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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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14
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
These two posters, created by Lippa Pearce for the same regional playhouse in
England (though for different productions), illustrate the playfulness of graphic
design and share three traits: (1) Both are all type—that is, the images and the
letterforms are one and the same); (2) The type is formed of materials other than
traditional fonts—that is, each is physically constructed from an object or substance;
and (3) Negative space is key to the graphic impact—that is, the physical and
mental spaces that form the letter/image help bring the posters to life. Each trait
falls into a behavioral creative category Paul Rand called the play principle, which
implies that the design, like a child, intuitively (and joyfully) toys with design
elements until achieving a personally satisfying and perhaps universally enjoyable
or recognizable result. These posters are textbook examples (well, they appear in
this book) of how designers use their tools and manipulate forms to tickle the
mind into transforming literal things—in this case, the titles of the plays—into minor
works of art that transcend the ordinary typeset words on paper).
Shakespeare’s
Macbeth is appropriately (and slyly) formed by splattered
blood; the deep red hue generates an immediate visceral reaction, and the
congealed shape is conspicuous. Of course, blood alone cannot (unless a clue in a
murder mystery) precisely convey a message (or, in this case, the title). As a
graphic device, dripping, oozing, or smeared blood is a fairly common trope used
to elicit both comic and serious horror. Ubiquitous on Halloween graphics and
vampire and
Friday the 13th movie posters, it also represents more deadly issues
such as crime, war, and genocide. Because blood splatters and stains can easily
be discounted as melodrama or farce, they must be applied judiciously to avoid
cliché amid the other overused signs and symbols in the designer’s toolkit.
Nonetheless, the blood here serves a more formal purpose as a frame
for the title. Set alone, the typeset
Macbeth is recognizable to anyone who has
read or seen a Shakespeare play, but when composed of the splatter and thus
distorted and obscured by the amorphous shape, the title takes on greater
significance. The negative space employed here is a time-honored design tool
because it forces the viewer to decipher the message and, like a magnet, the
pull on the eye. It demands greater cognition and, as a result, increased
interaction with the message. Type, however, isn’t the only visual material that
benefits. In the two posters shown here for
Romeo and Juliet, each a visual pun
that abstractly shows Shakespeare’s ill-fated lovers composed of a heart and
knife, negative space is used to conceal and reveal these plot symbols.
Likewise, in the Polish theater poster for
Antony and Cleopatra, designed by Lex
Drewinski, where the negative space forms a female body from the torso down
reveals a bigger and more playful graphic tease: a snake that forms the
separation between the legs, with its forked tongue as the buttocks. Because
the eye is fooled, the overall concept is more resonant—and witty.
Building letters and words out of three-dimensional objects—whether
stone or wood, trees or bushes—is a fairly common design conceit, and it is
also a case where negative space greatly adds to the success of the overall
message. Sometimes the letterforms are sculptures that contrast with the
environment because monuments made of letters and words can be imposing
and jarring to the senses. Moreover, convention dictates that a title or headline
is two-dimensional, so when it is not, the eye and mind are piqued. The poster
for Ibsen’s
A Doll’s House tests perception on various levels. One is readability:
While readable, it requires a second glance to fully comprehend the message,
and this is a good thing because that demands more interactivity. The other is
concept: Ibsen’s main character, Nora, fights a male-dominated, suffocating,
patriarchal society by deconstructing the doll’s house in which she is
imprisoned. The precarious wood-type blocks of the poster represent the
fragility and ultimate demolition of these rules and mores. Photographed against
such empty space, the type playfully represents this otherwise serious drama.
Macbeth and The Doll’s House
Designer: Harry Pearce
2003 Macbeth, poster
2004
Isben: A Doll's House, poster
ad,d: Harry Pearce dd: Lippa Pearce s: Lippa Pearce Design s: Milton Theatre
1.
One of a series of typographic theatre posters. The typography graphically spells out
the title of the play, leaving no question as to the tragic themes of Shakespeare’s
masterpiece.
2. One of a series of typographic theatre posters for a small regional playhouse; this one,
for a production of Ibsen's “A Doll’s House”. The woodblock type spells out the title as well
as simultaneously appearing as building blocks for a child's toy house.
Blood splatter
Negative space type
Type architecture
Printer’s lead type

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