Flexion

In the late ’70s, John Langdon discovered that he could manipulate letters to form words that read the same from the right and the left. He has since carved out a strong career as a designer and letterer specializing in ambigrams, as the Janus-faced words are called, and he collected the best of his experiments in the 1992 book Wordplay.

Recently, Langdon created totem (vertical) ambigrams as title animations for the film version of The Da Vinci Code. In the end, those ambigrams weren’t used in the movie, but they inspired Langdon to create Flexion, his first typeface. The font, designed with the help of Hal Taylor, is a display design (available in regular, medium, bold, and black weights) that can be used totem-style or in the ordinary, horizontal position; it consists only of capitals, small capitals, figures, and punctuation. Unlike Leonardo Sonnoli’s Palindrome font of 1999, not all of Flexion’s letters are simple mirror images, symmetrical around a vertical axis. Instead, the 11 that are naturally symmetrical have been left that way, while the other 15 have either been “coaxed” into symmetry (as with the Q) or paired with reflective counterparts. The latter group includes B and E, C and D, K and N, and S and Z. With the exception of the 4 and the question mark, both of which have been made symmetrical, Langdon has left the figures and punctuation alone to ensure Flexion’s usability.

Flexion’s letters are nearly monotone in weight and have chamfered, bracketed slab serifs. The curves, and some stems, have tiny spurs, while dots fill several of the counters. These give the font a decorative quality, but also serve a vital purpose in reinforcing the letters’ legibility—and, in some instances, helping to distinguish some letters from similarly structured figures. Langdon sees Flexion as both gothic and contemporary. Yet the serifs and spurs also echo 19th-century wood types such as Page’s 20 Line Gothic Tuscan No. 3 (1859) and 6 Line No. 121 (1879).

Flexion is not a kit for making instant ambigrams. But its unusual characters, and the different associations they conjure, make it a likely candidate for use on movie posters, book jackets, and magazines. PAUL SHAW

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