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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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19
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
During the late 1960s, at the height of the youth culture's psychedelic chromatic
color revolution when, as if overnight, shrill vibrating colors replaced basic
primaries and earth tones, a few mass-market paperback book publishers tried a
new marketing and packaging scheme. They repeated the same typographic or
illustrative cover design in different colors, theorizing that different consumer
demographics—men, women, old, young—would viscerally or intuitively respond
more impulsively to color than content and therefore be more in the mood to
buy books. Anyone who has taken Psych 101 in college knows that color hue
affects behavior. The different color combinations also gave the consumer the
illusion of choice while allowing retailers to make more colorful displays.
Apparently the theory worked, and the strategy of changing colors for the same
edition was ultimately adopted by numerous book and magazine publishers and
is routinely practiced to this day. One of the more recent examples is the mass-
market version of the best-selling novel
Everything Is Illuminated, which did
extremely well in paperback, in no small measure because of the covers.
Appealing to the visceral was at least part of the motivation behind the
German design firm CYAN's ecstatically variegated color system for the series of
posters advertising the fifteenth anniversary in 2002 of the Friends of Music
concerts. Although a poster is not a book, it must nonetheless perform like a
book cover; it must send a message to a prospective audience and capture
their interest. Therefore, the more variety there is in the basic design, the
better the chance a large number of people will be drawn to the message. But
this poster is more than just about color combinations; rather, it derives from a
long-held (though often mixed) interest in ornamentation.
In 1908, the Viennese architect Adolf Loos wrote an essay, “Ornament
and Crime,” that attacked an era in which the bourgeois class was in love with
its accessories. It is now the seminal text in battle against the so-called
aesthetic imperialism of the turn of the twentieth century and an overall
convincing argument against superfluity, but it did not entirely dissuade
designers then or now from forsaking decoration. Despite stylistic ebbs and
flows between ornamental and ascetic aesthetic philosophies, designers
continue to enjoy injecting patterns of historically derived or homegrown
decoration—it is simply in the blood. CYAN's loving employment of optical motifs,
now fashionable, owing a lot to the visual appeal of digital bitmapped detritus,
gives the poster a timely appeal. Whereas Loos argued that ornament locked
designs in their respective time frames, not all designs—and certainly not this
poster for a specific, one-time concert—must be forever.
CYAN's poster is also a clear send-up of an entire genre of clichéd
advertising from the 1950s and 1960s. It is fairly obvious, too, that this is
tongue-in-cheek, given that the stereotypical image of the go-go housewife
preparing dinner has little to do with the music society being promoted.
Here the designers have tapped into the zeitgeist interest in skewering
nostalgia and playing around with clip art once taken seriously but now
seen as kitsch. Modernists long ago rejected these clip-art cuts as formulaic
and sentimental, but with the rise of postmodernism in the 1970s and
1980s—and the rejection of modernism—these images continue to have
appeal, if only for their goofy qualities. CSA Archives has made a business
out of reviving and reselling kitsch cuts, and designers prodigiously use
them to give the air of predigested wit. Often these applications are
unimaginative, but sometimes, as in CYAN's case, the effect transcends
pastiche with elegance, exuberance, and wit.
Friends of Good Music
Designer: CYAN
1998 Fifteenth Anniversary of Friends of Good Music, poster series
s: CYAN c: Freunde Guter Musik Berlin E.V.
The “Friends of Good Music” (Freunde Guter Musik) began as a promotional operation over
twenty years ago.
Optical patterns
Same design, different colors
Clip art

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