Last week, NAI Executive Director Tim Merriman came into my office and said, “Paul, come here.” In my mind, this conversation almost always ends with, “You’ve screwed up one too many times and now you’re fired.” In reality, Tim hardly ever fires me. In this particular instance, he wanted to show me a website he had learned about called Wordle.
Wordle generates word clouds based on text that the user enters. Tim was impressed with the potential use this tool has for social marketing or qualitative research, whereas my thought was, “Neat!” (Note added October 15, 2010: Tim wrote a serious, grown-up post about word clouds on the NAI Blog.)
After learning about the site from Tim, I went to Wordle and entered all of the text from my September 21, 2009, post about the Phillies typeface, Scriptwurst. The reason I chose this post is that roughly 98 percent of the hits we get on this site are from people looking to download the Phillies font Scriptwurst, which they cannot do because it’s custom designed and proprietary. But every time I write “Phillies font” or “download Scriptwurst,” we’re likely to get a few more hits, and we’re obsessed with numbers so I’ll try to do that a few more times.
Wordle allows users to select from a handful of fonts (most of which I had never heard of) and control settings related to orientation, composition, and color. The example above uses the typeface Powell Antique, a color palette called Heat, and a typographic orientation of mixed horizontal and vertical. You’ll notice that the largest words are those repeated most often in the post, namely “Phillies typeface.” (Hello Google searchers!)
This composition is set in the typeface Loved By the King in a color palette called Milk Paints. The composition mode is set to “Any Which Way.” Given my aversion to handwriting fonts and my affection for the grid, it was difficult for me, emotionally, to include the above in this post. But notice the way the words “Phillies Typeface Scriptwurst” jump out. (Cha-ching!)
This one is set entirely horizontally in the typeface Vigo and the color palette Kindled.
And finally, this one is set in the typeface ChunkFive with a color palette called Organic Carrot. I notice as I write this that naming typefaces and color palettes can be a little like naming indie bands—the weirder the better.
There are limitations to Wordle. For instance, you cannot tweak the word list once you’ve created a cloud that you like, nor can you force the word cloud to fill a specific shape. However, you can create custom color palettes, and most importantly, you can create a vector-based pdf of your word cloud, which can be edited in a program like Adobe Illustrator. (To do this, click the print button, then print to a pdf.) The advantage to this is not only that you can use the pdf for high-end printing purposes, but you can also edit it or use it as part of a larger composition. You could even tweak your word cloud to include multiple typefaces—like the Philles typeface Scriptwurst, if you can find a place to download it.
Also, the site states explicitly that any composition you create is yours and can be used for any purpose, so if you’re creating T-shirts or posters or other sales items, there’s no need to worry about copyright issues.
I recently became aware that a post I wrote last November about an online color scheme designer led to many wasted hours that could have otherwise been used productively. One reader spent three days spinning the color wheel round and round on her computer screen nonstop until she passed out from exhaustion and was hospitalized with dehydration. I can only hope that this Wordle post will have the same effect.
I hope you’ll check out Wordle and create compositions meaningful to your own organization. And don’t worry about those financial reports your boss has been waiting for since last week. You have word clouds to create.