Typography Tangent of a Crazy Mind

Why I'm good at packing cars.
Something you should know about me - I move things in my head. I can move a desk from four inches away from the east wall to two feet from the corner of the south wall. I move picture frames to different locations, change the angles of walls, and spin chairs in my head. Occasionally, if I am walking in a neighborhood, I spin houses. If I've never seen the back, my mind just fills in the blanks, creating what it think the back of the house should look like - porches, ivy, and all. Sometimes I can control it, sometimes I can't. That's just the way I am.

The setting of insanity.
So last Monday, as I was sitting on a 3 1/2 hour flight from Charlotte to Denver, I began to spin things. Unfortunately, nothing in the plane was interesting enough. After all, this was my second flight of the day, and I was sick of anything that lives in the air or charges $5 for a can of potato chips (not to mention $15 for my first checked bag). I tried reading Dostoevsky, but because of my exhaustion, my mind was hardly ready to wrestle with 12 concurrent characters, each with multiple nicknames. That's when I started moving letters. I moved them left and right, flipped them around, and then turned them upside down until my mind had turned into some perverted word crossword puzzle of chaos.

Anyways, here is a peak into my mile-high revelations (all my own terminology):

Mirror words.
Mirror words are words that have a line of symmetry right down the middle. You can fold the first half of the word onto the second half and have it line up perfectly. Mirror words are palindromes on steroids, and there are very very few of them (unlike MLB).

Some examples of mirror words are toot, bud, and mom (this is based on the way I write the letters, and may vary depending on the font).

Letter words must be composed of letters that have a mirror reflection.
q and p can be mirrored with each other, depending on the writer's style.
b and d can almost always be mirrored with each other.

Letters that have a vertical line of symmetry themselves:
lowercase: i l m o t u v w x
uppercase: A H I M O T U V W X Y

What does this have to do with anything? Not too much, but we'll talk more about symmetry in a minute.

Planes of letters.
All uppercase letters are generally the same height. Vertically, they all start at the same stop and all end at the same spot. But lowercase letters are a completely different ballgame. Some dip low, some stay in a middle plane, and some stretch up to the height of capital letters. Oh the horror! This is probably a pretty basic concept in typography, but considering I have never formally studied it, it is revelatory to me (especially when combined with symmetry ... we'll get to that).

letters who stay still: a c e m n o r s u v w x z
letters who stretch up: b d f h k l t
letters who go down: g p q y j

If your favorite letter of the alphabet is i, then you have probably noticed that I didn't include it. I'm not quite sure where to put it. It probably belongs with the "letters who stay still," but that dot at the top just ruins everything. Let's say that it is a quasi-letters-who-stretch-up.

Now we get to mention my favorite lowercase letter: j

Look at it. The enigma of the letter world. It dips down below the central plane, but like the letter i, has some real-estate up above it. If j were graduating from its high school class, it would clinch up the "most personable" award. And when combined with letters all of the same plane, I think that it can make a word look visually appealing. Consider the word ajax, or mojo. Don't they just look good on the page?

Planes and patterns.
Getting back to the concept of symmetry, it seems to me that words have a better look about them when there is some sort of pattern in the letters. Actually, the more distinct pattern a word has, the more I am attracted to it. Lets look at a couple of words.

boring : The word lives up to its name. There are no patterns here. The best I can come up with is the b vertically reflecting the g. But even then, the i sort of disrupts us from enjoying that reflection. I don't see anything fun when I look at "boring."

lollipop : I like the way lollipop looks. Why? I think it is because we have this pattern TALLmiddleTALL i LOWmiddleLOW. Since l is such a thin letter, the "ll" sequence doesn't throw us for a loop. Even the i seems to work as a transition to the other half, like a ladder from the floor to the bookcase.

kayak : Of all the words here, kayak looks best to me. Not only is it a palindrome, but it is a palindrome that feels like a roller coaster - start high, dip low, and then ramp up high again. "kayak" has the most distinct pattern.

Why, why, and why?
It occurred to me that, even if we don't explicitly think about these concepts, "how a word looks" judging could very well be going on all the time in our minds. At the very least, I think that certain words jump out at us. For me, it is "kayak." I like it.

How can this be applied in any sort of constructive way? Well, since I like the word "kayak", I am prone to like other things that are associated with "kayak". In a world that is dominated by logos and branded company names, don't you want every edge you can get? This may apply even more so in the internet world. Web 2.0 is notorious for making up words as their brand (and to be honest, most of them aren't terribly interesting). If I am trying to be just a little bit more interesting than a thousand other companies, I would consider making my company's name a "fun word." In a worst case scenario, no one notices, it has no subconscious impact, and you lose nothing. But what if it does have an impact? What if, because people like your word, they are ever so slightly more likely to come back to your site? Isn't it work the risk? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. So why not?

Just one more thing to chew on.

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