More often than not, ambigrams seem to lie in the artistic field of graphic design – although they are very cool, their purpose is illusionary and they don’t often offer any kind of deeper meaning past that.
This list is going to contain designs which I have come across which use the ambigram format to represent a metaphor. Please bear in mind that I couldn’t find many of these, so I had to set my standards of what qualifies as a metaphor pretty low – but either way these are all quality ambigrams!
To start off the list, I will present a design of my own. A couple of years ago, I discovered the incredible world of 3d printing, where an artist (like you or me) can design anything they want and have it custom made cheaply and to a high standard. The service at shapeways.com offers a variety of materials, including precious metals like gold and silver – perfect for bespoke jewellery. Being quite obsessed with ambigrams at the time, I immediately thought up some ideas for ambigrams which would work well as physical pieces of jewellery. Here is one of the ones I came up with:
It is a reflective ambigram – the one at the top reads ‘Man’, and the one underneath reads ‘Boy’. I had this design turned into a ring made out of gold plated brass:
The two photos above show the ring from both sides. Since it is a mirror ambigram, it reads something different if you are looking from the inside or outside of the ring. If you hadn’t figured it out already, this ring is a metaphor for me – or whoever is wearing it. On the outside I am a man, but on the inside, I am still a boy!
If anyone is interested in buying one, click here!
This one is a pretty straight forward play on words. It clearly shows the words mind and matter, with the mind over the matter – representing the common phrase ‘mind over matter’. Even if you were to place it on a mirror, it would read the words in the same order through the mirror. Very clever!
Many of you might have seen this before. It is a very legible ambigram which reads ‘Come in’ one way and ‘Go away’ the other. On its own this is nothing special, but since it is printed on a doormat, suddenly it has a whole new depth. To anyone entering the building, it invites them in, but to anybody leaving, the same line of text now rudely invites them out. At a stretch, this mat could be a metaphor for the person walking over it, describing their current action… at a stretch!
And finally, here is another of my designs, which I found in an old sketchbook as I tidied my room:
This one reads ‘Der Spiegel’, which means ‘the mirror’ in German, but more importantly it is the name of a violin duet written by the classical composer Mozart. I designed it as a cover page for the sheet music which would be read by the violinists. It is a metaphor for the music, since – like an ambigram – Mozart designed the sheet music to be readable upside down! The piece is performed by two musicians standing either side of a table, both reading the same page of sheet music which sits between them on the table – so each is seeing it in a different orientation. Each musician would then start reading from opposite ends of the page, and finish where the other started. Bear in mind that they are not even reading the same notes, since when a note on a stave it turned upside down, suddenly it appears on a different stave and represents a different note!
People are usually impressed when I show them an ambigram for the first time, but Mozart’s genius is on another level. The piece involves the two musicians playing in unison, counterpoint, and in thirds – how he could juggle these musical ideas upside down in his head is beyond me.
Here is a video of the performance:
I recognise that half of the designs I showed today are my own, and the reason for that is simple – I know my own works best! In order to stop my own designs dominating the lists in future, feel free to email me any of your (or other people’s) work which you feel represents some kind of metaphor. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.