Words Through Squares — Process Documentation

Introduction & Background

In this project, my task and goal was to utilize only solid squares to explore different ways of representing meaning. The idea is to use the relative positions of the squares and the sizes of the squares to convey the meanings of certain word pairs. When users see each of the compositions of squares, they should immediately be able to determine what words out of the list of word pairs it represents. After sketching out different ideas on a sketchpad as well as going through multiple iterations on Adobe Illustrator, my goal is to pick two word pairs that I think is best represented.

The following are the different word pairs that I had to focus on (for the final I only had to pick 2 of the word pairs):

rigid + fluid

clumsy + graceful

rhythmic + erratic

I also had to draw out different ideas of squares that are reversible figure/ground, where both the white and black areas of the image can clearly mean something.

Initial Sketches


These were my preliminary sketches that I made in order to represent what I thought was Rigid in my understanding/definition of the word rigid. The word rigid to me means something that is very solid/fixed in nature, orderly, and something that can’t be moved or changed.

The sketch on the top left really represented rigid for me in the simplest way. I did some experimentation with other ways/sizes of drawing a solid black box. However, I felt that a solid black square that is touching the bottom, but doesn’t take up the whole area works best. In this case, I felt that the square really represented something that is solid, hard to move, and stuck to the ground.

As for the top right drawing, it focused more on the orderly definition of rigid. I thought a very orderly grid of 3x3 squares of uniform size really represented the idea of rigid. It felt to me like the squares was purposely placed in that orderly fashion and is really not that flexible in nature, or in other words rigid.

The third drawing was a little more abstract in my meaning on rigid. I thought that the word rigid represented something that was rather solid like a cube (very hard to change, uniform shape, generally hard in nature). Because it was hard to represent a cube by just using black squares, I decided to represent the cube in 2d (what a cube would look like if the sides were not folded).

The fourth drawing was something that I realized didn’t look as good with the squares fully shaded in (looked better when I first outlined with pencil). But the idea was to play a little with the white space in the drawing as well and have it act as part of the foreground too. I thought that rigid could mean a drawing of squares where nothing could really move, represented kind of like a bunch of puzzle pieces on a board. It represents a bunch of squares of different shapes and colors touching each other, but none can move.

The fifth drawing had a similar approach to the fourth one, where I was going for a design/pattern where it would seem like none of the black squares had the ability to move. However, in this drawing the white is in the background and I was going for a drawing where white/empty space existed, but the square still couldn’t move. The black squares are all tightly fit in the canvas, where none of them can really move even though there is still space left on the canvas.


These were my sketches representing the word fluid. I understood fluid as a something that is rather flexible, constantly moving, and wave like.

My first drawing was trying to represent a very zoomed in view of molecules. I felt like any sort of molecule like structure is rather fluid since I thought fluid was something that was always moving and can change. To me, the differently oriented squares that hang off the sides of the canvas represent movement of the squares in different directions.

The second drawing was a comparison to the 3x3 grid structure of the rigid drawings. Since in the rigid drawings, it was clear that the squares couldn’t really move from their orderly positions, but this was to show that the squares are slowly falling away. I wanted to portray a more dissolving or washing away feeling of the grid.

As for the third drawing, I took a more direct route to represent fluid. When I pictured fluid the first thing that I thought of was something water-like or trickling downwards. In this case, I decided to represent fluid through the slowly falling squares from the platform to the ground. The different orientations of the squares in here also represent the constant movement of the squares.

The fourth sketch has a very similar idea in terms of the trickling affect, but this is more in the smaller scale and slightly different meaning. The two larger squares for me represented some sort of containers, and it represents how fluid things can fill up the containers that they are put in. In this case, there are two different large squares that the smaller squares are fluidly travelling between the two.

The last sketch was rather unique in the sense that I focused on what the whole image made me feel. I decided to use the size of the squares and experimented more with the idea of depth. If you imagine the image from the top view, you can almost see that it is rather wave like because of the depth. The closer larger squares represent the high points of the wave and the smaller more spaced out squares portray the low points. I also thought the pattern was very interesting and gave me the feeling of movement and fluidity.


For the word clumsy, I understood the meaning as something that was not put together with precision and accuracy. Instead of everything being messed up, I took clumsy as something that is mainly orderly with just one thing that was off put.

For the first drawing, I thought of something that was clumsily built by a child using some sort of building bricks. In this case, the sketch gave me the feeling that not much thought and care was put into stacking up the squares in an orderly fashion. None of the squares are put exactly on top of each other; they are all slightly zip zagged. Additionally, the top square was differentiating from everything else as well, since it was the one off square that was placed so clumsily that it is falling off the top. Because of how gravity and the zip-zag pattern works, if the top piece fell off, the whole structure would crumble.

