About lacon4

MA Graphic Design Student Graduate

Research & Enquiry Reflective Statement

This reflective statement will attempt to establish and analyze my methodology for this module. It will examine the ways I have developed solutions and explore the advantages and disadvantages encountered in the way I work. Some aspects of my method are similar to those put forward by Gillian Rose in Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. Namely, Semiology – how images make meaning (Rose, 2011: 69) and Discourse Analysis – an exploration of how images construct views of the social world. (Rose, 2011: 140). In brief, my method of research involved four stages.

The first stage, information gathering and selection, identified and examined the work of several practitioners and visual artefacts. I found that I learnt more from reading than observation and my process of selecting sources depended on the depth of information and knowledge about a particular subject. Once I found that source to have the best explanation and references compared to other sources, I would then consider that to be a good source. I also found that reading about other artists’ experiences gave me a better understanding about process. I even went a step further in gathering information by attempting to contact two of the artists whose work I came across, Tim Gaze and Saki Mafundikwa. They wrote to me and provided very useful information. The second stage of the process, analysis, included the application of critical theory and debate. I considered context when looking at theories and examples. My research centered on ideas of a universal language that is gestural and typographic at the same time, therefore, a visual and theoretical analysis was undertaken of gestural and writing systems as well as asemic writing. This led to further ideas of Universality. The third stage, synthesis, focused on practical exploration and experimentation and the convergence of two or more areas in a creative way to generate meaning. Once I started the practical experiments I found it easier to draw connections between different things. The forth and final stage looked at potential applications of the visual outcomes generated. Two outcomes had the potential for signage, packaging as well as branding.

During my research I acquired a breadth of knowledge about a wide range of subjects which has given me the potential for making unexpected connections. While I had ideas relating to typography, there was not a specific visual outcome or goal in mind. It emerged as my research progressed. However, while my research has led me to some very interesting ideas, there were also challenges. I kept getting distracted by new research and became overwhelmed at times. As a result, this did not allow me time to focus my investigation and develop ideas to the extent that I wanted to. Despite this, I still developed a critical inquisitiveness which made me appreciate where my research stood in relation to theory and how practice is informed by research.


Rose, G. (2011) ‘Semiology: Laying bare the prejudices beneath the smooth surface of the beautiful’ and ‘Discourse analysis 1: text, intertextuality and context’ in Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to the Interpretation of Visual Materials. London: Sage Publications Ltd.


Towards a Utopian Vision of a Unified Humanity

In an earlier post I’ve already established that Asemic Writing is something which looks like a form of writing but which you cannot read. Asemic artist Michael Jacobson further elaborates by saying “…that asemic writing is a shadow, impression, and abstraction of conventional writing.” “It uses the constraints of writerly gestures and the full developments of abstract art to divulge its main purpose: total freedom beyond literary expression,” he said. The idea of a creating meaning by way of “Aesthetic intuition and by verbal expression” I found interesting because then it renders all readers equal.

In my research I discovered that early modernists did not see the value or need for such writing believing it served no purpose in a world where communication through language was key. Many of them saw it as purely decorative. However recent views and ideas on the subject are being recognised via literature and exhibits.

An extraordinary exhibit I recently came across was a 75-foot high art installation by New York-based artist Wenda Gu titled United Nations – Bable of the Millennium. Gu collected hair from 352 barber shops and hair salons from 18 different countries over a period of 20 years. The concept was to merge language and culture together through the form of hair. The 100 panels are all woven together and feature scripted lettering made out of hair based on Chinese, English, Hindi and Arabic. The installation is part of the permeant collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.





Links to earlier experimentation with Pseudo Writing

In an online article on Gu’s exhibit, David Cateforis, associate professor of Art History at the University of Kansas, says Gu’s work “embodies the concept of babel in its profusion of 116 rectangular panels incorporating nonsensical, invented scripts based on chinese, english, hindi, and arabic characters, and on a synthesis of chinese and english. This nonsensical writing has its roots in Gu’s initial experimentation with pseudo-seal scripts in china the mid-1980s which helped to make his reputation as a leader of the so-called ’85 art new wave in China.”


Wenda Gu, Mythos of Lost Dynasties, 1983-87

The scripts in the united nations work he says “frustrate the ability of viewers to read them and, in Gu’s terms, “evoke the limitations of human knowledge.” Gu hopes also that these unreadable scripts will help prepare viewers for entry into what he calls an “unknown world” – a utopian world, perhaps, that cannot be described or defined by any written language.

Cateforis believes that Gu’s intentions though unifying in vision, “seems depressingly out of reach in our present era of worldwide racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural tensions – tensions that often erupt in atrocious and tragic violence such as the attacks of september 11, 2001 and the ongoing bloodshed in the middle east and elsewhere.” However, adding, “but it is precisely because the present situation does seem so dire that we desperately need art like Wenda Gu’s to help us imagine something better, and to encourage us all to work towards it.”


In reflecting on Gu’s work I recognise that scale, the materials used as well as the space exhibited has an impact on the viewer. These together form the catalyst for Gu’s message to be communicated. However, it is the ideas of Universality which Gu expresses so eloquently in his exhibit that I find most appealing and inspiring.

