Tag Archives: graphic design

Design Reminders

… gleaned from Tony’s feedback for our presentations…

The highest point of contrast should be the subject (remembering that as objects fade in the background, so does the contrast). Use the illusion actively to emphasize the focal point.

Legibility matters. (the above can help.)

Art deals with the “the gift exchange” conundrum, the politics of giving, and how people don’t want to be indebted (if they are getting something from you, they will feel that.) (This was in reference to free art on the street, and people’s initial resistance to it.)

If possible, keep the presentation short enough for the audience to get the message, and no more (reduce info saturation, increase potential action).

All you need is a little imagination and a little effort, and you’re good to go.

A common problem: dealing with images and getting text to read. A potential solution: when shooting images, have the text already in mind – create a place for it.

the wwweb connection

More and more, the web is intertwined with graphic design, as the web has become the main means for recognition & usability…. which means that the graphic designer needs to develop basic skill sets in web design and construction. Languages are a big part of that: CSS, PHP, HTML5, Flash (on its way out). With each language/system there is a different security and coding.

And because it’s a relatively new industry, the rate of change is super high right now as there is any time in the exploration of a new realm. And there are varying systems, Apple vs Android, for example (below). The key then, for the graphic designer, is MENTAL FLEXIBILITY. (Tony introduced the concept of “the Long Tail” – there are fewer people making a living but more people in the game.)

Gorilla marketing was a way to spread fast word, through physical/tangible means, and because of the web’s progressive presence, its concept has been incorporated to the web, with viral marketing.

The idea behind anything “viral” is just like an illness…. once it gets going, it goes fast and freely….Whether something goes viral or not, was originally spontaneous….. but marketers are picking up on that channel of “word of mouth” in cyberspace and creating intentional viral marketing…and so what it is that makes it go? why to people want to spread it (whatever IT may be)?

Common characteristics are in the emotional responses that they evoke… usually there are elements of humor, mystery, sexuality, spectacle and leaving people either wanting to learn more, or wanting to find some answer. It can be a hoax, can be controversial, or stupid.

Some of them are funny… like “Awesome Girls Fail,” an entertaining compilation of lots of accidents. Others are more serious, such as a Mexican teacher’s bravery among drug shootings.

T-mobile maximized the opportunity of the Royal Wedding (anticipation of an event) for their own version of the “House of Love” ceremony… which did indeed end up going viral.

Along with these new forms of spreading the word, and working through the internet have developed the web-version (internet, email, etc.) of etiquette, otherwise known as “Netiquette” (network etiquette). Entire websites are dedicated to this. They are pretty straight forward, and remind me of “everything you ever learned in kindergarten…” although a little more formal – with references to facts and documentation, which don’t matter so much in a sand box.

With web becoming a main means of recognition and usability, all of this matters to graphic designers. The web is intertwined with graphic design heavily now, and so a basic skill set with web knowledge, languages included, is essential.

A Brief History – the context we are working with

In order to get a sense of where we could potentially be going in the world of (essentially western) design, this week we took a look at where we came from. This context can ground our ideas and be a means to more accurate prognostication.

With the birth of industry, science, political science (constitutions for newly-independent states) in the 18th century, there was a new development of forward thinking, belief in potential progress and a hope for the future. With the new insights that came from these new fields, there was an optimistic perception that everything would eventually be known, diseases would be cured, and we would reach a common utopia full of great pleasure and leisure.

These were the roots of modernism, a break from tradition and a look toward the new. This also changed the role of art in society. Where before art was a reflection of the definition of beauty, a depiction of nature, and a reflection of cultural values, its potential opened up with the advent of the photograph and the development of science.

In Leonardo Da Vinci’s time in the 15th century, part of art was to explore nature. He explored anatomy of humans as well as plants to better understand their structures, and he drew his findings.