The second piece, focused on a similar idea, but instead of the top piece being clumsily put on, the clumsy part was more of the pillars. The pillars were of different size and gave the feeling to me that it was hastily put together. Because of the clumsy foundation and the mismatched heights of the bottom squares, the top square therefore suffered from the balance.

The third sketch was done in comparison to the other 3x3 grids in order to form some sort of continuous story for the pieces. As mentioned before, I viewed clumsy as something that is one off and was clumsily/accidentally put the wrong way. I wanted to portray something that someone was putting together and accidentally didn’t put enough care into the last square, which because crooked. Everything else looked orderly, but because of the “artist’s” mistake, the whole piece gave the feeling of clumsiness.

The fourth sketch was done in comparison to the flowing/fluid nature of some of the sketches for fluid. I wanted to give the feeling of some fluid object being poured into a container. However, because of the clumsy nature of the pour, some squares missed the container. This has similar meaning of clumsy as the previous one, where the majority of squares were poured in the right container, but a small minority clumsily spilled off to the side.

The last drawing is has a rather different definition as the previous, since there is only one square on the page. This is done in comparison to the first solid square sketch, however instead of being solid and grounded, this one is kind of misplaced in the wrong orientation. For a lot of these drawings, I played around with different orientations of the squares in order to display clumsiness and something that is not right.


For graceful I was going for more of the feeling that I felt from the images. I felt that thinks that are moving slowly in a smooth way as something that was graceful, and certain things like rays are rather graceful.

For the first sketch, I was trying to represent rays from a sun or light source. I felt like rays of the sun were rather graceful in nature and it gave me the feeling of something smooth and beautiful. I played around with the symmetry of the image to display the perfect nature of the object which I thought also added to the gracefulness of the overall drawing.

The second sketch I went for something that was smoothly moving across the canvas. I thought that the in nature, something that represented a breeze/wind was rather graceful. The squares kind of represented the objects that were getting gracefully pushed along a breeze. I felt like the smooth curves of the path also added to the overall meaning.

The third sketch, I played around more with depth to represent the movement and transition of squares. I was trying to portray the idea of a square smoothly moving from a far distance closer to you. The smaller squares represent the different movement stages of the square as it moved closer. Also the curved path that the square took also portrayed graceful to me in my mind. It almost feels like the square gracefully moved through space and landed perfectly right in front.

The fourth sketch also portrayed movement in terms of expansion. Rather than through depth I showed the progression of the squares as it slowly expands from left to right of the canvas. It also uses the idea of continuation that lets the viewers understand that the growth continues. As mentioned before, the graceful nature of the drawing comes from the smooth growth of the squares.

As for the last piece, I was more focused on the idea of representing graceful through the growth of a blooming flower. It may not explicitly represent a flower blooming, but it gave me the feeling of a circular object that is expanding outwards. I felt that things in nature especially flowers have their own graceful way of growing, changing, and moving over time.


Here I have 5 more sketches representing rhythmic. I defined rhythmic as some sort of repeated pattern and continuously predictive changes.

In the first piece, I through rhythmic was something very similar to a cardio gram recording your heart beat. I used the squares to represent a continuous up and down graph that extends beyond the canvas. To me, the pattern of the squares in terms of their height really reminds of the predictive nature of something that is rhythmic.

The second piece I explored using size rather than the height of the square stacks in order to build up a simple pattern. Because of the clear difference in size and continuous pattern of small and large squares, it clearly portrayed rhythmic for me. The rows of the square patterns also give the feeling of continuation as it goes beyond the canvas, which also helps get the idea of rhythmic across as a rhythm is also continuous.

The third sketch is like a combination of the first two pieces, where I utilized both size and the graph like nature to represent rhythm and patterns. Again because of the pattern of 4 small squares and then 1 large square (repeated twice), the unfinished third cycle more clearly represent continuation of the pattern.

The fourth sketch used more of the position of the squares to mimic a pattern. I envisioned the drawing as a top view, where I viewed the image as the rhythmic pattern of walking. The squares in each zig zagged location represented the footstep locations if someone was walking across the canvas. The nature of walking is a rather rhythmic and repetitive task, which I thought greatly resembled rhythm.

The last sketch was more abstract compared to the other ones. I was experimenting with more abstract representations of objects that portrayed rhythm for me. I felt that the perfect object to represent rhythmic was a metronome, the stick of a metronome was drawn with squares in this sketch.