Cross Cultural Communication Design – interiors and branding

Following on my ideas of Universality and cross cultural communication with a typographic aesthetic, I came across this example of typography being applied to interior design.

LAH! Restaurant, Madrid


Spanish interior architects Ilmio Design designed the interior of the restaurant. The restaurant merges different cultures, customs and languages from the region. As a feature, wood panels are place throughout the space with different Asian scripts laser cut out of them, particularly Thai, Cambodian and Jawi words (the latter is the ancient alphabet used in Malaysia and Indonesia).



The Arabesque influence

Having done several experiments and development of potential themes for my FAT1 research (some of which will be the focus in my next module) I will be focusing on outcomes. These outcomes will be along the lines of signage, branding or design.

I have identified several examples as inspiration.

While doing investigations for Visual Signifiers of Cultures and Asemic Writing, I became very interested in Arabesque, Arabic Calligraphy and Geometry as these were areas that provided context for my experiments. Therefore a further investigation into their application to potential outcomes I thought would be useful to my research and future projects.

Here artist Muhammad Abdulmateen has created several Arabesque designs. According to Abulmateen, “Arabesque is an artistic motif that is characterised by the application of repeating geometric forms and fancifully Arabic Calligraphy.”







The rebranding of Dubai International Airport

The Design is characteristic of Islamic patterns, however, it also incorporates the idea of a compass rosette. The designers also had a version that incorporated a globe-like element further reinforcing the idea of “global reach”.




Visual Identity

The Bahrain National Museum Visual Identity by Tarek Atrissi


At first glance the logo reminded me somewhat of the QR code (Quick Response Code) which is now common in customer advertising and applicable to smartphones. This I thought gave the design a modern edge, although this resemblance to the QR code was not the artist’s intention.

According to Artrissi, the architecture of the Museum was the inspiration for the project. The building consists of three cubical structures attached to each other. The squarish floorplan of the building, he said, was the basis of the graphic element adopted for the logo.


The three Arabic words of the museum’s name were designed in a square kufi Arabic calligraphy style to fill in the squarish forms in the logo.


Square or geometric Kufic is a very simplified rectangular style of Kufic widely used for tiling. In Iran sometimes entire buildings are covered with tiles spelling sacred names like those of God, Muhammad and Ali in square Kufic, a technique known as banna’i.



The result is a logo that is typographic and incorporates the museum’s iconic architecture which forms the basis of an identity system further developed for the museum.

Through this exploration I have a greater appreciation of semiotic principles. The above example shows that the designer has instil work with references that enable a design to communicate multiple layers of meaning to the viewer.

According to the Fundamentals of Graphic Design, “When images are developed through the application of semiotic principles, a graphic device can be made more tha it would appear to be at first glance. The type of image, its style and presentation, its quality and how it has been reproduced can all add layers of meaning to the overall design, drawing different meanings from the context in which it is placed.”


Harris P., Ambrose G. (2009) The Fundamentals of Graphic Design, Lausanne: AVA Publishing, 192

Visual Signifiers of Cultures

In looking at different writing systems I tried to explore what visual signifiers made something look like it belongs to a certain culture. Through a series of experiments below I came to the conclusion that something looks like it belongs to a particular culture when it appears in a stylised manner – It may incorporate patterns, lines or shapes into a symbol. This may also include geometric as well as more fluid-like lines and shapes.

I chose an english word and then tried applying characteristics of selected languages to the visual word. I chose the word “huh” as there was a recent study and article written that  said “huh means the same thing in every language”


Each sketch in this experiment seems to be very representative of a particular culture. The characteristics of different writing systems were also combined to form a cross-cultural identity. I tried to apply these experiments into a design of some kind and discovered that the initial “english” word started losing it’s linguistic meaning.

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The word “huh” designed to look Arabic in calligraphy. The forms start resembling middle -eastern architecture, perhaps a mosque.

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With a diacritic added the form turned sideways looks like a person’s face in profile.

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Other observations of these experiments show that materials and colours  further solidifies it’s cultural meaning. The gold enhances the arabic feel. The sense of arabic also changes one’s approach to the forms. Someone may not attempt to read them until they knew it is was english. They are meaningless to non-english speakers while english speakers might assume they are not readable and so make no effort to find linguistic meaning. Arguably this may render the style Asemic.

Application of Arabic patterns

Arabic patterns are much more geometric than European patterns. They use particular kinds of repetition and rotation in that they and are often formed from rotation with 5 or 6 repetitions.

Arabic pattern (6-time rotation)

Here is an experiment I did with 6 rotations and repetition

Huh pattern1a

Some other rotation experiments

To make it more culturally meaningful I applied a middle eastern colour palette


Further exploration into this area and experiments carried out have shown improvements in execution, however these are not shown as they are the basis of further exploration for future projects.

Visual Exploration of the Shoulder-Shrug

Another aspect of body language considered to be universal is the shoulder-shrug. It is usually used to indicate a listener does not understand what a speaker is saying.

