Since I first set eyes on the work of Marian Bantjes, back in 2009, I was immediately engrossed and captivated by her beautifully, intricate pattern work and overall opulent aesthetic. I was even further beguiled when I discovered her transformative personal story. Bantjes worked as a successful, commercial graphic designer for a few decades but in an unprecedented move chose to leave that behind and, as stated in her 2013 typotalk, (TYPO San Francisco » Single Speaker 2013, 2013), work to create designs for “love instead of money”.
As I prepare for, what I hope to be, my own transformative journey, I find Bantjes’ artwork and ambitious work ethic fill me with admiration and inspiration. One piece, in particular intrigues me. This piece is entitled ‘secrets’, and is an intricate type and pattern system constructed from, as Bantjes (2013) so eloquently states, “balls and sticks!”, She continues, reasoning, that however a typographic system is created it all boils down to these two basic components.
Hidden within the ‘balls and sticks’, in this case, is a secret message. In Bantjes’ 2010 book, ‘I wonder’, the beautiful typographic pattern sprawls elegantly across 11 pages, printed in a contrasting neon orange and matt metallic gold on both white and black backgrounds; it is indeed a visual spectacle. But it is the hidden message contained inside it, that fascinates me. On first glance the reader may assume that the design is merely pattern work but on closer inspection it becomes clear that it offers hidden meaning. The deception here is obviously intended and the hidden message could be said to offer subliminal meaning to the otherwise decorative piece.
I attempted to decipher this intricate code but after a few lines it became clear that it was overly complicated and eventually, after quite sometime, I gave up! Begging the question of legibility; to me, this was totally illegible. Does this, therefore determine it’s failure as a piece of graphic visual communication? According to the renowned graphic designer David Carson (2007) not necessarily so. He states, “Don’t confuse legibility with communication. Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it communicates and, more importantly, doesn’t mean it communicates the right thing.”
I propose that this statement also works the other way around, that because something is illegible it doesn’t mean that it can’t communicate. ‘Secrets’, is far from being legible, so what then does it communicate? For me, it communicates mystery, intrigue and desire and the ‘secret’ itself is highly personal. Perhaps, the secret is even a subliminal one, communicated via colour, texture, repetition and ornate decoration or perhaps the secret is as, Warde (1955) suggests in her analogy with a clear crystal wine goblet, that type should be almost invisible.
I suspect this comparison was not in Warde’s vision when she wrote the analogy and that she was referring to a more perfected typographic rhythm but I suggest that it is still applicable in this instance, as Bantjes’ secret type system does (Warde 1955), “reveal the beautiful thing it was meant to contain.” It was meant to contain a secret and this is where the design succeeds.
‘Secrets’ has given me real ‘food–for–thought’ regarding my own project, raising a number of integral questions; how can I explore typographic and pattern systems that contain hidden messages and can I subliminally influence the reader by creating these hidden ‘secrets’. I am incredibly curious to experiment and discover this for myself but shhhhhh it’s a secret!
Bantjes, M. (2015) Marian Bantjes. Available at: http://www.bantjes.com/ [Accessed: 12 March 2015].
Bantjes,M. (2010) I Wonder. New York: The Monacelli Press.
Carson, D. (2003) David Carson on design + discovery Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ david_carson_on_design.html [Accessed: 12 March 2015]
Warde, B. (1955) The Crystal Goblet. Available at: http://www.nenne.com/typography/index.html [Accessed: 12 March 2015].
fig 1.1 Bantjes, M. I wonder. Image sourced from http://www.bantjes.com/ [Accessed: 12 March 2015].
fig 1.2 Bantjes, M. Secrets. Images sourced from http://www.bantjes.com/ [Accessed: 12 March 2015].
TYPO San Francisco » Single Speaker 2013 (2013) http://typotalks.com. TYPO International Design Talks. Available at: http://typotalks.com/sanfrancisco/2013/speakers/single-speaker/?tid=662 [Accessed: 12 March 2015].