Reflection: Counting Sheep

Day to day I never really spend time thinking about the alphabetic system that we use all day, the way the words look, the history of the glyph and so on, especially in different cultures, the relationship of that with numbers is another history that I never bothered to look into. The article “Counting Sheep” goes over in great detail not only a short history of both, but also the psychology of both, moving from how tally systems relate to how we think of values in relation to objects, to the psychology surrounding image association with Freud.

One part of this large document that really had me thinking was where it made the statement that depending on the times, many civilizations had made a shift from seeing the quantity of an object as central to the object’s character, to those two being separated, the author even goes so far to say that this would make the value abstract. It’s the kind of stuff that only someone specializing in these fields would think of.

The idea of a number, a value, separate from an object, making values abstract, seems something very interesting to me, and upon thinking back on how that might effect design it brought about something new in my mind, really, that system is designed, sure it’s not graphic but it showcases a manner of communication, this one of values and amounts, designed in icons and style in a numerical system. As a graphic designer, my first thought is to wonder “What about color? What about shape?” but the first thought here, at least from the outside looking in, is how does this make me think of it, what are the underlying assumptions, how would I live my life only knowing this particular expression of a universal fact?

It reminds me a bit of how some language, I can’t think of it on the top of my head, has two words for blue, some languages, older ones, don’t have words for colors we do, some divided the spectrum differently, so it calls to mind, what role to designers have in affecting how people think? As a graphic designer my end usually comes in making some text larger or a color brighter, to change how the tone of a poster comes out, or changing the font, maybe make it round to seem fun or a sans-serif to keep it neutral. This article then kind of just brings to the extreme what I already do on a smaller basis, and brings new meaning to it, a new reverence.

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