An Ambigram Case Study: Faust by Goethe

Jun 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Design Secrets

Recently, I started reading Faust by Goethe. It is a book adaptation of a German legend about a pact that the protagonist (Faust) makes with the Devil. The version that I started reading is written in, or rather, translated to Russian, published in 1956. What really peaked my interest was the cover.


As you can see, the title is set in a Blackletter-style Cyrillic typeface, which really has a great aesthetic connection to the dark plot and characters of the book. My first thought was “can I make an ambigram out of the title?”  After asking myself that question, I had two immediate goals in mind: analyze the current title to see if it would indeed make a successful ambigram, and if it was possible, to keep the same ‘dark and sinister’ look.


At first what I did was quickly redraw the book title by hand, just to see what my hand does. I know that might sound strange to someone, but think of how you touch clothing in a store to feel the texture of the cloth or you inhale a fragrance to see how it will make you feel. This is no different! Drawing out a typeface allows you to understand it better and to experience firsthand (pun fully intended!) the transition from character to character.


After redrawing it (1), I realized that each character is made up of the same basic shape, some wider characters requiring two of the shapes (2). When I saw how basic the shape is, I realized that it was almost perfectly balanced, which I quickly determined by drawing a rough outline around the would-be word (3). After a few more rough sketches (which I am not including here because they are too rough), I switched to the only problem in the word, which was the letter ‘y.’ Why is it a problem you ask? Well it’s all about that pesky descender of the ‘y’, the only non-symmetrical part in the whole word. As I experimented with three or four various shapes (4) to make the ‘y’ that is read the same way after the word is turned, I became frustrated with the lack of symmetry and decided to switch to the computer to work out the basic vector shapes for each letter and then experiment with the ‘y.’


After finalizing the basic shapes for the narrow (5) and wide (6) characters, I decided to develop those few characters that, in my analysis, proved that they would be perfectly symmetrical.


As you can see above, perfect symmetry! Not a bad first attempt, but the biggest problem was still the ‘y.’ Since I wanted to keep the letters proportionate and consistent, I decided to crop the vertical center part of the first letter and use it as the descender of the ‘y.’ I noted that the negative space between the ‘a’ and the ‘c’ characters (refer to the image below), when combined with the descender, almost formed two perfect ‘y’ letters.


Ok, that looks like a very rough ‘y’, but let’s try it!


Not bad right? Well the symmetry was definitely there, but something bothered me about the way the ‘a’, ‘y’ and ‘c’ were joined together and that the ‘y’ was more implied then strictly defined. So I decided to try to fix that issue.


Much better! But, now the ‘y’ bothered me because it did not look like a ‘y’ but more like a character that would look more at home on the Rosetta stone then in my ambigram! It also looked very separated from the rest of the word and seemed to fill the space rather then complement it. What to do…what to do…what to do…


The solution proved to be very simple. By simple extending the tail of the ‘a’ and the ‘c’, the connection helped define the ‘y’ better and gave the ‘a’ and the ‘c’ better recognition.

And to compare the final result to the original….


Voila! A Cyrillic ambigram!

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  1. Fantastic :)
    Cyrillic is much harder to turn in ambigram.
    Don’t you think that in ?/? combination “?” is rather hard to recognise? :)

  2. [...] This is so natural that I’m sure it’s probably been done before, but the only I’ve been able to find on the Net is in Cyrillic. [...]

  3. [...] An Ambigram Case Study [...]

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