Erratic to me represented something that was completely random and unexpected from the rest of the pattern.

The first sketch to me represented a black square (or any object) that was just thrown around and landed randomly on the canvas. I tried to show the randomness through the random nature of the size, position, and orientation of the square. It also feels like the square just randomly/suddenly appeared on a canvas that it might not have belonged on.

The second sketch was a comparison to the rhythmic sketch of the predictable graph. This graph, as far as the canvas can display, has no noticeable pattern or rhythm. This to me really represented the randomness and erratic nature of the graph.

I found the third sketch to be a pretty cool way to describe erratic. This reminded me of different sized puzzle pieces just randomly thrown across the floor. The squares were of different sizes, even though some were similar and the orientation of them were all different as well as location. This to me portrayed both stability and movement in erratic ways.

The fourth drawing was something random that I thought of. I imagined a square that was contained within the outer canvas, and what that one square would look like if the canvas was suddenly (erratically) shaken. I wanted to show the small square in just the most random location like it was just thrown around. I actually closed my eyes and randomly picked a location to draw the square on the canvas.

Lastly, this portrayed erratic because the proximity of the squares makes the viewer think of a complete circle or group. However, one group member (or square) seemingly randomly just moved away. This both feels like there is a random mismatch in the circular pattern as well as just a random square leaving the group.


As for the reversible ones, I tried to keep everything rather simple in nature and have more or less 50% white space and 50% black space, unless in special cases.

The first one was rather straightforward where a checkerboard look can be perceived as alternating black squares or alternating white squares.

The second drawing I tried to picture more of using the dark to represent the abyss. Which is why I put the black square in the center to represent some sort of hole.

The third drawing was more focused on making a more reflective image, where there were some white in the black area and vice versa. I felt that the reflective nature of the black and white parts really help with the reversible squares.

The fourth sketch was inspired by the idea of different Leggo pieces. Where the white and black could be viewed as interlocking leggo pieces.

Lastly, I revisited the idea of using the black area as a dark hole. However this time, I used the corners of the connected squares to represent teeth. To me this showed sharp teeth as the white part and the black squares showing the dark mouth.

Digital Iterations

One big thing that I realized was the difference in how these square images looked from the sketches to the actual digital copies. A lot of square images that I thought wouldn’t look as good in digit form actually looked better and vice versa. The crisp look of the digital copies made a huge difference in the feeling portrayed by the squares.

For my digit iterations I actually recreated at least 3-4 different drawings for all 3 word pairs and the reversible one. However I quickly found some more favorable word pairs and decided to do more exploration for clumsy+graceful and rhythmic+erratic.


This was the exploration of the word rigid in digital format. I first tried out three of the five sketches that I made. I liked these three because I think each one touches a very unique way of describing rigid (as mentioned in the sketches). I didn’t do that much breadth exploration in terms of the word rigid, as I realized I didn’t like how the sketches turned out in digital format. However I did try some other things like just the large square, and filling up the entire canvas with a black square.

I continued exploring different iterations of each of the drawings, and tried out different numbers of squares to show more structure and rigidness compared to just the 3x3. However it felt like it didn’t make much of a different and the 3x3 was simple enough and conveyed the same feeling.

After getting some informal critiques from friends and Brendon, it seemed like the bottom left drawing of a 2d cube was not the best way to represent rigid. Even though it was unique take on the idea of rigid, it didn’t portray the word that clearly through the squares. However it seemed like the top right drawing did get its meaning across once I mentioned the idea that none of the squares could move even though there was white space. Even so, it still required some explaining to get the meaning across. It did seem in the end that the simple 3x3 square got the meaning across the best.


This was my sketches for fluid that I liked that I turned into the digital version. In terms of the why I only picked these four, it is because I left out the drawing that had some sized boxes floating around the canvas. It is because I felt that that piece gave me more of a erratic feeling as well, which may make it less understandable as fluid. I actually liked how these squares turned out in digital format more so than on pencil and paper, especially the wave one (bottom right). With cleaner more uniform squares, the top view of the wave sketch, it looks more wave like than before. I explored different ways with uniform square sizes to gradually changing sizes to represent fluidity.

Because I liked the way the wavelike pattern looked and made me feel, I decided to go in more depth to see what it would look like if half was consistently sized squares. This actually gave me a even more clear representation of fluid as it highlights the differences between the solid/rigid portion and the fluid portion. It reminded me of a beach (the solid part) where the waves are just pulling back to hit the shore again from top view.

