influences coming into production of the book. What was it that prompted to want to see letters differently? Did she ever consider 3-dimensional pieces? What other work has Coleen done [research this]

Other ideas - This reading did prompt some new ideas that I’ve written down after the notes from my reading of The 3D Type Book (which is followed by notes from ABCing by Coleen Ellis.


ABCing by Coleen Ellis:

Mentioned in Transforming Type, this cute, fun little book was delightful exploration within the abstract qualities of negative space. Prompting in me the notion that the possibilities in and around letters are in fact endless...

I've pictured above, four of my favourite pieces. 'Y' is my all time favourite though because with the negative space of the letter Ellis has created a face. I wondered if the words came before or after the new composition. I can only assume after.

This did lead me on to think about my own practice too, and the curious potential of applying this method to my own work; more specifically the negative space surrounding the 2d version of the Type Cube typeface.


The 3D Type Book by FL@33:

On a trip to the library to take out Transforming Type, I stumbled across this book by FL@33 and was naturally drawn to the title. Though not a huge believer in sourcing inspiration directly from other practitioners artworks, I dived in. And, did not, regret it:

Reading notes:

The effect the Macintosh had on typography in the 1990s is similar to the impact that synthesisers had on music in the mid-1970s” [page. 1]

• “Decades after its introduction, the computer seems to have found its place in relation to typeface design. Today, the Mac is like the oven to a chef”

• “Designers thrive on limitations and on working around, and through constraints. As the computer no longer seems to possess these limitations, designers are now looking elsewhere for new forms, new boundaries and new problems to solve” [page. 2]

• “A typeface is a comprehensive collection of characters that belong together; a system. When used to set words on a page, type, by its very nature, is unchanged by the message it purveys

• “Lettering, on the other hand, is often more idiosyncratic, expressive, spontaneous and free to be affected by its message” [page. 2]

• So 3D Lettering or 3D Typography?

• “Traditionally, typography is bound by the page. When type is taken away from its printed form and presented as a three-dimensional object, many historic conventions seem no longer to apply. Perhaps the term ‘3D’ is out of place in this book. This is not the effect of three dimensions; these are actual objects. In relation to a 3D movie, the work that FL@33 has compiled here is theatre. There is no illusion. There is no need for blue and red glasses. This is type as object; physical and real” [page. 2]


Ephemeral - Lasting for a very short time.

Extracts from the book:


Paul Elliman -

Amandine Alessandra - body type

Akatre - sugar [no links]

Autobahn - generated a less legible font using gravity and polystyrene numbers [no links]

Andrew Byrom - trophies and signage [link, but no extra info. Could contact for more but what questions?]

Clotilde Olyff - pebble type

Chris Wilkinson -3d type posters [no link]

FL@33 - rubber band balls [link but no extra info]

HunterGatherer - word boxes [link but no extra info] email them about chairs lettering work?

Handverk- paradox title seq. [no link]

Joao Henrqiue Wilbert -

Ji Lee - Univers Revolved [why has this not been 3d printed?]

Marion Bataille - ABC 3D [lots more work found]

Plastic Bionic - black balloons [no link]

R2 - red seats (what else could letters be? Do we need anything else?) [no link]

Raphael Legrand - “avoids using his computer as much as he can” in Alphabottes [no link]

What has this reading inspired/influenced:

More research - Much more research into current practitioners, some of whom i’d be interested to chat to. Ask them about their journey in breaking into such a niche industry. Any advice? More info on influence for projects i liked and plans for the future? Thought/design process from concept to finish piece. (Andrew Byrom).

More ideas - Some potential areas for exploration but now a real lust for experimentation with different materials.

A thought - There definitely seems to be a trend the kinds of 3d type created. Some use a new material (for example; toothpaste) to then create letter shapes similar to what we may have seen before. Some explore a unique grid system, deploying familiar everyday objects (the hay bales typeface) and others a combination of the two (the steam bent wood lettering).


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