The visual investigation exploring boundaries of reality and typography with idea and explanations that relate to perceptions and wabi-sabi.

Aims + Objectives:

The issue that I wish to explore through the MA course is based on a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, which is a Japanese world view called “Wabi-Sabi”. It is based on a concept of understandings and appreciations of imperfection in nature. I choose to present this idea through typography because types have abilities to deliver messages through words and forms. From the influence of Postwar began a concept of idealism. Early experiment of modern period includes re-build, re-construct, and be more open as well as the introduction of technology. In comparison, types could directly relate to human. They have been changed, deconstructed, and influenced from modern societies. In the world that everyone turns to technology and conveniences. Everything seems to be heading toward perfection.

It has been said that types can speak louder than words. Typography has a wonderful power to communicate and makes people believe from what they perceive. Every time when people see what they consider “beauty/perfect”, do they feel influenced by the idea of modern living? What if people see what they consider “ugly/imperfect”, would they feel and understand the true beauty of wabi-sabi that nothing lasts, nothing is perfect, nothing is completed? And would this powerful medium in typography affects human perception and emotive responses?

The main consideration of this project is people have not yet been aware of their own aesthetics in life and do not understand how these aesthetics could affect their livings. I plan to investigate on the aesthetics of wabi-sabi and use typography to deliver the messages to audiences. And to communicate the importance of aesthetics in livings with audiences through digital medium, which is visual mapping. In additional, this project will be explore about human perceptions. How audiences can perceive through digital medium and space. Do they tend to perceive texts on 3D space better than 2D space? This will lead to presenting this project as an installation with 3D space and visual mapping, creating a new experience.


Typography is considered to be a language of potent visible signs. Typographic signs are created with an informed eye and mind, they achieve both lucidity and aesthetic beauty. This typographic element perfectly fits with the main idea of the project. As typography is the notation of language, it speaks out and communicates directly to audiences. And the idea I want to explore further is ‘imperfection’. I believe types can express and deliver messages more than just what they are, in terms of forms and spaces. David Carson, a well-known graphic designer and typographer once said that something legible does not mean it communicates. Typographic communication extends beyond perceptual issues to emotive responses. This plays with the idea of perceptions in human and I would like to apply this advantage to the project with the idea of ‘Wabi-Sabi’.

I will be looking at the idea of the Japanese world view ‘wabi-sabi’. It is described as a beauty of ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’ (Koren. 1994: p9). The word ‘wabi’ means an appreciation of imperfection, away from society, alone in nature, and suggested a discouraged, dispirited, cheerless emotional state (Koren. 1994: p21). The word ‘wabi’ means lonesomeness, emptiness, nothingness, still, and calm.

There are differences Koren noted in his book between modernism and wabi-sabi. Modernism tends to believes in control of nature, be everlasting, and purity makes its expression richer. But wabi-sabi believes in the fundamental uncontrollability of nature, to every thing there is a reason, and corrosion and contamination make its expression richer (Koren. 1994: p27). Wabi-sabi focuses on leaning towards naturalistic. To understand the imperfect nature instead of winning it. The main idea I would like to explore this aesthetic more is because it realtes to Buddism, which is my religious view that ‘nothing is permanent’. Up until this point, wabi-sabi is opposed to modernism. Therefore it helps slowing down the way people live nowadays, makes them stop and think about the true aesthetics.

In digital world, for typography there are two types which I could choose and study from. One is motion typography which is ‘type that moves’, and another is transitional typography which is ‘gradually changing typography’. I wish to focus on transitional typography, which it can be called ‘temporal typography’, because it enhances the expressiveness of typographic messages (Hillner. 2009: p40). As this transition of types can be referred to the idea of wabi-sabi in term of impermanent, the project will all be presented in the way of ‘going around’; incompletion. And the type itself will represent the concept of imperfection. Typography in digital realm has the deliberate delay in its communication, and I would like to apply this techniques to leave times for audiences to perceive the messages behind wabi-sabi. Also there is its temporary disguise as abstract imagery, which the beauty of wabi-sabi will be presented through this aesthetic.