After getting some feedback and critiques, I actually realized that the wave like image (as interesting as it looked) may not be the clearest way to describe and portray fluid. It needed explanation for the viewers to actually understand and grasp the ideas. Also for the falling away 3x3 block (top left) it seemed like viewers thought it was more clumsy rather than just fluid. Also to me the containers pouring small squares into another one seemed pretty clear, however it seemed like the large squares representing the containers were rather distracting.


As for clumsy these are the three were translated into digital format. I decided not to include the two towers with a slanted square on top because it seemed similar to the first one and the one with just a slanted square seemed very similar to what I had in mind for erratic. Each one of these images really has a different take on the ideas of clumsiness. At first I really liked the different takes on clumsy for all of these sketches so I decided to go more in depth with each one of them.

At first I made an iteration for each of the drawings. For the first one instead of having uniform shape, I decided to do slowly smaller squares that build up a tower with the top piece falling. This didn’t feel better to me since there are too many varying things like sizes that take away from the main difference, the falling square. Then I continued on to my second and third revisions where I added more squares and made the sizes uniform. However, with perfectly uniform squares, it seemed like the whole tower was just going to topple over even without the top. It didn’t give the clumsy feeling that I wanted for something that was one off. In the end I decided to stick with the original idea but expanding it so the top box bled over the canvas. This helped display extra height for the tower which made the clumsiness seem much more impactful. From critiques as well, this seemed like the clearest sketch of the word.

As for the first revision of the 3x3 squares, I decided to make all of the squares just slightly tilted. Even thought it may seem like each column is tilted exactly the same way, the angles are actually all different. However after further looking into this iteration and getting feedback, it seems like this more represented fluid or erratic as everything is moving, rather than clumsy.

As for the falling squares into the container I decided to try out moving the squares to right above the container. However this actually made the image seem more awkward and less natural, since at an angle it seemed more like something was being poured. After getting critiques, it seemed like in order to include this, the complementary picture of fluid needed to be included as well for context. Also it may be rather confusing to understand at first in terms the word.


These were my first iterations of all the graceful sketches that I liked. I didn’t include the blooming image because I realized it didn’t turn out that well in the sketches and it had a similar idea as the rays one (bottom). I liked all of these, because each one brought something new to the table in terms of the definition of graceful. These images were probably the hardest ones that I had to choose from for my final picks.

I thought that with the digital version of the sketches it looked a lot better especially since the cleaner looking squares also helped portray the idea of graceful. Also it was much easier playing around with the locations of the smaller squares in the breeze one (top).

I tried to make new iterations on all of these sketches. For the breeze, I tried creating more than one curve within the breeze, however, it ended up losing its shape and texture. So instead I experimented with reversing the direction of the curve. In the ended I decided that the down and then up motion worked best for a portraying graceful to me. However after some user feedback, it did seem a little hard to understand the meaning behind the squares without any explanation.

As for the smooth transition of squares from the back to front, I made many iterations as it was my favorite one. I decided to add some smooth twisting motion to the squares so that it seems like it was twisting and moving forward. I felt that the twisting effected added a more graceful touch to the meaning. Also with the twisting motion it seemed more like the squares were falling as well, which gave a feeling of the squares perfectly and gracefully landed upright on the ground. After some critiques, it seemed like others had similar thoughts on the improvement. I also experimented with more squares to see if it can help make a smoother transition (both twisted and straight). However, to me it seemed just more busy and necessary in my opinion, so I ended up choosing the first revision with the twist.

For the third one, I actually really liked how it turned out originally. I experimented with different sizes and multiple rows of expanding squares, but it seemed like the original was best and simplest in portraying graceful. After some feedback it, it seemed like the continuation of the last square was rather powerful in portraying a smooth and graceful transition.

Lastly, I decided to actually combine the ideas of the rays and blooming flower into one picture. It sort of represented a progressive expansion through the layers which seemed rather natural. Also the outwards facing squares helped display the idea of rays as well. Because this was more abstract in representing the word graceful, it was hard for users and viewers to immediately understand what I was trying to represent.


These were the ones that I felt were clear representations of rhythmic. After receiving some feedback of the sketches it seemed like the footstep idea seems interesting but need more work in terms of getting the idea across and that the metronome idea was a bit too abstract. These were chosen to be converted into the digital format because they were very simple at showing the idea of rhythm.

As for iterations, I quickly realized that I had a lot more to work with, with the first drawing. Because I used the sizes of the squares to represent rhythm, I thought that it was a good way to show how a heart can expand and contract. In order to show that I decided to make the contracting extreme. By that I mean that I minimized the overall pattern and replace the small squares with the smaller whole pattern. This kind of represented the expansion and contraction of the heart’s rhythmic beats. I also explored options with exchanging it with the larger squares, but I thought that that was a bit confusing in terms of the square sizes. I thought that this was a good place to incorporate some other in order to create some contrasts between the smaller and larger squares. I experimented with different combination of colors and square sizes and in the ended found that the last iteration really represented the highs and lows of a heart beat (since the red represents both the heart and intensity).