He also studied motion through drawing…

Not all agreed on how the utopia of modernism would be reached, but there were two parallel camps, namely the Rationals and the Empiricists. They were accompanied by the philosophical camps of Voltaire (& Rene Descartes) and Rousseau (& Francis Bacon), respectively. The former believed that knowledge was acquired through pure thinking, and believed that if people could fix their emotions they could fix everything. The latter, by contrast, believed that knowledge was acquired through direct sensory experience. Neoclassicist and Romanticist artists in turn reflected these two parallel trains of thought. Where the Neoclassist tended toward realistic depictions of their subject matter, the Romanticists focused more on conveying the feeling of the experience they were depicting. Chiaroscuro was a common technique for the dramatic desired effects among the Romanticists. They believed in the transcendent experience of life, those moments as Tony described them, when “life opens, time dilates, and you become what you are looking at.”

Neoclassicist Bernardo Belotto:

Romanticist Francisco Goya:

Modernists developed a sense that they were breaking from tradition, that they were going to create art that would change the world, and that they would be the ULTIMATE art form. Words to describe them could be, “experimental, avant-garde, forward looking, elite, and confident. In the early days of modernism, there was a striving for reduction of form to its pure essence.

A Modern bedroom:

Within the modernist movement is the idea of Utopia and its perfection, as mentioned previously, and this is parallel to consumerist culture, striving for the ideal.

But Utopia never happened, and people were still sick, and society was still messed up, and the expected progress didn’t make the ultimate difference that had been so optimistically anticipated, which gave way to Post-Modernism. Post Modernist thought broke from the objectivity and progress of Modernism to a belief in multiple realities and subjectivity. With this came a transfer of power from the creator to the viewer. It was a culture of language and called into question the power structures of the time. There was room for playful illusions and a generous use of irony.

Essentially as a culture, we gave up on trying to make pure new any more and gave up trying to make things better. The only way to create new was now to combine the old into new contexts, to combine styles.

On this Jan/Feb 2011 cover of the Utne Reader, adding Marge to replace Howard Miller’s Rosie the Riveter from World War II is a classic example of this mixture. Another example is of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting “The Creation of Adam” transposed to a bottle of 2009 California table wine, God’s hand being the one with the wine…

The fact that a designer could transpose a divine event such as the creation of Adam (that took years to paint) into a wine label emphasizing ordinary daily life is an indication as to how removed the original meaning is from the current one. Or it could also be an example of how religion has lost some of its mystique.

As for the post-modern fish, it could be found in Dr Seuss’s book, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960), where he puts fish in all different contexts – having them drive cars and be police officers, nothing that a simple modern swimming fish would ordinarily do…

The 1960’s saw the beginning of the blurring of the lines between life and art, with the development of the moving picture and the video. The movements of Dada and later Fluxus emphasized an anti-establishment approach. On into the 90’s the development of further art forms and technology such as the internet and computer graphics continued the complex potential of multimedia performances.

Body art is a simple version of performance art:

The versions of versions of versions of postmodernism has paralleled a removal from reality from virtual experiences. Video games exemplify this virtual experience of life.

Many visual arts such as movies, video games etc are being made into three-D, which people find fascinating – but which is also funny because we LIVE in 3-D – how cool is that?! Maybe it’s the fascination with human-made 3-D.

And while corporate culture still believes and sells the utopia of modernism and perfection, post modern culture as a whole does not believe in it (even if we still get sucked into shopping for the marketed lifestyles!)

New Media arts are contiguous with keeping the viewer integrated in the art experience, and are often interactive in nature. They are also often performance-based.

Just this past week we went to Pottery Northwest in Queen Anne, where they had an experiential show with three different artists… one who allowed the audience to break off pieces of a tree she had made to take home, one who had a slip pendulum show, and the third who had letters that fell and broke… all very interactive with the audience.

