DEFINE Visual Research – ‘How Symbols and Brands Shape Our Humanity’

The lettering I have been trying to develop for this project has been quite representational – eg the writing about trees is modelled on tree branches I photographed. As I wrote here I want to try and create more of a visual link between the written word and the natural world.

However, with writing there is always going to be a trade off between how representational a letter is and how legible it is. After a conversation with a friend I have been considering whether it might be helpful to use symbols as well as/instead of text.

I watched Debbie Millman’s talk about How Symbols and Brands Shape Our Humanity, and she discusses the evolution of symbols, and how branding is now a democratic tool for communicating political movements and ideas that are much bigger than any one organisation.

In its wake, the discipline of branding has transformed more in the last 10 years than it has in the last 10,000, and for the first time in modern history, the most popular, influential brands are not brands being pushed down by the corporation. They are brands being pushed up by the people, for the people, for the sole purpose of changing the world and making it a better place. Our greatest innovations aren’t brands providing a different form or a different flavor of our favorite snack. Our greatest innovations are the creation of brands that can make a difference in our lives and reflect the kind of world that we want to live in.

I’m not saying I expect my work to be seen by millions of people around the world, but I like the idea of it being more accessible to people who don’t speak English, struggle to read etc.

Millman also references the earliest known symbols-

After the Great Leap Forward, there was an explosion of stone toolmaking, more sophisticated weaponry and, 32,000 years ago, the creation of our first sophisticated mark-making on the cave walls of Lascaux.

Early humans documented their known world in paintings and carvings which have an immediacy that is still powerful today, 20,000 years later.

These were thought to have been created by the artist blowing pigment onto the wall, using their own hand as a stencil.

Something I stumbled across is Ogham, or the Celtic Tree alphabet. Each symbol supposedly represents a different tree but it’s fairly abstract. What I like about it is that it’s designed to be carved into stone – the characters are embedded in their landscapes.

Along the same lines are runes, which have Germanic/Scandinavian varieties.

A more modern take on this can be found in tracking symbols, which I looked at and documented in a previous project. These are designed to be scratched into the ground, or chalked on surfaces to leave indications for others.

Some sketches created for a previous project, based on tracking symbols.

Visual Experiments to conduct based on this:

  • Carving/scratching into clay or mud
  • Lino cutting
  • Develop some symbols to function as a shorthand.