The practitioners I will be study on are quite a few. For instance, a New-York based designers Matthew Pacetti and Christopher Pacetti from p2 have explored typography and its environment in digital realm. Their works usually consist of text flow continuously and repetitively in and out of focus. Also they experiment with how audiences can perceive the information through looking through a glass which stretches, bends, and rotates around the contours of the cylindrical shape. Another thing which is quite interesting thing they had been exploring is an experiment in formalism. They studied on proportional, rhythmical, stylistic, characteristics of letterforms. And how they can be mobility and variability.

Another contemporary design studio I will explore is FL@33, a London based designers who also experiment on visual and transitional typography, including digital installation.


Basically I do researches on books, articles, websites on history of typography and how it is used in digital field. The thing is I need to list typography as something else other than style. I am focusing on imperfection. I actually got the idea from an old poster with big types I saw while I was in the tube. The poster has a bad surface with bubbles, scratches, and stains, which no one really wants to even give it a look or read. But I personally found it interesting than a clean poster and it reminds me of how things change over time and nothing can be done except understanding the reality. I have been studying the meaning and ideas of wabi-sabi for my project’s theme. Overmore I will study about visual perception and interactive installation. I will observe London, record information through mediums of write, sketch, film, and photography. These techniques will be used to record surfaces and environments behind the idea of wabi-sabi. It is quite a contradiction already because I believe in wabi-sabi and London is a big city which every where is convenience. Somehow I think people forget how to live a simple life, which is a good idea to explore and show a comparison as well as deliver the messages of wabi-sabi.

Additionally, I have been keeping track on my notebooks with sketches, notes, and pictures. As well as the blog I own which I usually put all the things I founds which interest me and relate to the project. I think it is very useful because it does help me to reflect myself. After Effects and Final Cut Pro will be used to edit videos and audio. And also I will consider using Photoshop and Illustrator to create and develop design elements. Also looking at the technique of visual mapping by projectors to create a new environment. This theory of digital presentation helps creating dimensions to the project. I will be looking at softwares that help me produce visual mappings. I have found one software call VPT (Video Projection Tool), which actually maps videos and visual elements before projected on mapped surfaces.


The outcome I want my project to be is an installation with visual mapping by projectors. Gradually changing types will be presented under the idea of wabi-sabi. I need time and space for audiences to stop and think through about the messages they perceive. The space is needed to be white, or painted white because all elements that will be presented will be projected through projectors. They will be my main medium as well as surfaces and objects which will be mapped and projected on. I will produces 3D objects to put in the installation to add some qualities and dimensions of visual mapping.

Work Plan:


Carter, R., Day, B., Meggs, P. (2007), Typographic Design: Form and Communication, 4th ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Hillner, M. (2009), Virtual Typography, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Koren, L. (1994), Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press



Baines, P., Haslem, A. (2005), Type & Typography, 2nd ed. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd

Ballantoni, J., Woolman, M. (2000), Moving Type: Designing for Time and Space, Hove: RotoVision SA

Bellantoni, J., Woolman, M. (1999), Type In Motion: Innovation In Digital Graphics, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Bullivant, L. (2007), 4Dsocial: Interactive Design Environments, West Sussex: New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Carter, R., Day, B., Meggs, P. (2007), Typographic Design: Form and Communication, 4th ed. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Dreibholz, P. (2007), Lead Between The Lines: Generating A Discussion About Typography And Language, London: Gaffa Limited

Elkins, J. (2003), Visual Studies, London: Routledge

Hillner, M. (2009), Virtual Typography, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Jury, D. (2006), What Is Typography?, Hove: RotoVision SA

Koren, L. (1994), Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press

Lowgren, J., Stolterman, E. (2004), Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology, London: The MIT Press

Malsy, V., Muller, L. (2009), Helvetica Forever: Story of a Typeface, Baden: Lars Muller Publishers

Triggs, T. (2003), The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation In Contemporary Type Design, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

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