Metaphoric Lettering

Metaphoric Lettering

Metaphoric lettering is a novelty idea of typeface, which were at their commercial apex during the nineteenth century. Often they are visual puns, used in the twentieth century to advertise specific businesses and services, such as icicle letters to represent air conditioning, or bamboo chopstick letters to advertise Chinese food. ‘Rustic’ later copied and renamed ‘Log Cabin’ was designed by Vincent Figgins, around 1815. Rustic had logs cut which formed even round letters, but only came in capitals and was used in periodicals, bills and posters to show a ‘trompe l’oel’ illusion, and to imply naturalism. Metaphoric lettering was generally used a parlant, which is a structure that serves one basic function, but also adds a secondary meaning.

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Death to Traitors

(Designer Unknown) (1860) DEATH TO TRAITORS 

Death to Traitors (c.1860) was printed on letters and envelopes as a vividly illustrative propaganda in the time of the American Civil War. The letters form soldiers, flags and guards, and the word death even includes imagery of the traitors fate.

The designer of this typography clearly thought carefully about the type of imagery they wanted this statement to include. The purpose of this line is to deter people, by the typography showing them their fate if they are to become a traitor. The main way it would deter a traitor, is through the powerful imagery which aims to intimidate people, and scare them into obeying the law.

This design is cleverly thought through, and the soldiers are placed in specific ways to make up the letters. The relevance of the imagery in the typography is key to this particular piece, as the soldiers with their guns convey the power they have over traitors, backed up by the American flags showing the symbolism of America, and perhaps representing the disappointment the whole of America would feel if they were to encounter a traitor. The concept conveys the message in a very bold way, as it may be frightening to people as it shows the power the American soldiers have over traitors. The main way the message is shown is through the imagery used in the piece which persuades people that all traitors will get caught, as the soldiers almost stand like a wall in which traitors will not pass alive.

I feel the imagery in this piece is incredibly successful as it is interesting and easy to understand. It also shows off the American Soldiers in a powerful light and shows people the kind of power they have, evoking respect from other citizens. The American flag in this piece is also something I am fond of, as I feel it shows the pride the soldiers have over their country, and the respect they pay it by warning off traitors with this message.

I quite like this piece of metaphoric lettering as I feel it does a powerful job in conveying a message. However, I don’t like the fact that it isn’t professional looking, and i feel if it were to be in a dark bold colour, and produced to look more professional it would appear more intimidating and be more noticeable in society. Another thing I dislike about the piece is the tents drawn in the background, behind the main text. I feel that these divert your attention, and if you were to see this image from a far distance, it would be unclear as to what it says, due to the tents merging into the typography.

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Metaphoric Lettering second example

This is another example of Metaphoric Lettering. The designer and date is unknown and the only information I have managed to find on this piece is the image itself.

The designer has used metaphoric lettering as the main focus of this piece. All the images appear to link together to form one sentence. The purpose of this image is to put forward a message, which I feel through the lettering, it does this quite simply. However, as the images appear in a collage format I am unsure as to whether they are part of the same piece of work or whether they are all different, and coincidentally make up a sentence.

The images appear to have no running theme and the only correlation I can find between them is the blue colours which can be seen n almost all of them. I am least fond of the metaphoric lettering which is in the left hand corner and appears to be floating on a swimming pool, as I find it harder to read and am not sure as to what it says. I feel that this may be due to the composition of the image and perhaps if it were taken from above it would be easier to read. The image within this piece that I like the most would be the one that says ‘MY LIFE’ and looks as though it is shown on some kind of football pitch. The reason I like this the best is because of the idea that the words may be linked into the pitch behind, suggesting that football is their life. As I can only infer this due to knowing little about this piece, it makes me less keen on the piece as a whole because I don’t understand it.

Overall, I don’t like this piece as I don’t understand it and feel that the Metaphoric Lettering should be used in a clearer way. The piece also appears to have no running theme through it, and therefore feels quite random, and I feel if it were used in advertising it would not be successful because of this.

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Ward, C VARIETY DIRT [Format Unknown]

This ‘VARIETY DIRT’ piece of Metaphoric Lettering could possibly be used to advertise some type of soil. The reason I can infer this is due to the focal point of the piece being focused on the large word ‘DIRT’ in the center of the page. This piece of work may also demonstrate the idea that less is more, which is why it does not reveal a lot of information as to what it is about.

The designer has used the idea of Metaphoric Lettering to in fact use to dirt to form the word dirt.The outlines of the word are smudged and show the dirt in the word to be a clear example of what the word means, as it has made a mess on the crisp white background.

This is a very effective way of demonstrating a particular message, as it shows imagery of dirt as well as the word, just within one line. The designer could have written the word dirt, and then shown a pile of dirt next to it, but instead they have been more creative and used metaphoric lettering.

I feel the successes of this piece are the idea that less is more, and this makes the main word appear bolder and the focal point of the piece. However, the word closer to the top of the page ‘VARIETY’ is less noticeable because of this, and as it is in a less noticeable colour, it diverts your attention from reading it. It is also something I feel that would not be too visible from a distance, and is therefore one of the weaker parts of the lettering.

Overall, I am very fond of this piece and feel it is the most successful use of Metaphoric Lettering that I have researched so far. It shows originality and creativity, whilst demonstrating a particular thing. I also like the fact that little colour has been used in this piece, and it is not bright nor unrealistic, but still is noticeable. I feel that the white background allows the main lettering to stand out a lot a lot further than it would if it were on a more colourful background, and this is another strength that the piece has.

Source: Helen, S and Vienne, V (2012) 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, London, Laurence King Publishing Ltd


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