Watching Words Move booklet with BJ’s personal rubber stamp
Watching Words Move was originally produced in 1959 as a handmade typographic notebook of pasted-up words and done in one day in the Composing Room in New York. Three years later BJ agreed to let Herbert Spencer reproduce it as a booklet insert in the December 1962 issue of Typographica. Spencer had a strong interest in concrete poetry and the booklet served as a playful prelude to a feature published a year later. His guiding mission was to liberate letters from the mere delivery of information and allow them to become a means of expression in their own right.
Early in 1959 BJ took part in a discussion organized by the Advertising Typographers Association of America. Sitting around a table with five other typographers he repeatedly emphasized a single proposition:
‘I think the revolution in typography has been in terms of image. The picture and the word have become one thing.The only real advance in advertising typography has been in the use of type not as an adjunct to an illustration of the image but in its use as the image itself.You have found that the old image, the old word, doesn’t mean enough any more to say what you want it to say. It’s too familiar…..I think perhaps our modern poets have created the modern typography.’
These assertions suggest that, far from being a frivolous pastime, the typographic play of Watching Words Move was BJ’s bid to make a ‘new statement’. The invitation to ‘watch’ words is deceptively casual. In beckoning us to look rather than read, he was signalling the way towards his vision of modernity.
Words have the power to move and a small booklet of typographic brilliance changed forever how designers thought about the graphic potential of words. Decades later, the impact of watching words move is still felt. Never before had the idea been so lucidly and playfully expressed that type itself could speak, that word-forms carried their own implied visual meanings; that the placement of letters on the page could suggest motion, narrative, emotion – just about anything.
‘In the last 15 years, in typography the real advance has been the use of type not as an adjunct to an illustration or photo, but in its use as the image itself’, said BJ back in 1963. The belief that words carry emotional as well as intellectual connotations was central to his work approach to advertising typography. These assertions suggest that, far from being a frivolous pastime, the typographic play of ‘watching words move’ was BJ’s bid to make ‘a new statement’. The invitation to ‘watch’ words is deceptively casual. In beckoning us to look rather than read, he was signalling the way towards his vision of modernity.
Watching Words Move
Original Booklet with paste ups
New York 1958
Watching Words Move from a different perspective – white on black