September 19, 2013
Take Home Test
In these two compositions, elements of design interact to form visually striking images that can be understood as ‘good design’ by the layman and expert alike. Just as the expert can see how color, line, texture, connotation, alignment (and many other elements) are used to create a specific aesthetic, any viewer can see the thematic and technical harmony of the pieces. These two pieces create very different aesthetics with many of the same tools. The first example keeps the tone somber and formal, much like the event it is advertising. Anyone who has felt the cold, hard keys of a piano can tell you exactly what mood this ad creates. The second example abandons sterility for warmth in hue and a craft inspired texture and composition. It is a fitting cover for the classic adventure story, Journey to the Center of the Earth- a story both fantastically childlike, but also completely mature and controlled in execution. In these examples, tone and composition seamlessly support each other to create complex aesthetics- a success by the standards of design.
The brilliance of the first ad example is in its simplistic symbolism. The designer combined elements of color, connotation and line to create an image that is both intelligent and content specific. The color scheme is not only striking because of its high contrast, but also because it is extended to the text, uniting the ad in minimalism- doing more with less. However, it should be noted that while the piece is minimalist in its use of color and lines, it is not necessary an example of minimalism given its heavily thematic nature. Black and white in this context read as somber and formal, though contrast is often used to energize a piece,. If anything, the absence of color drains the ad of energy- it’s a reserved ad that doesn’t grab attention. That is probably because it is advertising a piano concert, not a foam party. The people they are expecting to come are the same people who would be impressed by a subtle, clever, but unobtrusive ad.
The piece uses only a photograph as background and small text, but it conveys two distinct, intersecting messages. On the one hand, the event being advertised is a piano concert, so there is an unambiguous denotation in the use of a piano. On the other hand, the two black keys form the image of the Twin Towers, the September 11th attacks being the subject of the benefit concert being advertised. Here, the ad plays on the powerful connotation of that skyline that is now recognizable across the world. Although connotation and denotation on their own are both powerful tools in design, this ad maximizes their impact by cleverly using form to illustrate a thematic intersection of the two. As well, the choice to allow natural light across the surface of the keys somehow makes the comparison less staged. A non-photographic representation of a piano would have been too obvious. The way it is now, the meaning is a conclusion to come to. You see the keys, you read what the event is, you see the skyline- it allows the viewer an “a-ha,” rather than a tactless cooptation of the iconic image (which others have been chastised for).
The use of lines in this piece is as much a uniting force as the color scheme. Vertical lines dominate the composition, including the alignment of the text- not crossing the keys horizontally. The Non-Designer’s Design Book emphasizes that good design hinges on consistency. This piece epitomizes this design principle by uniting color scheme, alignment, and tone respectively so that the most meaningful contrast can be the simple denotation of the piano (informing the viewer what the event is) and the complex and emotional connotation of the New York City skyline with the Twin Towers standing tall. According to Images, Objects and Ideas, vertical lines convey stability and dignity, which is fitting here because this concert is clearly meant to be a uniting force for those affected and saddened by the attacks. This proves that the choices regarding subtle details can be just as meaningful as the decisions regarding the elements meant to have more overt impact. In other words, while a viewer may not notice the attention to alignment that the designer displayed here, not being conscious of the alignment is impact in itself. The lines were not meant to be the focus, and their continuity allows them to unite the piece without stealing focus.
The second example uses lines as an integral part of the composition as well. Each layer of the circle (symbolizing the layers of the earth) uses its own distinct imagery, color, and form. The layers are simplistic in their use of silhouette, but also intricately detailed. By combining geometric and organic shape in the outlined layers, the designer creates a much more interesting composition. The repetition of the cut out motif and curved lines radiating from the center are also visually striking. As well, the contrast in color, line quality, and shape all makes the piece visually dynamic. The illustration of each layer of the Earth is not only delightfully illustrative and impressive in an aesthetic sense, it also informs the viewer of the book’s subject. This cover perfectly conveys both the main plot point (the cross-section of the Earth), and also the wonderfully nostalgic style of Journey to the Center of the Earth. It is an antiquated adventure story in many ways, and the cut out style somehow conveys a hand-made, personal touch- like a book that had lived on your family’s book shelves for many years.
Another quality that contributes to this aesthetic is texture. The implied texture of thick cardstock paper makes the cover feel more like its own piece of art, rather than a cover for something else. As well, the implied layering of paper adds depth to the composition although when reproduced it is a two dimensional image, obviously. This appearance of deep space between the front and back plane is perfect for a story about tunneling through the Earth. Visual texture is used here to imply the surface quality, rather than create a pattern, which would distract from the other elements. While texture is certainly meant to be an understated feature in the composition, it has impact in that it would completely change the aesthetic of the piece if it were flat, with no texture implied. Here, texture is the difference between average design and really creative and attractive design.
The actual composition of the piece itself is also visually intriguing. By layering circles over each other, the designer forgoes the traditional ‘aligned over a grid’ look. However, the designer obviously still considers the horizontal vs. vertical alignment because the text is centered along the vertical axis in both cases. The somewhat traditional placement of the title and author’s name provides a visual anchor for the piece, whereas if the designer had tried to incorporate them into the curved lines it would have been too much. The end letters do, however, swing down to frame the shape of the earth. This small touch unites the two separate elements without compromising the balance of curved and straight lines. The way it is, the straight alignment of the text and curved lines of the background provide visually interesting variability and balance. As well, the use of asymmetry in the piece is eye-catching, especially in the outer layers. According to Images, Objects and Ideas, asymmetry is dynamic and keeps the eye and mind on the move. The differences in each layer make it seem as if the designer took extra care and time and whether or not a viewer consciously sees that, it can have quite an impact.
By combining classic elements of design in unique and striking ways that revealed the subject to the viewer, these designers created meaningful imagery that tells its own story. Analysis of the first example focused on how color, lines and connotation helped create clever and effective advertising, while maintaining subtlety and tact. The second showed how texture, alignment and lines could create a piece of art with function. Both of these examples tell their stories effectively and artfully, with attention to the technical foundations of design such as consistency, variability, and balance.