Major Graphics - Design Process



Last week we were presented with our major graphics brief. The following is my progress as I work through the brief.

brief copy.jpg


Ok so the main gist of the brief in my own words. - The museum of the image in Amsterdam is holding an event in order to promote visual literacy in the european community. For this event they will have speakers from European countries to explain the level of literacy in their respective countries. As Ireland don't seem to listen to their fellow countrymen in relation to cultural affairs, I am to choose an outside designer to speak on our behalf. Design an A2 poster to promote this speaker at the event.

Questioning the brief

"Its not our ability to be visually literate that is under scrutiny but the stale, repetitive, unquestioned, visual vocabulary that is keeping visual literacy in Ireland at such a basic level."

Ok so from this we are we to take that the Irish are visually literate people but just barely? The statement starts off by saying that our visual literacy is not under scrutiny but then says that its at a very 'basic level.' To me this statement certainly does put the visual literacy of the Irish under scrutiny. "The stale, repetitive, unquestioned, visual vocabulary", is the explanation given for Ireland's poor visual literacy but what does this actually mean, and who is it talking about? Is it talking about the general population, the audience, the client, the designer? Maybe the statement is saying that Irish clients know what they want but don't have the vocabulary to communicate with designers? Maybe its saying that the general public do appreciate good design but don't know how to vocalise these thoughts? 

Do I agree with any of this? I quizzed the lecturer who wrote the brief about this point. I asked why he thought that the Irish had such bad vocabulary as he described. He said that the Irish people weren't allowed to be visual people. Again I questioned this. He said that it all went back to Eamon de Valera and the catholic church. He said that Irish people literally didn't have an opportunity to be visual as the arts were suppressed by church and government.

To be honest I'm not well enough informed to say whether this is true or not. I can say that from my own experience growing up in Ireland that arts did take a back seat when subjects like maths, english and Irish were focussed on. In primary school, for example the week was constructed with 90% of the time doing the 'mainstream' subjects and 10% doing creative things like painting or crafts. It felt like creative subjects were a bonus and that we had to focus on the 'important' subjects to set us up for the real world. This mite give some validity to the point about the Irish not having the chance to be visual people. It might be some explanation for "the stale, repetitive, unquestioned, visual vocabulary" of the Irish. I think that the best way to move on with the brief is to draw form my own experience and agree with the statement that the Irish are visual people but for the reasons outlined they don't have a strong visual vocabulary.

We were given the option of choosing a designer from a list or choosing a recognised designer ourselves to represent Ireland at the event.  I carried out research on a list of 13 designers in order to make an informed decision on the designer that I would choose. For this section of the research I included a short bio of each designer along with some images of their work. Once I had this completed for each designer I then wend back to the start and began analysing each one. I wrote my comments on the work and did a short piece on whether I liked or disliked their work and why. Below is a short gallery of a few pages of my notebook including this research, click anywhere on the image to scroll. 


Now that I had this research carried out I felt that I could now make an informed decision on who I would like to represent Ireland. I chose Josef Muller Brockmann. Having looked through the designers and their work I felt that much of the older work form many of the designers did not stand the test of time. It seemed that the work of those who embraced the new technologies and trends of the time (namely April Greinam) just didn't hold up well with time. The work looked stale and dated.

I did not get this same feeling from Brochmann's work. The reason I think that his work has stayed fresher than others is simple - he followed the rules. Brochmann followed the fundamental rules of design, typography, proportion and layout. The result is design that stands the test of time. I will admit that it is possible to tell that his work is old but only due to the restricted technologies that he was working with. If his work was redesigned in a fresh PDF and sent the the printer today I would have no doubt that it would look fresh. 

Having said this I feel that I will be in a good position to design a poster using Brockmann's influence. If I can nail the fundamentals of design as he did and combine this with a contemporary feel using today's technology I should be able to create something solid, fresh and memorable. 

I now feel that I have a direction in which I am heading. It possible that this will change as I progress but for now its important that I do just that, progress. Moving on with my research I had a fresh scan of Brockmann's famous book 'Grid Systems'. In this book he lays out those fundamental rules of design which I will need to be familiar with if I am to understand his style.


Next I gathered some more information for my notebook. I found Brockmann's work that I fond most appealing. In these pieces I most admire his clearly visible use of the grid and strong sense of hierarchy. These are the elements that I think my desig must have if I am to be successful. 


‘I would advise young people to look at everything they encounter in a critical light … Then I would urge them at all times to be self-critical.’

