So, here we are at my first post on this blog. In this blog I will try to post every few days an update of my assignments. The blog will be divided in two big parts: one about the assignment called “Audio and Typo”, the other about the group assignment “The Principles of Design”. They will be divided using categories, which you can find at the top of every blog post.
This post will be about the group assignment regarding the principles of design. For this assignment we had to choose one principle, research on it, and at the end of the semester present the result in the form of an interactive PDF. Interesting is that our group consists of two Erasmus students; Mariana from Portugal and Julia from Lithuania. Always a pleasure to hear a different perspective on design!
Anyway, we choose the principle of contrast in design. It’s a broad concept and therefor interesting to dig into. Contrast can be black vs white, but also the difference between a straight line and a curved line, between geometric and abstract forms, or even conceptually by juxtaposing different elements to each other. Contrast can give a painting, a poster, a photograph tension and can bring things alive without being too explicit.
I will talk about contrast in graphic design further on, but first let’s talk about contrast in painting. The first thing I thought about was the Op Art (or the latter Kinetic Art) movement, because of their hard edge use of colors, and repeating this to create a certain sense of movement. Here are some painting of one of the pioneers of Op Art, Bridget Riley. Her bold use of contrast and pattern (in, for example “Intake”) has some kind of a psychedelic effect, without using any color. The painting “Kiss” also interested me because of the tension created by the contrast of the thin line surrounded by the black paint. It makes the surrounding black even more immense.
Another example of high contrast in painting is of course the Black Square of Kazimir Malevich, made in 1915. Besides a black square, he also made Black Circle (1918) and Black Cross (1923). These works are milestones in the history of modern art, marking the end of representative painting, and pushing the abstract/suprematist painting to it’s limits.
The next, and final step of abstraction was the painting “Suprematist composition: white on white” (1918). This painting takes our subject “contrast” to a different level, because here the contrast is taken to it’s absolute minimum. The only visible difference between the two whites is a small difference in hue, and some very subtle pencil marks.
The paintings by Malevich lead us to the field of graphic design through the graphic identity of Schauspielhaus Zürich, made by Cornel Windlin. During the season of 2009/2010, Windlin was asked to design online publicity and printed matter for the theater house. For this commission, Windlin used different pictures taken from the local newspaper to show outsiders the everyday life of Zürich, combined with a big black (sometimes white) dot – functioning as “logo” for the Schauspielhaus. The reason why I’m talking about this graphic identity is that the contrast comes in when you look at the grainy/sketchy, dotted photographs juxtaposed to the clearness of the dot. This adds to the intensity of the printed matter, and a sense of mystery why there’s a big black dot on top of the image.
Other uses of contrast in graphic design can be seen in the posters of Josef Müller Brockman. One of the prominent figures in modern graphic design, Müller Brockmann’s work is characterized by his use of grids, a minimum of colors, and a tight use of sans serif typefaces. His books Grid Systems in Graphic Design (1968, Niggli Verlag) and The Graphic Artist and his Design Problems (1961, Niggli Verlag) should be on every designer’s bookcase.
The following posters give an example of his expertise regarding contrast in design. The first poster, made for Stadttheater Zürich in 1962 show a grid of the upcoming performances of the theater. The use of black text on a blue background gives a certain greyness to the poster, which makes the title for the poster stand out even more. This is a poster made with as little resources as possible (one typeface, two type sizes, three colors), and still looks interesting.
The second poster, made for the Swiss auto club in 1954, demonstrates a different kind of contrast, this time by using a very enlarged photograph of a car in combination with a smaller photograph of a running kid. Here, the contrast magnifies the drama and the urgence of the communicated message.
The third poster I picked is this poster for the Zürich Tonhalle in 1958. Here, the contrast lies in the different sizes of the dots in the poster. This play of sizes gives the poster a lively appearance, as if the dots were different planets orbiting around the sun. Again, this reenforces the basic message of the poster “musica viva”.
Finally, there’s Emil Ruder, who – in the same tradition of Müller Brockmann – also uses the grid system, a minimum of colors and sans-serif typefaces. However Emil Ruder’s focus lies more on typography (he published the book “Typographie” in which he discusses the different design principles using typography). As you can see from the posters below, he uses contrast (in type size) to put emphasis on largeness of the word ‘BERLIN’, he shows a hard edge white/grey abstract form on a black background to tell people what ‘die gute form’ is, he uses a small white and red ellipsis – in contrast to the other black elements on the poster, to put Juan Miro in the spotlight, and he finally uses an enormous letter ‘Z’ in contrast to everything else in the poster to attract attention to the subject of zeitung (which is newspaper). Thanks for the reading the post and see you next time!