• 1 minute Read

Eye Candy: Fluorescent Type-Design Experiment Veers Toward Darkness

Artist Rob Seward creates a stunning type display using fluorescent light tubes, with words borrowed from an eerie experiment that began in the 1970s.

Rob Seward

Rob Seward’s installation, Four Letter Words, is comprised of four units, each of them made from fluorescent lights that can rearranged themselves to render all 26 letters of the alphabet:

The sheer form of the letters themselves is startling to watch, as they fade from one letter to the next.

Rob Seward

But the piece gets part of its eerie poetry from the words themselves, which displays the results from a word-association database that was assembled at the University of South Florida between 1976 and 1998, in hopes of mapping how the mind free-associates. (The attempt failed: Despite crunching answers from over 6,000 people, the researchers weren’t able to successfully predict what words people would cross associate.) Apparently, Seward also programmed the words to drift towards “dark” subject matter, following in the footsteps of patterns identified in still other language studies.

Whew. Enough with the wonk talk. All of the machinery that Seward invented for the piece is actually scalable–the idea being that it could be expanded to show longer texts. And hopefully stranger experiments.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.