Josef Muller Brockmann


For the next section of my research I looked up contemporary designers who I feel have Brockmann like elements in their work. I searched for work that follows the fundamental rules of design as Brockmann did but with a contemporary element also. The combination of these elements makes for exciting design.


The next section of the brief that I looked into was in relation to 'mindsets.' The brief states that in order to understand the people the our project involves we must understand their mindset. The  people that I am concerned with at this point are my speaker, Brockmann, and my audience. Here is what the brief explains about dealing with mindsets. 

The first mindset that I decided to deal with was Brockmann. I wrote done words that I think he would feel are important in relation to design. I then explored each word further and chose a list of 5 words from this list. Next I did the same with words that I think Brockmann would consider if he were designing today. I then made a hybrid from these lists. Heres what I came up with:

BROCKMAN THEN            BROCKMANN NOW              HYBRID   

logical                                  Passionate                              unrestricted

composed                           unrestricted                            composed

temperate                            cutting edge                          structured

balanced                              fresh                                       balanced

analytical                              contemporary                       cutting edge


I used this list to create a mood board. I searched for anything visual which I felt represented the words from my my hybrid mindset list.

The last thing that I wanted to do before getting stuck into the practical work was to come up with a heading for the poster. We were given "are the Irish visually literate or just trained to be" as an example. I had a think about what I spoke about earlier in the blog about visual literacy and did some word association exercises. I finally decided on "See design, Feel design, Speak design?" I think that this works well with the concept for visual literacy.


I was happy enough with my research at this point so I finally started into some practical work. I started off with some basic layout thumbnails. I used my five words as a guide when doing these.  I did 10 thumbnails for each word. This exercise should give a good start off point for the layout of the poster, click anywhere on the image to scroll.

Now that I had some basic layout ideas I decided to move to the screen to start laying out the poster. The final output for the poster is an A2 print so I set up an Indesign document with 4mm bleed, 4mm margins and a 19 X 19 proportional grid (4mm gutters).

With my design I hope to reflect the style of Joseph Muller Brockmann as he will be the speaker for the event. While I want to reflect his style I don't want to copy his work. With my design I want to follow the traditional rules design as Brockmann did but also give the design a modern feel through the use of graphic elements and image. Naturally I used the Sans Serif face Helvetica as Brockmann used so often.

I added my elements and started to build a hierarchy using various sizes and different faces from the Helvetica family. When I was someway happy with how the elements looked I began to arrange them using the grid to align elements. I also added some shapes to help to tie the design together. I wanted to use the Swiss Cross as a representation of Brockmann and the Swiss style but I wanted to change it in some way to take away the element of familiarity. I chopped the cross in half in illustrator and added a 1pt stroke to highlight the cut. I did something similar to the date also. Here's the first layout. 


I started this week by adding an image to my design. I wanted to use something with a geometric feel with some nice lines to work with. I chose an image which I had taken of a building in  Dublin a while back. I added the image and played around with the type to make some alignments with the image. I also added some strokes to tie everything together. I ran off a print and put it up on the wall to see how it was working. Often designs can look great on screen but don't work in their intended environment. It didn't look too bad but the image was too busy for the type. "Simple image, complex type. Simple type, complex image." I went back on screen and opened up the image in Photoshop. I added an iris blur, this adds a fake depth of field leaving a select area sharp and the rest of the image blurred. I left the main focal point of the image sharp and the rest blurry. This helped to give some relief to the type from the image.


I played around with a selection of similar style images. Some work ok, some didn't. This next one was probably the best from this experimentation with images. Its another photo that I took in Dublin on the same day. I added a blur to the whole image this time and added a new circle behind the text. I think this works quite well and is a strong poster overall.

I recently borrowed a book called designing design by Kenya Hara. Hara is a Japanese designer and in the book he speaks about some interesting design related topics. I hope that what I have learned from this book will have an impact on this project so im going to talk a little bit about some ideas from the book that I found interesting.

The first concept in the book that interested me was that of 'senseware'. This is a term coined by Hara, which he defines as “matter that stirs the human creative instinct and awakens the desire to make things.” He explains the concept by describing how Stone Age people must have felt when they first discovered the creative potential of stone. He explains his theory that they must have been so inspired by the touch, feel and weight of the material. Once they had made this connection, they were inspired to build and design with this newly discovered creative material. He goes on to describe how the invention of paper provided yet another material which would initiate the create process with the millions of people who came into contact with it. He talks about how the pristine white nature of paper offset against the black ink of type created such a beautiful contrast.

