Angharad Hengyu Owen is a Malaysia-born graphic designer who experiments with visual storytelling through type. “I thought ‘graphic design’ was vague enough to encompass my three core interests: language, art and computer sciences,” Angharad tells It’s Nice That. In her latest project, the designer worked with the poet Christian Marques to create an insightful book of shape poetry, Um Poema Errante / A Wandering Poem, that traces Christian’s eight-month journey from Europe to Asia during which he wrote a poem a day.
Angharad first reached out to Christian when she read about his project on Crowdfunder. “A dialogue flourished, we met in person, and now looking back, it was only natural of him to ask me if I’d be interested in designing his collection of poems. At the time, I hadn’t even considered it myself,” the designer explains. After their encounter, Angharad began experimenting with the idea of non-linear narratives that, she felt, would best represent the memories and experiences of the poet’s travels. But it was almost a year later that they officially began “re-exploring Christian’s poetic impressions of wandering through Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal by land.” The outcome is a beautiful compendium of shapes, comprised of letters, words and sentences in various languages.
Um Poema Errante / A Wandering Poem retains some conventional features despite its experimental layout, like a contents list and thematic arrangements of the poems by country. But page numbers are largely absent from the book, except for when a new border is crossed and the poems change context. These designs developed dialogically through Angharad’s careful engagement with Christian’s poems and via lengthy conversations between the two creatives. “It was important for me to develop the visualisations from the narratives themselves. This is a project where content and design hold equivalent weight and work together to convey meaning.”
Angharad’s designs bring about new possibilities of reading and interpretation and, through their left-to-right and top-to-bottom compositions, they question the traditional layouts of Western texts. It took the designer two years to finish the project. “To visually communicate a poem, made up of words and experiences that are not my own, required a lot of background research in order for me to respond with relevance and substantial meaning,” Angharad says. The designer explains how she would receive poems randomly, with no chronology or explanation, and so found herself on the hunt for subtle meanings and emotional insinuations.
Um Poema Errante / A Wandering Poem illustrates that it is not the destination that matters but the experience of the journey itself. Rather than offering the meaning of words, each poem invites the reader to discover it for themselves: “The text challenges the reader through its invitation to fully engage with what they are reading, and how they are reading it. There are many unconventional layers that allow the reader to experience an interpretational voyage of their own.”