Minimalist graphic design posters depicting obscure, underused, complex words by Smart Giant’s Mick Watson.

A Father Designs Minimalist Vocabulary Posters to Teach His Daughter Complex Words

A Father Designs Minimalist Vocabulary Posters to Teach His Daughter Complex Words

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
May 14 2015 11:46 AM

A Father Designs Minimalist Vocabulary Posters to Teach His Daughter Complex Words

150514_EYE_MickWatsonSmartGiant07
London-based designer Mick Watson’s series of vocabulary posters graphically depict complex words with mimimal imagery but include definitions at the bottom: “Obfuscatory. Adjective. Deliberately making something obscure or difficult to understand.”

Courtesy of Smart Giant

London-based designer Mick Watson of Smart Giant has created an ongoing series of minimalist posters that attempt to translate obscure, underused, or favorite words into graphic depictions to illustrate their meanings and help them stick.

“I was thinking about my 9-year-old daughter’s expanding vocabulary and wondered that if I made some posters with a visual hook and put them up around the house whether she’d pick them up,” Watson told me in an email. “She was being a contrarian at the time so I started there!”

150514_EYE_MickWatsonSmartGiant03
“Contrarian. Noun. A person who takes an opposing view, especially one who rejects the majority opinion.”

Courtesy of Smart Giant

The designer said he keeps a running list of words he comes across in articles, books, and conversations with friends. “I like Will Self and his books are full of weird and wonderful ones,” he said. “Most of the ones so far are words that I like or use or I think can have a strong visual hook—as initially the image was meant to efficiently break down the word and make it easier to remember.”

150514_EYE_MickWatsonSmartGiant06
“Mellifluous. Adjective. (of a sound) pleasingly smooth and musical to hear.”

Courtesy of Smart Giant

150514_EYE_MickWatsonSmartGiant05
“Heliotropism. Adjective. the growth of organisms in response to light (phototropism) where sunlight is the stimulus.”

Courtesy of Smart Giant

150514_EYE_MickWatsonSmartGiant04
“Funambulist. Noun. A tightrope walker.”

Courtesy of Smart Giant

150514_EYE_MickWatsonSmartGiant01
“Deasil. Adverb. In the direction of the sun’s apparent course, considered as lucky; clockwise.”

Courtesy of Smart Giant

Advertisement

When designing an image for a complex word, Watson said: “I never want to engulf the word or meaning but merely provide a good visual hook as a way of assisting the viewer to remember the word.”

150514_EYE_MickWatsonSmartGiant08
“Scintilla. Noun. A tiny trace or spark of a specified quality or feeling.”

Courtesy of Smart Giant

As an example, Watson outlined his thought process for illustrating the word scintilla:

Due to the definition I knew I wanted something small or slight. At first I thought of the spark part of the definition but drawing variations of sparks or matches proved to be too “solid” an image; it detracted from the word and confused the meaning. I then went to my default position which was is to draw a circle—I'm a huge fan of circles—and then thought about splitting it into sections before realising that by making the circle a dotted line it would soften the actual image to reflect either a quality or feeling—it wasn't definite—and then I could turn one of the dotted lines red which reflects the original spark idea and nicely ties the two parts of the definition together.

Watson said he starts by sketching in a notebook but moves quickly to the computer so he can simultaneously work on the image with color. “I find that to be an incredibly important part of each piece,” he said. “Scintilla doesn't work as well without the red spark and something like apostasy doesn't work as effectively without the black and red, Gothic-inspired colour scheme.”

150514_EYE_MickWatsonSmartGiant02
“Apostasy. Noun. Abandonment of one's religious faith, political party, principal or cause.”

Courtesy of Smart Giant

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.