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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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Dino Merlin is a famous Bosnian singer; Burek is the title of his CD and also the
name of a traditional Bosnian pie made in a coil (and resembling a few other
familiar objects) and stuffed with meat—a common delicacy. It may seem like a
peculiar theme on which to base the music and graphics of an entire CD, but
when reduced to a fundamental graphic icon, the burek is a hypnotically
mnemonic mark (and in Bosnia, a totally recognizable thing) that, if nothing else,
triggers comfort. Like many of the world’s most effective logos, this design’s
virtue is its stark simplicity that draws on cultural and visual references packed
into one seemingly abstract container. Although the literal reference to the
burek may not be understandable to all who see it on this page, its graphic
nature nonetheless projects a contemporary ethos owing to the reductionist
symbols found on many CD covers today.
Yet this logo is but one element of a complex visual narrative that is
unpacked as the CD booklet pages are turned. Only then does it become clear
that Merlin’s CD is celebrating and perhaps also riffing on fast food, fast culture,
and fast rhythms—and the speed with which governments, societies, and
cultures shift from one way of life to another. At least that is one macro
interpretation. On a micro level, using the burek as a leitmotif, the CD design
decidedly parodies modernist visual idioms—notably those ubiquitous
international sign symbols that have been integrated ad nauseam in so many
fashionable design projects from CDs to posters—but further comments on the
folly of design simplicity itself.
Simplicity has certainly ebbed and flowed as a reflexive graphic conceit.
In 1968, the Beatles’
White Album (see #35), so called because there was
absolutely nothing on its pure white cover (although the actual title of the
album is simply
The Beatles), proved that when minimalism is taken to its most
logical extreme it is even more eye-catching than a comparable LP with type
and image. Simplicity works best when it rises from a heap of complexity.
But this is not the entire message of the CD design. It is also a not-so-
subtle comment on socialist realism, which was turgidly representational and
antiabstract. It was anything but pure simplicity, but it was conceptually
simplistic. Reducing human endeavor to but a couple of cardboard cutouts,
socialist realism was a flattening of difference into rigid conformity. But since
the late 1980s, when
glasnost and perestroika (“the new openness”) loosened the
grip of the iron fist, graphic design styles in the USSR became more abstract
and socialist realism became the object of ridicule and parody. The heroically
posed figure once representing the strength of the Soviet state and the
conformity of the proletarian mass was adopted as pastiche, quickly becoming
visual cliché suggesting false uniformity. As an object, the burek is also a
symbol of this uniformity. Lines of fast-food laborers dispensing bureks can be
construed as a satire of how the communist proletariat has transformed into the
capitalist proletariat. Whether this is or is not an accurate reading of the
designer’s motives, the graphics are decidedly inspired by socialist stereotypes.
This symbolism is furthermore a component of a more tightly woven graphic
pastiche that also employs conventional instructional diagrams, which recently have
become a trendy illustration trope. Here, a step-by-step schematic on one of the CD
booklet spreads reveals as simply as possible the complicated procedure of making a
burek, described in traditional Bosnian slang. Few graphic genres are more
recognized than these linear how-to guides—and often, few are more indecipherable
(which is why they are a favorite of humorists). This presumably helpful diagram
suggests that even the most complex aspects of everyday life can be reduced to
one-two-three, and that is what the graphics of Dino Merlin’s
Burek appear to critique.
Burek
Designer: Trio/Fabrika
2004 BurekDino Merlin, CD cover
cd,d: Trio/Fabrika
Dino Merlin is a famous Bosnian singer; Burek is the title of his CD and also the name of
a traditional Bosnian pie made in a coil (and resembling a few other familiar objects) and
stuffed with meat—a common delicacy.
Icon Record Covers
Instructional Charts
Staggered Formation
Firm Stance
ANATOMY OF DESIGN

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