According to the Centre for Non-Verbal Studies, the shoulder-shrug is a gesture that lifts, raises, or flexes-forward one or both shoulders in response: a. to another person’s statement, question, or physical presence; or b. to one’s own inner thoughts, feelings, and moods. It is also a universal sign of resignation, uncertainty, and submissiveness.

Below are some sketches I did that seem to resemble the shoulder-shrug in a reductionist form – The outcomes are lines and shapes.

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An Investigation into Non-Verbal Communication and ideas of Universal Language

With my focus on ideas of universality, I have been looking at gestures that transcends languages and nations. Certain physical responses to emotions or experiences are universal regardless of culture or nationality.


An emoticon is a typographic version of paralinguistic features. Paralinguistics are the aspects of spoken communication that do not involve words. These may add emphasis or shades of meaning to what people say. Some definitions limit this to verbal communication that is not words.

With regards to my investigation into universal languge and gestural typography, I looked at the differences between Western and Eastern Emoticons. Western emoticons are read horizontally and the eastern emoticons are read vertically. This is reflective of their different writing systems. In the west we read left to right, and in the east they read top to bottom.

Therefore, we can conclude that the conventions of writing systems are applied elsewhere, even in a pictorial context when there is an overlap of word and image. As a result, pictorially eastern emoticons when typed are facing forward and Western emoticons are sideways. Japanese Emoticons express more details than the western emoticons.

I also found out that in East Asia people focus mainly on the eyes when trying to decypher expressions and emotions. As such the emoticons reflect this as well ^.^ (happy) and ;_; (sad), while in Western emoticons they focus on the mouth 🙂 (happy) and 😦 (sad)

(•ˋ _ ˊ•) An angry kaomoji face.

Kaomoji emoticons are similar to smileys, but they often incorporate Japanese characters. While they originated in Japan, Kaomoji emoticons are now used in many other countries as well. Because of the wide range of characters available, Kaomoji smileys can be used to express emotions, actions, and characters with more detail than traditional western emoticons.

The First Emoticons published

What is interesting is that in 1881 the US humour magazie Puck published the first emoticons before computers.



Letterpress printing would have been used to create this.

Other Emoticons that Express Feelings


 is a Chinese character that is commonly used as an emoticon in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. However, it is also used by non-Chinese speaking countries as well, especially in Korea and Japan. Because it resembles a person with an open mouth, it is used to convey distress, helplessness, disappointment, reluctancy, shock, dislike, defeat, embarrassment, and the like.


The original meaning of 囧 is “window,” and is pronounced jiŏng or jiong3 (Pinyin) in Mandarin Chinese, but is rarely used in this context anymore.

It is part of the ever growing Martian Language (火星文) popular among Chinese netizens and is also closely related to the orz phenomenon.




orz (also known as OTL) is an emoticon used to express one’s feeling of hopelessness in jest, often as a result of failure. The text visually represents a person kneeling on the ground with face down; “O” represents the head, “R” as the arms and “Z” as the torso. In East Asian cultures, the shape of “Orz” resembles a body gesture that signifies frustration or feeling of despair, typically as a result of one’s own failure though it can be used to convey frustration towards others similar to facepalm.


The physical gesture of “kneeling on the ground in defeat” has been previously portrayed through popular films, TV shows and mangas, both for comedic and dramatic effect. When used in a serious light, this posture is also known asdogeza, a sign of self-abasement used in formal apologies and to request great favors from persons of higher social status.


Attempts at a Universal Written Language

Blissymbolics Writing System

Blissymbolics were developed by Charles K. Bliss (1897-1985). Bliss originally called his invention “Semantography” and intended for it to be used as a universal written language which would enable speakers of different languages to communicate with one another. Since 1971 Blissymbolics have been used mainly as a communication aid for people with communication, language and learning difficulties. Such people have limited or no ability to use ordinary spoken and/or written language but manage to learn Blissymbolics.

Notable features

  • Blissymbolics consists of over 2,000 basic symbols which can be combined together to create a huge variety of new symbols.
  • The symbols can be formed into sentences and their order is based on English word order
  • The symbols are made up of simple shapes designed to be easy to write.
  • Blissymbolics are used in over 33 countries.


LoCos Writing System

LoCoS is a set of pictograms and ideograms, or “pictures” and “idea-symbols”. Its name comes from the phrase “Lover’s Communication System”, a title inspired by the hope that people from around the world could use LoCoS to communicate in the effortless manner of lovers.

The creators of LoCos belive that it is easy to lean and is an ideal way to communicate with people who speak a different language. They also belive that in the future it may even allow human beings and computers to interact more easily.

Each word in LoCoS is represented by a symbol formed from simple shapes. LoCoS has several fundamental symbols. For example, “Sun” or “day” is represented by the outline of a circle, and the concept of “feeling” is shown by a heart shape. The idea of existence at a particular point in time or space (the “point existence”) is shown by a single dot. It was inspired by the use of dots to indicate locations on a map.



Locos also has emoticon-like symbols and expressions. The Heart-shape incorporates human expressions.

anger forbearance happiness

Both LoCos and Blissymbols use the heart to convey the concept of emotion or feeling.