Ambigrams

Wordpress, can you please allow carriage returns in the visual editor so we can have some whitespace?

Wordpress, can you please allow carriage returns in the visual editor so we can have some whitespace?

This post is for Paul, who recently pointed out that the “ouno” logo above is an ambigram, and who suggested looking at the work of Scott Kim who made the two animated ambigrams above and below. I did know that “ouno” was the same right-side up as upside down—it was partly chosen for that—but I didn’t know there was a name for this phenomenon. “An ambigram is a typographical design or artform that may be read as one or more words not only in its form as presented, but also from another viewpoint, direction, or orientation.”

The word “ouno” is the simplest type of ambigram, involving only a flipped image (this one is a 180° vertical rotation – doesn’t work on a 180° horizontal rotation, like, say, “ovo”). A more complicated type of ambigram can actually be read in two different ways at once, as in Nikita Prokhorov’s “Clean Dirty” below, and in Douglas R. Hofstadter‘s perceptual shift ambigram at bottom, a play on the wave–particle duality of light. (If you can’t see the word “wave,” stand back a bit from the monitor.)

Hofstadter, author of Godel Escher Bach, is responsible for coining the term ambigram. Scott Kim‘s play on figure and ground, above, is interesting because the ground continually becomes the figure. He’d originally intended to make an ambigram with the words “figure” and “ground,” but then realized it was more interesting this way, because in fact there is no ground, only figure, with the ground always becoming the figure. His piece directly below (use the slider bar) is a play on designer John Maeda’s name. If you do a Google Image search for “ambigram” you’ll notice that most of them tend to have a predictable Celtic/medieval/heavy-metal/tattoo aesthetic; what’s nice about Scott’s ambigrams is that he’s not stuck in that generic style. Anyway, thanks to Paul for being the first person in five years to recognize the geek component of the ouno logo.

clean_dirty_figure_ground_ambigram by Nikita ProkhorovWordpress, can you please allow carriage returns in the visual editor so we can have some whitespace?

Wave-particle by Douglas R Hofstadter

Wordpress, can you please allow carriage returns in the visual editor so we can have some whitespace?

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5 Responses to “Ambigrams”

  1. Paul Says:

    Hadn’t seen the last two before. I clearly saw particle and vaguely saw wave, but it was only when I noticed an od gap in the “e” that I suddenly saw wave in all its 3d-shadowy glory. Amazingly done!

    Thinking again of ouno as “0 uno” or “zero one” I am reminded of a multi-award winning board game called “abalone”. The “abalone” logo is an ambigram of a peculiar sort that alludes to the fact that you can move lines of 3 or 2 or just one piece at a time…

  2. LB Says:

    Paul,
    The abalone logo is very clever – it took me a while to figure it out. And yes, the O uno or zero one was strangely appealing. My father was a mathematician, which may or may not explain my interest in things no one but five people, including you, will ever pick up on. Thanks again for spawning this post in the first place.
    Lindsay

  3. Wow Tattoos Says:

    There is definitely a vast difference between what you would call ‘generic’ and the more artsy ambigrams. I think most people have an easier time reading the more popular styles (a lot of which our own Mark Palmer has made popular).

    The other styles seem to be less commercially viable… at least most of the time.

    I’m a personal fan of the John Maeda design by Scott Kim though.

    – Nate of Wow Tattoos
    Ambigram Tattoo Designs by Mark Palmer

  4. LB Says:

    Nate,
    Thanks for your thoughts and I’m sure you’re right. I just wonder why certain styles become commercially viable in the first place? How did the relationship between medievalism, calligraphy and tattoing arise in the first place, for example, and why did ambigrams in particular become so popular in that now very homogeneous style? I’m just interested in the historical aspect of design traditions, I guess. If I were to get a tattoo myself, I’d instinctively go for something in an atypical rather than typical style, but you don’t see that a lot in tattoos, which I guess are more about group behaviour? Now I want to do a post on atypical tattoos.
    PS I agree, the John Maeda ambigram by Scott Kim is fantastic.

  5. Nate of Wow Tattoos Says:

    Well, in terms of tattoos, a lot of it is more about group behavior, or the general history and culture of tattoos. A lot of that is seated in the medieval / calligraphy in the first place. Makes sense the most popular styles of ambigrams reflect that.

    Also, it takes a more artistic eye to sort out the more ‘illusion’ style ambigrams that, namely, Scott Kim produces. While good for puzzles and certain look-at-this-omg moments, I think it’s just too difficult for mass consumption. (BTW, check out ted.com for a demonstration by him that includes several ambigrams)

    I’ve seen Mark Palmer draw ambigrams in an atypical styling before, but it’s very rare. Most people would rather have the readability.

    Maybe once ambigrams and the sort become more and more popular, experimentation will breed new, commercially viable styles.

    – Nate

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