Shape&Nature

A Creative Projects Press

Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Universe of Words: A Note on Process

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The problem of collecting people’s favorite words, hundreds of them from all over the planet, is what to do with them afterward.  How do you untangle and honor a network of meaningful, yet disparate, shouts into the night?

During our year of collecting, we received the words daily through email, catching them like baseballs from unknown throwers. Perhaps it was because of this that we first imagined a research book, something to answer the questions we were asking ourselves everyday: who sent me this word, where does she come from, what does he love? We pictured a sociological investigation where we would act as scientists who studied, examined, made hypotheses, and ran experiments to see what made which words important to which people and why.

But as we got into it, we realized we were not scientists, we were writers. To treat language like a mouse in a lab would be like taking our babies out in the snow to see if they would freeze.

So, we thought again. How about a book of words and their definitions, or a book of words accompanied with illustrations, or a book where people could use the words in writing prompts, or a book of short stories where authors were tasked with using a handful of the words? The possibilities were certainly there, but every time we walked up a new path, we’d soon realize something was missing. So, we sat on it like a dull egg. We went on to other projects and checked back in every few months. Sometimes, we even abandoned it and then felt guilty when we remembered again.

Maybe the time of incubation was what we needed because, in the meantime, our little press grew. We took on new editors, a designer, we published our first book of poetry, and started the Flaneur Walks Pamphlet series with success.

Last fall, we looked back in at our list of over 800 words again. But this time, we gazed upon the project with fresh eyes, and we realized just because we were publishers didn’t mean we had to make a book. We could make whatever we wanted. So, we hired our designer, meg willing, to solve the problem in a different way. We asked her to make a piece of art—specifically one that honored the words and their human partners while echoing the amazing experience of receiving the words—the wonder they evoked and the story they told.  Here is how she did it.

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book bo͝ok/ nouna written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers

That was the problem: the binding. The glue and the stitching held on too tightly. The gutter of the book became a chasm, hiding each page from the other. Each word spun in its own private orbit, alone.

post·er ˈpōstər/ nouna large printed picture, notice, or advertisement meant for display

What if we could experience all the words at once? What if the expanse of a poster allowed viewers to appreciate the panoramic scope of the project, while also offering the space to sit with individual words? What if this simple design choice could set a universe of language in motion—each word a singular force, each influencing the other, each pushed and pulled by their own specific gravity?  

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Our vision was renewed. The idea of placing the words on a single plane mimicked the experience of receiving submissions, creating an environment where seemingly dissimilar words could mingle and spark dialogue.

With the format decided upon, I set about the task of design. I laid out all the known pieces—the elements crucial to creating a fully-realized incarnation of The Favorite Words Project. My goals were clear:

  1. To present each word enticingly (and legibly)
  2. To design something alluring that people would want on their living room walls
  3. To highlight both the unique words and the personalities of our submitters

This was no small task. I brainstormed for weeks. I researched text-centric poster design. I studied patterns. I studied artists. Hell, I made a Pinterest board. I drafted ideas. I had epiphanies. Collage! Each word written over a person’s face! Each figure radiating from a central point! I discarded ideas. I grappled with space constraints, with how to represent words that were submitted more than once. We expanded one poster to a triptych. I went back to the drawing board. I tapped my pencil on my desk and thought.

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Whitman kept whispering in my ear. I closed my eyes. I saw a type of word universe in microcosm, existing within us all. I went for a walk. I looked up at the night sky. I pointed to Orion. The seed was planted.  

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Each word would be its own planet-star existing in space. Repeating words connected by dashed lines would form constellations. These word constellations would become a kind of cultural signpost—the words we gaze to for comfort, the words that collectively guide us. On the grounding horizon of each panel clusters a society of word-gazers, reminding us that each word was born of a person’s imagination. On the central panel, a tight square of poetic text containing the Favorite Words Manifesto, this genesis:

Prayer flags sending words over the wind like pollen. Where will the word drop? What grows from the word?

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