O'Reilly logo

Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

16
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
Activist design—those posters, billboards, books, and so on that force the viewer
to emphatically react to a social or political message—is not as easy as placing
some smart words and startling pictures together on a layout. Many are the
designers with good intentions who produce ineffectual though socially virtuous
missives; few are those who overcome the impulse to overdesign,
overconceptualize, and overinternalize their work so it can be both exemplary
design and functional activist communication. But for every dozen misguided
pieces calling for an end to war, poverty, and inequality, one or two hit the
mark by forcing the audience to think, reflect, and even act.
Anisa Suthayaly’s poster, curiously titled “Beautiful Decay,” features
former American third-party presidential candidate H. Ross Perot’s cautionary
words: “The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is
the man who cleans up the river.” While this poster is not as immediately
readable as some, it nonetheless forces the reader to engage directly with the
message. The pristine beauty of the forest stream in winter is not merely a
prosaic snapshot but a distinct backdrop for environmentalist concerns.
Suthayaly’s typographic intervention does not pollute the image with
unnecessary design-isms but rather serves as an entry point for those who
choose to receive the message—and maybe do something about it too.
The graphic concepts employed here are engaging but not so
unprecedented—or novel—that they are totally unfamiliar, and therefore
offputting to the viewer. While the photograph is clear and understandable, the
typography alters the meaning and message, transforming a calm, unthreatening
scene into an active landscape invaded by alien objects. Of course, placing type
amid rocks and in water has been done before, in fact, before the age of
computer manipulation designers photographically achieved this result by
actually stenciling or painting letters in real environmental space. Moreover,
composing the words in perspective is an extremely common trope that goes
back to 1930s B-movie titles and made famous by Dan Peri’s perspective-
defying title sequence for the original
Star Wars movie. Type has also been
used to define (and form) the shape of buildings and other iconic structures
(see Ivan Chermayeff’s poster for the Guggenheim Museum, where the
contoured typeset words are a visual pun simulating the emblematic shape of
the Frank Lloyd Wright edifice).
While not a pun or metaphor, the central and most conspicuous word in
“Beautiful Decay,”
Activist, is what makes this scene more than a mere greeting
card. It stands upright, totem-like, in the center of the image, appearing to vibrate
as darks shift to the light values, and the eye is forced to grapple with a
command to do something. The technique of overlapping letters in translucent
grays, whites, and color is a common printing technique that suggests speed.
Here the motion implies movement in many directions—by the activist as well as
environmental polluters. That idea that activists can, however, turn the tide of
decay is implicit throughout this eloquent image.
Beautiful Decay
Designer: Anisa Suthayaly
2004 “Activist Page”, art for magazine series
ad: Anisa Suthayalai s: Default c: Beautiful Decay magazine
Art for Activist Issue.
Vertical overlapping title
Type in environment
Type emphasizing perspective in photography
1999 Hamptons '99 magazine cover
ad:Luke Hayman p:Bastienne Schmidt
1996 Einheit durch Vielfalt poster
d:Gunter Rambow
c:Interkultureller Rat in Deutschland e.V.
1999 Design 99 poster
d:Yuri Gulitov
Announcing the seventh Belaruse Design Competition.
1993 Dream Island poster
ad:Tsuguya Inoue p:Kishin Shinoyama
c:Morisawa & Co., Ltd.
2001 Digital Mag
a
s:Fibre c:Cre@teO
n
For a special issu
e
1999 New
poster
d:Dave Dy
e
1945 Day of Paris book cover
d:Alexey Brodovitch
A book of Andre Kertesz's photographs.
1987 Chicago poster
d:Philippe Apeloig c:Musee d'Orsay
1927 Phoebus—Palast/Laster der
Menschheit poster
d:Jan Tschichold
c1931 Matter Tea Room poster
d:Herbert Matter
1977 Say No poster
d:David Gentleman d:National Trust
Part of a campaign to stop a bypass
running through the grounds of
Petworth House, United Kingdom.
1996 John Ford poster
ad:Ralph Schraivogel
i:Serigraphie Uldry
c:Film Podium Zurich
1996 Exhibiti
o
d:Melchior Im
b
s:Melchior Im
b
Poster for an
artists from c
e
1992 GAM (Graphic Arts Message)
poster
d:Neville Brody s:Neville Brody Studio
c:Too Corporation
1949 Portfolio magazine cover
d:Alexey Brodovitch
Magazine launched by publisher George
Rosenthal and journalist Frank Zachary
as a mouthpiece for free and applied art.
1959 Alfieri & Lacroix magazine page
d:Franco Grignani
1991 Emerging Japanese Architects
of the 1990s poster
d:Minoru Niijima c:E.J.A. Committee

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, interactive tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required