In my own experience with design to date, I find this to be an idea, which could not be truer. The experience of viewing well set type, composed and balanced with the perfect amount of negative space, printed on pristine white, fine quality paper is unforgettable. As beautiful as the type may be, is it nothing without the white space that surrounds it and provides it with room to breathe. The quality and feel of the paper is essential to the design as a whole. I think that the best way to describe this to somebody who has never really thought about it before is to describe an old, dilapidated and mouldy sitting room with a beautiful new set of furniture. You want to appreciate the new furniture but its almost impossible to, given the condition of the room. However, once the room is restored to its original condition, cleaned up and painted, then the furniture can be appreciated. If you haven’t guessed, the room is the paper and the furniture is the type. As with the furniture, the type can only be appreciated fully when placed in the correct setting, i.e. pristine white paper.

Paper is just one material that we can describe as senseware. The same ideas can be applied to any material that sparks the creative process. One of Hara’s projects that I feel encapsulated the notion of senseware was a signage system that he designed for a maternity hospital in Japan. He considered the values of a hospital and at the top of the list was cleanliness. With this in mind he considered the materials on which the signs could be printed. As it was a hospital probably some kind of vinyl or plastic material that could be easily wiped clean? The material that he arrived at was white cotton which would get dirty very fast surely? That was exactly the idea, if people saw that the cotton signs were constantly pristine white, then they would know that the standard of hygiene within the hospital was incredibly high. The signs are held up using clothes pegs so that they can be easily removed for cleaning. I felt that this project showed the powerful potential of the materials at our disposal as designers.

"Its true that the medium is the message."

 A short quote from Hara that sums this all up nicely. 

Another person that I came across who had some interesting ideas was John Maeda. Maeda is a Japanese-American designer, computer scientist, academic and author. Much of Maeda's work combines computer programming and traditional artist technique. This kind of work is obviously very strong conceptually and is highly recognised but it doesn't really excite me visually. While looking through his book, there wasn't anything that caught my eye. I don't feel that I should have to stop and read about why I should enjoy something visual. Also the work in the book was heavily computer based and due to the fact that the book was about 10 years old, it looked incredibly dated. To me good design should never look dated, it should be timeless.

What does interest me is work that could be 10, 20 or 50 years old but stands the text of time because it follows the fundamental rules of design, the simple stuff. This brings me onto what I do find interesting about Maeda. He is concerned about the idea of simplicity. He questions complexity and wonders if its possible to keep everything simple, or are some things better complex? During a Ted talk while he is speaking about this he uses a good example. He shows a road sign and explains its effectiveness due to its simplicity. Then he shows a picture of a grey sky, the sky looks dull, then he show how the sky actually looked on that day and it was full of colour and beautifully complex. This simple explanation leads us to believe that maybe what we need is a balance between simplicity and complexity. I was reminded again of the design concept 'Simple type, complex image. Complex type, simple image.' The beauty it would seem, is in the balance. Maeda wrote 10 laws and 3 keys about the concept of complexity and simplicity which I feel can almost be used as a design reference manual. The final point in is 3 keys is POWER Use less, gain more, this is what its all about for me.

With these thoughts fresh in mind I went about photographing a new image for my poster. I wanted to use the colours red and white to represent Brockman and the swiss style. I wanted the image to reflect the idea of senseware and also that of simplicity versus complexity. With senseware and simplicity in mind, paper was the obvious choice for the white section of the image. For the red section, more thought was needed. I searched the house for different red materials. After a while of searching, a red towel caught my eye. Another material worthy to be described as senseware. Its a material that we are all so familiar with, however, to look at it up close the detail was immense, and because of its pliable nature, its constantly changed. When we look at a material like wood with its recognised beauty, it can tickle the senses with its intricate grain, but something like a towel has similar beauty but it's overlooked as a beautiful material. The grain of the wood is constant but the towel is ever changing as is folds and crumbles, soaks up light and casts shadows, depending on how it lays. The closer you look at the towel the more detail it displays, with one thread leaning this way, one leaning the other, 2 twisted together, 1000 soaking light and 200 hiding in shadow. 

I hope that the elements in my design encapsulate the beauty of white and the concept of senseware discussed by Hara, along with the balance of simplicity and complexity discussed by Maeda.

