Writings that play with illegibility and their response to practical needs

Asemic writing, according to artist Tim Gaze, “sits on a continuum between abstract images and legible writing.” This type of writing has been growing in recent times and has been extended from poets, calligraphers and visual artists to graphic designers who have been experimenting with this method. Gaze exposes “three different ways for asemic writing to occur: “deliberately made as an illegible form of writing; writing intended to be legible, but for one reason or the other is not legible; and something which accidentally looks like illegible writing. Some of the areas of experimentation include “different typographical arrangements,” intuitive calligraphy and visual poetry.

In discussing “Boundaries of legibility”, Typographer, Adrian Frutiger writes, “It is still difficult for us to make an exact judgement of this anti-reading reaction and its significance. Perhaps something fundamentally new will emerge in the future from a movement that at present is still considered to be decadent.”

According to Roxane Jubert, however, “Curiously, writings that play with illegibility have a more ordinary presence than we might expect.” “Aside from rebellious creations, they can respond to the most practical of needs.”

Jubert offers examples such as the Ishihara test for colour blindenss which “features a number written inside a circle of mulitple coloured dots (often red, orange, green and gray.”


Another example of llegibility she points to are the patters that are found on security papers such as currency and cheques.

Microprinting appears as just a thin line to the naked eye, but can be easily read upon magnification. The introduction of microprinting in 1990 began with the addition of the words “The United States of America” printed around the edge of the portraits. The new bills still use microprinting, but in a different location. These words now appear around Ben Franklin’s lapel. In addition, the words “USA 100” are printed within the lower left “100.”

This image magnifies the tiny print. The “1” is actually less than half an inch in height, and it holds dozens of “USA 100″sPhoto credit: © WGBH Educational Foundation
 Microprinting is very difficult to reproduce accurately on photocopiers because most copiers do not have the ability to work at such high resolution. This situation may not last long, however, as improved scanning devices are now able to print at this fine detailed level. The Treasury hopes the combination of the many anti-replication features will help deter potential counterfeiters.

Other forms of security papers include security envelopes of which the illegible print or patterns are used to hide its contents. Joseph’s King’s ongoing flickr project “to collect and organise envelope and security patterns from around the world” which include abstract forms, cicles, lines, scribbles and cross hatching can be arguably seen as asemic. http://www.flickr.com/photos/josephking/sets/72157594547931731/page2/

Here are some samples from his site:

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 8.41.13 AM

Authentication is also an area where there is a use for illegible type. The Captcha is a “program that protects websites against bots by generating and grading tests that humans can pass but current computer programs cannot.” “Images of text are distorted randomly.” http://www.google.com/recaptcha/captcha


More to come….


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