The project assigned was to take a political figure (alive or dead), and create a three-dimensional typeface essentially 'embodying' that person. The typeface could be executed in either uppercase or lowercase.
In determining the subject matter of the typeface, I knew the person had to have a colorful, and perhaps ugly history. I knew that if I could elicit an emotional response by essentially using only type, something special would emerge.
In evaluating many different political figures (including Napoleon, Vlad the Impaler, Genghis Khan, even Arnold Schwarzenegger to name a few), I settled on Adolf Hitler.
At the onset, I was doing mind-maps and sketches of all of the awful things Hitler was known for, which were primarily themed around his European invasions and the Holocaust. I was being much too broad, and had to refine my approach exclusively to the Holocaust. Initial sketches and ideations led my alphabet to the direction of some version of a macabre exposition—nothing that really hit home or even said 'Hitler.'
I went back to the drawing board with the attempt to discover what the true evil of Hitler was. I needed to to figure out what essence of his persona was shocking that it would make people cringe. I watched a few specials on the Holocaust, and realized I felt most-disturbed when I saw the great many people in striped pajamas in the camps; the dead thrown in piles like discarded garbage. I didn't see any of the terrible things that occurred, but I knew they happened.
I realized that if I were to simply convey a sense of confinement, but do it dramatically, I could produce a quality solution. In sketching the layout, the alphabet didn't have the 'correct' amount of letters to make a symmetrical design. I was moving around the "Z," trying to make sense of its placement, and I realized that placing the "Z" outside the confines of the interior alphabet, and demonstrating it as a swastika would create a very powerful, dramatic effect.
The execution of the letters had to carry the narrative of confinement. To create the 'fence' letters, I simply hammered nails into a paper alphabet, and 'wrapped' metal wire around them. I then slid the wire through barbs from a barbed wire fence to create a subtle sense of tragedy.
I found normal dirt to be too neutral, so I ground up some charcoal briquettes to give a nice 'scorched earth' effect. The bones were the remnants of a chicken rotisserie bought at a local grocery store.
To add the final detail of the narrative, I drew in blue marker on an old t-shirt, tore it up, and rubbed it in the charcoal a bit to portray the prisoners in the concentration camps. Some of the cloth was placed within and around the wire, again, to play up the tragedy.
The resulting criticism I received for this project was universally positive, in a sense.
On one hand, this project effectively elicited the abhorrent emotions for which I was soliciting, but on the other I was acclaimed for having the guts to take a very touchy subject matter, and create an unmistakeable, powerful narrative.