The 344 AMBIGRAM
This year marks both the 15th anniversary of the 344 Empire and the launch of this version of the website, which was lovingly conceived and built by my friend and colleague Simon Malz. I felt the urge to commemorate both events with a special lettering project.
It was (and remains) a time of transition and renewal here at 344 Global HQ, and these things are never easy. Along the way, my friends were giving me sorely needed life advice. Of the many things I heard, something David Norland said stuck in my head. “You can’t change the past.” It’s something that has always given me trouble, but I kept letting the thought roll around inside my head.
After some serious mulling, I got punchy and it suddenly struck me that “You can’t change the past.” would be a funny name for a portfolio website. Specifically, it would be a funny name for my portfolio website, considering that it had evolved from a simple update to a quasi-autobiography.
As with most autobiographies, any attempts at sincere reflection and completeness still end up severely edited, carefully phrased, and completely subjective. In other words, you can’t change the past, but you can do your best to put it into the most flattering light. I’ve tried to be as honest and upfront as possible with everything on this site. As much as this is my showroom, it’s also my attempt to figure out my own path. Where I made mistakes, I talk about them. When I’ve behaved like an axe in the forest, I cop to it. Perhaps the result is an orgy of navel-gazing, but my hope is that the site will prove itself useful. To you and to me. As my dad is fond of saying, “Nobody is truly useless as long as they can still serve as a bad example.”
But let me get back to the lettering. My original plan was to do a florid little number in the style of my Mirror Mirror titles and Doyald’s gorgeous 344 Loves You lettering. For some reason, I couldn’t get anything to work. The sketches felt flat. There was no music in the letters. As I was retreating to the safe ground of Helvetica Neue the thought came to me that I could try making the phrase into an ambigram.
An ambigram is lettering that retains its meaning when you turn or reflect it. I had seen a few ambigrams over the years—the anniversary edition of “The Princess Bride” is a good example—but hadn’t really explored the subject until my friend Nikita Prokhorov invited me to judge the Ambigrammy Awards. (Yes, that’s a thing.) Since then I’ve hired Nikita to design an ambigram for the Mirror Mirror titles, and got involved in his book “Ambigrams Revealed.” I went from no ambigrams in my life to many ambigrams in a very short span of time. The time was right to make my own.
This particular piece is a rotational ambigram, which is to say that you can turn it 180° and end up where you started. Which makes perfect sense with the phrase. As much as you turn things over and over and over in your mind, it won’t change the past. I couldn’t work this thing out as simple, straightforward script lettering, but as an ambigram it came together fairly quickly. Sometimes a complicated problem that’s well defined is more easily solved than a simple problem lost in the haze.
I arrived at the basic typography fairly quickly, and then spent long hours finessing the various letter turns to optimize legibility. I sent new versions to an ever expanding circle of friends. You can really only ask each person once. As soon as you figure out what the phrase is, you can’t look at another version as if it was the first time. My friend Jess Jaime saw a near-final version of the ambigram, identified the phrase right away, but told me that “at first I thought it said ‘Lou can’t change the past.’” Just for that, I’ve christened the Monster in the interface of this site Lou. Also, watch for my new reality TV show “Lou Can’t Change The Past” starring Lou Ferrigno. This fall on Fox.
Horrible puns aside, I added a nice metallic Mirror Mirror finish to the letters, and came to the lovely blue by hitting command-I in Photoshop. I wanted something on a white background that felt modern but also old and mysterious. Look at it as my riff on Delft pottery.
For a few days I toyed with the idea of changing the name of the entire site to cantchangethepast.com but I suspect that I’d have given Simon a heart attack. 344lovesyou.com is better anyway, and at least as true. I hope you’ll enjoy the site.