I felt I had gone as far as I could with this concept for now so I decided to park it up for a while and work on some new Ideas. Something that I have been very interested in lately is flat design. Flat design is a design trend that’s very popular at the moment. I don’t usually get too involved with trends or fashions, in any respect but flat design really has me hooked at the moment. The reason that it has me hooked is similar to the ideas that I discussed previously. Design trends generally tend to show off the latest technology, the latest tools with all the bells and whistles. What I like about this current trend is that it does the opposite of that, it strips back all the bells and whistles and focuses on functionality. It is minimal in nature. It removes ornament, it looks clean and it’s simplistic. By doing this, the designer is allowed to focus on the fundamentals of design again, creating an opportunity to design lasting material rather than design that will look dated in a few years.

Design trends have a tendency to date quite easily, more so than things such as clothing fashion and the reason is that design is heavily linked to computer technologies, which advance quickly. Here’s a quick example to illustrate this point. I was bored recently and I downloaded so old computer arts magazines from 2003. I was delighted thinking that I would be browsing great design, needless to say I was disappointed. 

I was met with a pile of crappy looking design like this. I suppose I was a bit naive to think that ten year old Computer Arts mags would be packed with sweet design but I just wasn't prepared for how bad it all was. In fairness the mags were just doing their job, showcasing the latest computer technologies but surely this is possible to do without showing such disregard for the basic rules of design? I think this highlights why the flat design trend won't fall flat on its face once computer technologies have moved on a bit. Obviously trends will move on and something else will become flavour of the month but I bet I could look at a current Computer Arts cover with flat design in ten years and it would still look great, and why wouldn't it? Its simple, clean, functional and it follows the rules. That not to say that I think the rules are rigid and must be followed, the rules can be bent but not thrown out the window. 

Flat design is hugely popular at the moment with the increase in use of smartphones and tablets, thats because it allows developers to focus on functionality and user experience. We interact with these relatively new devices in a whole new way because we are no longer restricted to using a mouse to navigate. The curser has been thrown out the window, now its all about gestures and moments, it all become so much more natural. With flat design, developers have a chance to develop these new interactions with minimal distractions. 

Additionally flat design is popular in print too, and I think the reason is simple, it gives your eyes they break that they need. We are all bombarded constantly with flashy crap everywhere so sometimes its nice to receive a clear and concise message. I don't mean that it has to be a corporate message pushing you to buy this or that, flat design is everywhere,one of my favour applications at the moment is movie posters an other random art. Here are a few of my current faves, click the image to flick through them.

Having said all this I decided to pave a play around with some flat design for the purposes of the project. I started with some simple shapes, just to get the hang of how it all works. Here are 2 of the first shapes that I made.

I followed a tutorial to design these shapes. As I was progressing with the tutorial I thought that it was looking good, even by the end I thought that it looked pretty good. Looking at it now though it look too 'computer graphicy'. It was built using 3d software, which funnily enough can work well for flat design, just not in this case. As I progressed with the tutorial the effects were being added, the shape was made into a glass material and a light was directed at the shape. I had completely gone away from what I had set out to do. This just goes to show how easy it is to get caught up with all the tools are available. 

I decided to have another go. This time I had a go at doing a simple landscape shape. This time I stayed away from as many effects as I could at the result was much closer to what I wanted. I also created a poster using this design, I added a small bit of texture to the image and rearranged the type to suit the poster better.

I showed the lecturer this concept. I don't really think that he thought much of it. He will always chose photography over anything computer generated. He suggested that I explore the same concept using photography so I did. I used paper to create sharp pyramid style objects. I reverted to the swiss style colours, red and white. I made 9 short pyramids in white and one tall pyramid in red. The tall red pyramid was an abstract representation of strong visual literacy. 

Once I had this done I decided to explore the flat graphics further. The shapes that I had done for the previous poster were fine but they weren't very strong conceptually, they had no relevance to the project. This time I decided to have a go at doing a flat design portrait of Brochmann, this would make the image more relevant to the project. This was a bit more time consuming than the simple shapes but I think that the final result had much more impact. I used Adobe Illustrator this time rather than 3D software, by doing this I feel I produced a stronger image.

Now that I had a strong image I decided to redesign my type. I had it in my head that I would contain the face within a circle so I did a new type layout using each type element and a circle.

Once I was happy with the layout I added my image and edited the colours.

 I had a discussion with the lecturer about this design. He said that it was too busy, and I pretty much agreed with him. The colour split down the centre of the page was too much of a distraction.