Illegible Semantics

Welcome to the additional materials companion website for the alt.VIS paper submission “Illegible Semantics: Exploring the Design Space of Metal Logos”. In our paper “Illegible Semantics” we explore the “design space” of Metal logos; and when we say “Metal,” we refer to Heavy Metal and its Extreme Metal subgenres – and the subgenres within those. Each of these has its own visual aesthetics and codes that govern how genre logos can or should look like, generally. Here things can get weirdly specific. For example, bands in a genre often have the same kind of logos, but depending on subgenre, bands may have a different kind of logo, and a logo style can even depend on a given band’s locality.

The paper is available open access; you can download a PDF version via arXiv. A downloadable press release with a summary of our method, results, and links to relevant resources can be found here.

On this page, you will find various materials to accompany our paper. We provide a thorough description of the Dimensions of Doom with illustrative examples, a detailed guide to Metal genres with sample logos designed by Gerrit Rijken (a.k.a. Tundra Toucan), and initial survey results.


The logos of metal bands are by turns sometimes gaudy, uncouth, or nearly illegible. Yet, these logos work: they communicate sophisticated notions of genre and emotional affect. In this paper we use the design considerations of metal logos to explore the space of “illegible semantics”: the ways that design can communicate information while still being unreadable. In this work, drawing on formative visualization theory, professional design expertise, and empirical assessments of a corpus of metal band logos, we present a design space of metal logos. We use this design space to investigate how we as designers can communicate without communicating, and discuss how these illegible semantics are or could be reflected in the wider information visualization domain.

Tools Used

Most of the sampe logos were (digitally) hand-lettered and drawn in Clip Studio Paint; some were rendered in Blender; others were (partly) created using different fonts found on the Internet; and lastly, the Bay Area Thrash logo is based on the result of a Metallica logo generator.