The Rorshach test is such cultural shorthand for psychological evaluation that just seeing a symmetrical ink blot on a piece of paper is to conjure a mental image of bespectacled therapists and tufted-leather fainting couches. They are meant to be interpreted as physical objects, but can they be designed to instead bring to mind letters from the alphabet? Designer Fabienne Plangger was interested in finding out. Using the same techniques as Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach, Plangger has created an entire psychodiagnostic alphabet out of inkblots.
Although it might seem that a Rorschach pattern can be any old squirt of ink, there are actually only 10 inkblots in Rorschach’s original series of plates. These were not created randomly but designed to be interpreted in specific ways. For example, a healthy mind almost always interprets card 1 as a bat or butterfly, while card 3 is almost always seen as two humans. Likewise, Plangger’s Rorschach Alphabet has been designed as a limited series of 26 plates, each one specifically made to conjure a certain mental image of a specific letter.
Creating the type design, however, was more challenging than it might appear. Rorschach inkblots are made by folding a piece of paper in half, which means that any design must have an axis of symmetry. In other words, you should be able to fold each design in such a way that its halves perfectly overlap. Unfortunately, many letters in the alphabet don’t have axes of symmetry. “The most challenging letters were ones that don’t contain mirrored components, so letters like F, S, G, Z and so on,” Plangger tells Co.Design. “So if you see these letters by themselves, they aren’t readable. I’d prefer to live with that than somehow fake the process.”
Curiously, Plangger seems to have overlooked in her designs that letters can have both a vertical and horizontal axis of symmetry, meaning that some of her letter designs are more oblique than they need to be: Her “K,” for example, looks like an “X” because she created it with a vertical axis of symmetry, but if Plangger had used a horizontal axis, it would have been perfectly readable. But this niggle only adds to the effect: While readable, the mind has to work to tease out the subliminal meanings of each letter of Plangger’s ink-blotted alphabet.
The end result is so striking, so faithful that it is easy to see this alphabet being put to use in some psychologist’s office. “Tell me, my friend. What do you see when I hold this ‘Q’ in front of you? A puppy sunning itself in the field? Very good, you are making good progress. What about this ‘X’? A disemboweled teddy bear, screaming? I … see. Very interesting! Very interesting indeed.”
You can see more of Plangger’s work here.