Shape of Words is a printed capsule of creativity, presenting the diverse works of 30 contributors
A project of ideas, inspiration and love that has been years in the making, Shape of Words has finally taken form and is exclusively available from The Brand Identity’s store. Promising a rabbit hole of discovery, the pocket-sized tome presents a snapshot of creative perspectives and discourse in the form of essays, fictional narratives, tweets and screenshots from 30 contemporary practitioners. It is published, designed and developed by London-based creatives Emma Judd, Alice Sherwin and Harry Bennett, alongside the publication’s editors, Open Practice (Katie Evans and Gabriela Matuszyk). We spoke to Judd, Sherwin and Bennett about the development and execution of the project.
PT Where did the idea for Shape of Words – and its name – come from?
EJ We had the initial idea back when we were all studying together. Whilst the visual work of the creatives we were around was often celebrated, the insightful thoughts, weird processes and interesting concepts behind their work were often forgotten about. We wanted to create a platform where these ideas could be documented and shared.
HB As with many ideas, it lay dormant for a few years, as new jobs, moving flats, exciting freelance projects and busy schedules took hold. But, we returned to the idea during the pandemic, looking for something interesting to create together in a time where we were all apart.
AS The name comes from a piece in the iconic Bruno Munari book ‘Design as Art.’ We were interested in his idea of investigating things in their isolated form, as well as appreciating the way that context changes them.
“Not only does each letter of a word have a shape of their own, but all its letters taken together give shape to the word.”
This reflected our aspiration to platform each individual contributor, as well as finding interesting narratives, parallels or dichotomies when they were brought together and collectively bound.
It’s pretty difficult to complete a side project amongst the general busyness of life.
PT How long did the book take to complete? And how did it evolve during that time?
EJ From the first spark of the idea it’s taken us a few years for the project to come to life and the book to be in our hands. Turns out, it’s pretty difficult to complete a side project amongst the general busyness of life, not to mention all 30 of the contributors' lives too. But it was very rewarding as well! It’s our first self-published title and we’ve learnt a lot along the way.
AS Initially, we were interested in the design thinking and research behind projects which predominantly existed as long-form essays. But, when we returned to the idea we wanted it to shed light on a myriad of insights, not just dissertation-like entries and so Shape of Words began to naturally evolve. It is now a collection of 30 brilliant contemporary practitioners’ thoughts, imaginings, tweets and observations, reflecting on the ideas that shape designing and making today – a curation of loosely related things that might otherwise never brush up alongside each other. And now, you can hold all that in your pocket.
PT How did you approach contacting contributors? What were the criteria you had in mind?
AS As with the rest of the project, this evolved fairly naturally over time. We wanted to include people working in different disciplines, countries and stages of careers so that Shape of Words wasn’t just another book looking at the world from a single viewpoint. The eclectic nature of the contributors meant that Shape of Words explores issues of digital loneliness, designing for the othered, punk aesthetics, alongside creative writing, illustration and typography.
EJ The lovely Open Practice (Katie and Gabriela) were our very brilliant, very knowledgeable editors, combing through everything that was submitted and spending many hours with us on Zoom working out where those double spaces were, and how to create coherency from the chaos!
HB We couldn’t have done it without Shape of Word’s amazing contributors. Thanks so much to each and every one of you: Mane Tatoulian, Matt Asato-Adams, Lukas Keysell, Michela Zoppi, Grace Lister, Meghan Doran, Monique Jackson, Rene Matić, Holly St Clair, Thea Bryant, Lily Gale, Rosie May, Adam Higton, Snootie Studios, Nikolas Wrobel, Dinamo, Charlotte Rohde, Ciarán Birch, Raissa Pardini, Floriane Rousselot, Morgane VanToore, Laura Csocsán, Rose Allert, Romina Malta, Okocha Obasi, Clarice Tudor, ICBQ, Agnete Morell, Olivia McEwan-Hill, Anna Ottum and George Creese.
From an editorial perspective, we were heavily informed by the content.
PT What inspired the design direction of the book?
HB In materiality and design, the covers reflect the editing process – with the fluoro paper stock referencing highlighting and the hand-drawn marks being literal outtakes from the physical marks that we sent back and forth to get the project done.
EJ From an editorial perspective, we were heavily informed by the content. With each submission ranging from five words to about 5,000, we designed a system where the publication responded to this. Longer, essay-like submissions use Editorial New by Pangram Pangram to create a structured read, whereas in shorter entries we use Oracle by Dinamo, and fully leaned into the beautifully awkward monospace, allowing for more expression, and breaking of our grids. The framework and set grid structure we designed allowed for lots of flexibility from submission to submission, which provided us with a base for expressing the core messages of the contributors.
AS From a practical perspective, the very collaborative nature of Shape of Words – with the three of us designing it and Katie and Gabriela editing it – meant that everything evolved naturally over time. It’s nice to look back at it and think of things we might change now – it means our perspectives have evolved too.
PT Out of all the contributions – what piece or insight resonated with you the most? Was there anything that you weren’t expecting?
EJ Ah there are so many great contributions! For me, Compass by Grace Lister was a piece that really resonated. I loved her articulation of the inner moral compass and her writing felt rooted in hope despite it being such an uncertain time. Also, the screenshots from the team at Dinamo were great as it felt like we got to peek behind the curtain and get an insight into the type work in progress.
AS I can’t choose! But I do love the way that the illustration submissions interrupt (in the best way possible!) the flow of the book – specifically Lukas Keysell’s brilliant illustrations in his story, the Saklanti Search and the wonderful illustrations by Olivia McEwan-Hill, illustrating Rose Allert’s poem The King of August.
HB Oof, this is a mean question. Well, I think George Creese’s essay on the photographic image is incredibly insightful, so with a more academic head-on, I’d say that. I was also incredibly moved by Rene Matić’s piece (especially when sat in the context of her photography). But perhaps my favourite (as somewhat of a cop-out) is Clarice Tudor’s bookmark that goes along with the book. I think it’s because it really seems to call us out for making the book in the first place…
We wanted to distil a taste of art and design discourse today into something pocket-sized.
PT How would you like readers to engage with Shape of Words? Did you have a target audience in mind?
AS Good question! We wanted to distil a taste of art and design discourse today into something pocket-sized that you could carry around with you. So, the best outcome would be someone reading one of the submissions and it making them see something differently, or just discovering someone new’s work to follow, or leading them down a rabbit hole of new work or discoveries!
EJ On the target audience front, not really! Anyone who thinks that sounds interesting! Maybe we’ll discover who the audience is post finding out who gets one!
PT Are there plans for a volume two?
HB Whenever we meet up there are always those ‘what if we did this’ ideas whizzing back and forth. We went on such a journey with our first issue and have thoroughly enjoyed collecting, reading and designing the array of contributions and we are so thankful to everyone involved who helped turn our little idea into a tangible object. There’ll be an issue two, don’t you worry, it might just take another four years again (or less, who knows really?).
110mm x 150mm