I’ve recently worked on an unusual project with Liverpool design company SB Studio. It’s a book about their company, or more accurately about everything except their company.
The title is The world without and the idea is to imagine a world without SB. The jobs that would never have been done, the people who would never have been employed, the office that would never have been occupied. And true to the premise, the book is written without including the letters S or B.
I was aware of a French novel called La Disparition by Georges Perec, which is written entirely without the letter ‘e’. So I thought it would be interesting to try it for SB, albeit not quite to novel length. It's a tall order, ruling out common words such as is, was, does, as, so, about, be and been, as well as most plurals. Not to mention the word design.
But the idea is that you'll flick through the whole book without realising the self-imposed limitation, until the pay-off at the end.
Each desolate and empty spread imagines the various dimensions of life that would be different without SB – “Think of the flipchart unflipped / The experience unexperienced / Each tale untold / Each endline unwritten.”
The main text links to a series of endnotes going into more depth, with Ss and Bs included. As the penultimate footnote states, “When it came to the footnotes, we let ourselves off the hook. We’re not completely crazy.”
As well as being a playful exercise, the idea is a celebration of the creative power of constraints. The trickier the brief, the more enjoyable the process of finding an answer. It’s also a surprisingly good way to focus on what you actually contribute as a company. As George Bailey finds out in It’s A Wonderful Life, imagining the world without you can be an illuminating experience.
Copies of the book (beautifully produced) are available on request from theworldwithout.co.uk