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Emotional Connection to Letterforms

I just got this email:

Hi my name is Leah Maldonado, I’m currently doing my undergrad degree in design and I was hoping to get a statement from you for my final thesis. My question is: what is your emotional connection to letterforms?

My emotional connection to letterforms is pretty strong. When I was a kid, I felt so much more comfortable in Lucky grocery stores versus Albertson's, simply because the Lucky logotype was amazing.


A logotype I’m emotionally connected to, and have been since I was a kid. Now they’ve changed it to something horrifyingly ugly, and it breaks my heart.

When I got a little older, I preferred Coke over Pepsi, and and Fender guitars to Gibson or Ibanez because Coke and Fender have the best logos ever. Those preferences still exist. I have no idea why these biases towards letters exist even in tiny children.

Similarly, as a kid, I had a very strong emotional connection to Legos. Every Christmas or birthday was extremely Lego-centric, and I began to associate those toys with familial love. I still do, and even though I don’t play with them regularly anymore, I can rarely resist perusing the Lego aisle at Target. Simply seeing the Lego logotype is still something that makes me happy. It’s so joyful, and connects me immediately to many happy memories.

These days, creating impactful and expressive letterforms is something that gets me out of bed in the morning. I am hesitant to admit that I lean on it heavily as a tenet of my identity, but having this creative outlet has been an undeniably positive influence on my emotional wellbeing. Without it, I have a stronger tendency towards ennui, and eventually depression. Type design is far from a safeguard against feeling shitty, but it certainly works as well as anything else I’ve tried.

A digression

The question then becomes, what is necessary to fulfillment. If positive emotions are what we’re searching for, what actually matters?

Lately, I’ve began experimenting with non-experimental typefaces. One interesting thing I’ve discovered is that I’m just as likely to enter a flow state, and enjoy the meditative work even when it’s in a more neutral genre. It turns out, this jives well with some research on happiness. As Cal Newport suggests in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, it’s more effective on your happiness to do something you’re good at, than something you’re passionate about. So even if you don’t have a strong passion, or emotional connection to something, it really means nothing about the potential enjoyment of your work. According to the author, what does make a difference is how much skill we have in what we do.

So if you’re passionate and emotionally connected to the work you’re doing, great! But if you’re not, that’s great too! As long as you’re good, or getting better.

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