Ambigram is the name given to a visual trick whereby a piece of typography that can be read from multiple orientations, i.e. upside-down or back-to-front. They often repeat the same word but can also read as different words depending on the orientation of the reader.
The name was bestowed upon this form of typography by an American professor of cognitive science, Douglas R. Hofstadter who wrote: "Ambigrams are discoveries, not creations". Hofstadter wrote extensively about the phenomenon in 1987 in a publication titled "Ambigrammi" (full title, translated reads as "Amigrams: an ideal microcosm for the study of creativity"). Although Hofstadter is often credited this inventing the term, he did not invent the form and examples appear throughout the history of the written word.
For graphic designers the ambigram can appear as a gimmick, or seldom used typographic element, but for enthusiasts of the form (or ambigramists as Wikipedia refers to them) there is a type of cultish fever that accompanies the collection and/or creation of ambigrams that lives outside of the hermetic seal of the graphic designer's realm and that gives form to the types of scientific concepts that appear with a sheen of mystery and imagination embedded within them.
- An early example of the ambigram, as an illustrated element within book design, appears as far back as 1893. In Peter Newell's children book 'Topsys & Turveys' the story ends with an ambigram of the words 'The End' and text inviting readers to turn the book around to read the words again, this time appearing to spell out the word 'puzzle' instead.
- The 'New Man' logo is one of the most well-known examples of an ambigram designed as part of a corporate identity. It was designed for a French clothing company in 1969 by industrial designer Raymond Loewy. His interest in designing 'machines' informed the rigid, geometric nature of the logotype which has the added benefit of being able to rotate 180° to read in exactly the same manner.
- In recent times, tattooists have found inspiration in the arcane properties of the ambigram, provoking a rash of sites offering to create ambigram designs in similar styles such as fontmeme which uses a blackletter style font which is easily reflected horizontally to produce a very simplistic interpretation of an ambigram and flipscript which produced more sophisticated and complex results, ready to take to the tattooist.