More technology-based examples could be this:

For conferences…


…or fashion shows….


laser shows

or even 4-D

… and then there’s my personal favorite… fire poi … a dynamic performance art that is not so new, but it is still gaining skilled spinners…


Applied Design

Historically cultures were mostly geographically isolated, which meant that their cultures were defined by a cohesive system of intertwined aspects of life, such as food, dance, music, dress, entertainment, architecture, and fine art reflected these, as well as the values, discoveries and politics of the times. But everything is so intertwined geographically these days, that sometimes, someone in Kenya who is of the same age and class as someone in Belgium, could potentially have more in common with each other than others of the same nationality.

The adds and website for the Columbian (and largest spanish speaking) cell phone company Movistar aren’t so different from a site for Sprint or Verizon other than the number of products and the difference in language… but they all refer to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and talk about minutes and similar-looking phones.

Given that most of us will be working in a western context, understanding the cultural and artistic evolution of that context can give us a better trampoline to jump from to create design. Nonetheless there is currently an element of global connection now that didn’t exist a short time ago, which infiltrates western design in multiple aspects.

One example of this is the article “The Big Red Word vs the Little Green Man – The International War Over Exit Signs”

It’s an article which exemplifies the complexities of creating “Universal” design, where the cultural nuances of colors, words and images play different roles in different contexts, yet there can be similarities too.

Applied Design, a field reflecting visual culture, has become rather intricate, where the graphic designer has the potential to created visual communication and influence in so many different ways. The expectations for the graphic designer in turn has also risen respective to the growing potential of the visual arts and its fast-developing new tools.

The list of examples of applied design – or design in action – is extensive, ranging from the classic logos & brochures, to exhibition displays, restaurant menus, travel guides, and signage…. and the list continues wherever there is a chance to create visual stimulation or organization, depending on the purpose of the design.

As a wilderness navigator, I am particularly intrigued by way-finding graphics, which inevitably incorporate some form of arrow:

Wayfinding graphics are not necessarily easy to do well – just recently a friend was looking for baggage claim carousel #15 at SEATAC, and the signage was telling her “Baggage Claim” with arrows in opposite directions – yet the carousels are a long distance apart, so she could have ended up going way out of her way since there were no numbers indicated on the sign. But wayfinding can also be highly entertaining and intentionally disorienting, as it is in Vegas.

Maps are another way to visually portray information graphically, such as this band map at the EMP, one for overall Seattle, and another with Nirvanna as the focus:

Above is another map with 3D effects – created for directions to a restaurant.

One of the considerations that has evolved in design recently is the creation of sequential images that create the illusion of motion. Motion is EVERYWHERE!! This can involve kinetic typography as well as a series of moving images that are integrated with each other.

Fun examples of kinetic type… from Johnny Lee, and hours of entertainment at http://kinetictypography.com/ (I like the “who’s on first” typographical video), to the poem by Taylor Mali, represented by “Typography” from Ronnie Bruce.

Another recent consideration is being able to create a visual design in multiple sizes as well as multiple venues, because of the different technological presentations and venues for the same product… from websites to phone apps, to board reports and posters.

In many cases, such as Facebook and Hulu, and WordPress, the logo has been simplified to a single letter: “f,” “h,” and “W” respectively, which is easily legible even when reduced in size.

Others have chosen to adapt their logos according to the audience that they are working with….

Here is an example of the original logo of the Mosaic Project, a non-profit organization that works with 4th & 5th graders to teach them about diversity and conflict resolution.


The Mosaic Project logos

Recently they have developed potential staff trainings with the GAP, and for this work have adapted their logo as such, adding a business twist:

MCP logo with glasses

Along with the corresponding adaptation in the website, that still has the same Mosaic Project feel, but with more of a business twist: http://www.mosaicconsultingproject.org/

Just as this blog is a preliminary compilation of a broad and superficial overview of applied graphics, the first week was also a preliminary introduction, a good chunk of which was just spent trying to find the course textbook in the sea of electronic filing. As we explore the specific elements more in depth, so will this blog reflect a more in-depth perception and understanding of the greater field of graphic design.

… and to top it off, here is a fun laser show video…