For the 2nd drawing I only did one quick iteration and added a off hanging smaller square in order to help portray the continuation of the pattern, but in the end the first drawing seemed to better represent the meaning from both my perspective and the feedback I’ve gotten.


As for erratic I chose these four and left out the graph one because, I decided to leave out the graph one for rhythmic. Also I thought that the high and low graph was too literal in terms of the definition of erratic or rhythmic. As for these four I either really liked them as is or I thought that I could really expand upon them with shapes or colors.

Since all of the erratic sketches that I made were rather simple in nature (only one square) it didn’t really iterate that much on the drawings. I did minor tweaks on all of them over time, but no major changes in idea or overall theme.

I really did focus on iterating and improving the second image with all the random squares in different areas of the canvas. I first tried to create another set of random squares by generating the sizes randomly, moving them to random locations with my mouse and then rotating them to a random angle. However, because there were more squares in this iteration and the orientation, I actually preferred the clean look of the original. In another iteration, I tried to compare it with the similar idea as rhythmic where I made the smaller squares into mini versions of the larger canvas. However, I quickly realized that because of the random nature of the squares and the square bleeding off the sides, it seemed rather confusing. Lastly, color here really helped bring a connection between the ideas of erratic and rhythmic. In this case, since the red represented the intensity of the heart beat, the randomness and the different sizes represented the erratic nature of this “heart beat.” I also played around with the different combination of red squares and found that this was the best combination that covered the most unique squares. Also the overlapping red squares in the front and back of the black square also helps to show depth.


As for reversible I did a lot more breadth in terms of my exploration rather than depth for the other ones. In this case I tried out a lot of different ideas out with different ways of utilizing the black and white portions of the image. Most of these are 50/50 black and white in terms of surface area, however I did experiment with the 3 diamonds in the middle, which I realized after critiques was harder to see. I placed around with things that were reflexive in nature, but after some critiques, It seemed like the last two images were too hard to see that the black were squares. It was really interesting playing around with very simple ways to take up space where both the white and black sides made sense.

In terms of depth I experimented mainly with the cross and during a critique I was playing around with the cross and rotated it. At first I didn’t see anything, but then I quickly realized that the 4 squares rotated diagonally created a 4 way arrow. There were also some imagery here where the black squares can also look like diamonds as well. Because of the two distinct objects that can be seen, it seemed like a good example of something that was reversible. I also experimented with moving the squares closer together to make thinner arrows, but it ended up not looking as obvious as the original.

Final Pieces

In the end these were my final pieces for, clumsy+graceful, rhythmic+erratic, and reversible. I ended up picking these in the end because I was able to spend a lot more time and depth in developing most of these pieces. Especially for the clumsy+graceful pieces, I played around with the angle of each squares, the positions, and the sizes in order to see which one portrayed their meanings better. As for the rhythmic+erratic pieces, I played around a lot with the sizes of the squares, and because I used color, picking which ones to color and what color to use was also experimented with. I also played around with the layers of the squares for the erratic piece in order to try and represent the meaning better. As for the reversible one, I did experiment a little with the angles and proximity of the squares, however most of the decisions were based from the breadth of exploration.

After hearing some of the critiques (only my reversible one was talked about), I really did learn a lot from how my peers viewed my pieces. Some really saw the distinct differences between the 4 way arrows and the black diamond like shapes. Others found it sometimes hard to too the black portion of the image, since the arrows were so strong in the piece. After they saw the arrows, it was hard to go back and see the black portion of the piece again. Throughout all the critiques that I have gotten from my peers, I realized how different everyone’s understandings of the same words. Also it was hard to misunderstand your own creations, and I found it really useful to see how others understood your drawings.

Overall I learned a lot about design, in terms of the process and how I can refine from both breadth and depth. I also learned the importance of asking others for their critiques of your pieces and truly understand what they mean by the critiques. I felt that that greatly helped me understand what needed to change to communicate the ideas/meanings more clearly. Also from what I have seen from other people’s pieces, it seemed like a lot of them had more squares involved. It seemed like some of the other pieces were a lot more busy/intricate compared to mine which helped make some of them have pretty creative patterns in the end. For next time I think I would want to ask more feedback/critiques early on and don’t be afraid to really try out completely new and creative ideas/patterns.