Marian Bantjes is a graphic designer and typographer known for her intricate, decorative, and personal type designs. She has worked for major clients, such as the New York Times, and with other well-known designers/firms, such as Pentagram, but she also fuels her creativity through more intimate projects: In 2007 she drew 150 different unique Valentine’s Day cards for her friends. Considering this background and practice, her essay titled “A Critique” from her book of essays, I Wonder, could be considered a type of alternative self-portrait. The text of the essay systematically critiques the design of each letter pair—capital and lowercase—for the Roman alphabet. In the example shown here, she complains that the capital “R” and the lowercase “r” have nothing in common. However, she finds the design of the letter “T” with its two arms to be “welcoming and protective.” The capital and lowercase forms share enough similarities and possess enough differences to be recognized as a successful pair. In addition to writing the essay, Bantjes designed the accompanying illustrations and page layout, using both ornamentation and the concept of modularity to reinforce the critique presented in her essay. Each letterform is presented both clearly and crisply in black and white, but also embedded in an intricate design made up of contrasting tiles (modules). If it is easy to recognize the letter’s inherent character inside the complexity of the contrasting patterns, then presumably she finds that letterform to be clearly designed. The tiny decorated tiles through which the letters are revealed are the smallest level of modularity in this design. Designers use grids and individual units (modules) to give themselves a structure in which to work. Imposing limits often fuels creative problem-solving, as well as making a design feel unified. Emphasizing the notion of modules in the essay layout seems especially appropriate since letterforms themselves are individual units, sharing many similarities, that are used to build a greater whole.
Bantjes likely created the crisp illustrations for this essay in Illustrator, using vector graphics and the ability to copy, paste, and repeat forms. Page layout and typesetting of the essay was likely completed in InDesign. However, the final product was obviously meant to be held and treasured rather than viewed on a screen: The book of essays is beautifully printed on thick, glossy paper and bound in a shiny black, gold, and silver cover. (See detailed images of the printed book on Bantjes’s website.)