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Deep Thinking on Design

Although I haven’t ever really thought about becoming a graphic designer, and I don’t think that’s what’s in store for me in the future, thinking about visual design and reading and watching this week’s assigned material was quite fascinating for me.

The first couple things I checked out were the videos “Movie Poster Expert Explains Color Schemes” and “How Stranger Things got its retro title sequence”. Later, I read the corresponding article “The Art of Movie Posters”.

I enjoyed both of the videos. The first one made a lot of sense to me; as the movie poster expert explained the different color schemes of movie covers, I found myself nodding along and thinking of different movies that fit the various schemes. Two of the first films the expert touched on were “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” and “Meet the Parents”, both of which I was familiar with. He also explored other movies I had watched or knew of. In addition to the colors, he discussed the placement of the characters and scenery, which I thought was very interesting.

I also read Chip Kidd’s BrainPickings article, and I think Conner did a great job of exploring this. She discussed how Kidd created his book on graphic design with kids as his primary audience, and I also thought the photos of the swatches of colors were really cool! It was fun to see others picking up on some of the same things I did.

My favorite of all the readings and videos was “The Vignelli Canon”. It instantly caught my attention with the discussion of the intangibles when designing. Vignelli put emphasis on semantics, syntax, and pragmatism, so I’ll share my thoughts on each of these.

1. Semantics:

Semantics, for me, is the search of the meaning of whatever we have to design. [….] Semantics eventually become an essential part of the designer’s being, a crucial component of the natural process of design, and the obvious point of departure for designing. [….] However, it is important to distill the essence of the semantic search through a complex process, most of which is intuitive, to infuse the design with all the required cognitive inputs, effortlessly and in the most natural way possible. It is as in music, when we hear the final sound, without knowing all the processes through which the composer has gone before reaching the final result. [….] Semantics, in design, means to understand the subject in all its aspects; to relate the subject to the sender and the receiver in such a way that it makes sense to both. It means to design something that has a meaning, that is not arbitrary, that has a reason for being, something in which every detail carries the meaning or has a precise purpose aimed at a precise target.

My favorite quotes from Vignelli’s section on Semantics

I am someone who loves finding the meaning in things, so when I began reading “The Vignelli Canon”, this topic immediately drew me in. As I read, I felt more and more of a connection with the text. When Vignelli talked about the search going in many directions, semantics becoming an essential part of the creator, and how semantics connects the sender and receiver, it made me feel ecstatic, like yes! Someone understands this whole depth thing, someone else gets the need for this too! And it’s important, it’s not something we’re looking for in order to achieve capitalist gain—it’s something that we find joy in, it’s something that has a meaning behind just the simple fact of what it is, and it connects people. All of these things jumping out at me at once reminded me of my Myers-Briggs personality type, weirdly enough. The Myers-Briggs personality test is a series of questions that determines some aspects of your personality or how you might tend to behave in certain situations (like a work environment). Additionally, a deeper element of Myers-Briggs is Jungian functions, which to me is a more practical application of the basic ideas in Myers-Briggs. These can’t ever be 100% accurate, but I think they’re often at least in the ballpark. I’m an ENFP, and my top two functions are Ne (extroverted intuition) and Fi (introverted feeling). This may all be jargon to you, the reader, but essentially, those things identify some of the ways my brain works. I love creating things and connecting them with others, and I love finding meaning in them. I am a creator, I am someone who wants to be deeply in touch with my feelings and others’, I am a meaning-finder. I think it’s beautiful how we all approach these elements of design in different ways and prioritize them according to each of our values and thoughts: some people (like me) will embrace the semantic aspect most, some people will find the syntactic element more enjoyable, and some people will really like the pragmatic side of things.

2. Syntax

Mies, my great mentor said: “God is in the details.” That is the essence of syntax: the discipline that controls the proper use of grammar in the construction of phrases and the articulation of a language, Design. The syntax of design is provided by many components in the nature of the project. [….] The consistency of a design is provided by the appropriate relationship of the various syntactical elements of the project: how type relates to grids and images from page to page throughout the whole project. Or, how type sizes relate to each other. Or, how pictures relate to each other and how the parts relate to the whole. There are ways to achieve all this that are correct, as there are others that are incorrect, and should be avoided. Syntactic consistency is of paramount importance in graphic design as it is in all human endeavors.

My favorite quotes from Vignelli’s section on Syntax

I love syntax too—I see this as the next step in the creative design process: starting to put those notes on the page and digging into the consistency and structure of what you’re making. I think of it as the details of a design that make it work. Grammar, phrases, and articulation come together to create something that functions and makes sense. It’s also how things relate to each other within a project or creation, which is so incredibly cool to me. Vignelli says that there are ways to do this that are “correct” and “incorrect”, which makes sense to me. There’s no necessarily “wrong” way to do art, but if it’s “correct”, it’s going to look the way you want it to and it’s going to relate that meaningfulness the way you want as a creator. Syntax puts things into a consistent format; it creates a backbone for the design. When I was writing my thoughts on this freely as I read, I wrote “It will make things more understandable, and that, I think, is the key.” That led me into the next section, pragmatics.

3. Pragmatics

Whatever we do, if not understood, fails to communicate and is wasted effort.We design things which we think are semantically correct and syntactically consistent but if, at the point of fruition, no one understands the result, or the meaning of all that effort, the entire work is useless. Sometimes it may need some explanation but it is better when not necessary. Any artifact should stand by itself in all its clarity. Otherwise, something really important has been missed. [….] It is important to understand the starting point and all assumptions of any project to fully comprehend the final result and measure its efficiency. Clarity of intent will translate in to clarity of result and that is of paramount importance in Design. [….] We like Design to be intellectually elegant – that means elegance of the mind, not one of manners, elegance that is the opposite of vulgarity. We like Design to be beyond fashionable modes and temporary fads. We like Design to be as timeless as possible. We despise the culture of obsolescence. We feel the moral imperative of designing things that will last for a long time. It is with this set of values that we approach Design everyday, regardless of what it may be: two or three dimensional, large or small, rich or poor.

My favorite quotes from Vignelli’s section on Pragmatic

And after I read the syntactic section, I went on to pragmatics, and there was exactly what I was just thinking about: the importance of creating something that can be understood. I love how Vignelli talked about clarity of intent and clarity of result, how knowing and grasping a true understanding of the whole endeavor is so vital to fully appreciating what the creation is. He briefly mentioned how we want things that are timeless, that have passion, that are elegantly and thoughtfully crafted (foreshadowing topics he would discuss later).

See, all these things are things that I haven’t explicitly ever thought, but he’s putting into words ideas that I completely agree with. It makes so much sense to me as an artist and creator, and it reaches deep inside me and pulls on the strings of my love for carefully and lovingly crafted design.

“The Canon of Vignelli” made me more aware of how everything around us has been created with design in mind. It’s critical to the world as we know it. All of these concepts Vignelli talked about are things I want to carry with me as I continue on my creative journey, both in ds106 and beyond.

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