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Anatomy of Design by Mirko Ilic, Steven Heller

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21
ANATOMY OF DESIGN
The goal of advertising and graphic design is to implant memorable cues and
codes that, when activated, prompt recognition and therefore trigger positive (or
negative) behavioral responses. This poster for the Broadway musical BKLYN,
designed by Darren Cox of SpotCo, was created to elicit knowing, if not intimate,
reactions among New Yorkers and announce a new theatrical event. As for all
advertising, the goal of a theater poster is to raise awareness and encourage
consumption but, unique to this particular poster form, it must do so on the
crowded street when passersby are bombarded with way too much stimuli. It
is imperative for the designer to forge a critical mass of intertwined icons and
mimes that somehow grab attention and deposit a mental cookie that is
activated whenever certain buttons are pressed.
Pavlovian neurons are triggered by this poster largely because it employs
three tiers of familiarity that signal the urban context in general and Brooklyn
specifically. The chain-link hurricane fence, while not unique to the outer
boroughs of New York, immediately brings to mind any urban environment and
particularly those playgrounds where cold concrete prevails. Who can forget the
opening scenes of
West Side Story in the schoolyard where the Jets and Sharks
tangle in their rumble ballet? The combined grace and gracelessness of dance
and song in this prisonlike enclosure is bound to send a charged signal to the
viewer. Moreover, the chain-link fence has long been used as a graphic
component. As a background pattern in the 1940 cover of
Vogue, it startlingly
offsets the plaid pattern of the model’s skirt. And as the conceit in the poster for
a modern-day Othello, it becomes a veritable skeleton on which the protagonist’s
tattered face is held together. Of course, the fence is also a vivid symbol of
enclosure and restraint, with all the claustrophobic sensations that evokes.
The second graphic tier involves torn and ripped posters that artists and
designers have long used to symbolize either decay or transition. The layers of
desecrated paper on walls and signboards, like the rings on the trunk of an
aged tree, also exude the sense of venerability. Torn paper is a graphic means
to project the idea of revelation. Using an onion metaphor, as each layer is
peeled it dramatically reveals a message made somehow important. Moreover,
the torn paper technique has an abstract quality created by the randomness of
the tear the expressionist and surrealist artists of the early twentieth century
found appealing. The torn poster shard in
BKLYN adds another layer of
urbanness to the overall composition.
The consonant-heavy abbreviation itself is a further mnemonic. Rather
than spell out the word, which would be both cumbersome and unexceptional,
the gothic capitals become a stark signpost. The viewer is stopped dead by the
letterforms. Furthermore, set atop a bold heart, the entire composition echoes
Milton Glaser’s ubiquitous I [HEART] NY, which owes its success to the rebuses
so common in children’s books. The rebus itself, which has been used
effectively by designers, is a staple of graphic pun, of which Lou Dorfsman’s
Rock and Roll and Paul Rand’s IBM are witty examples.
BKLYN’s composite forms,
any one of which sparks recognition, are made more powerful in this critical
mass and transformed into a logo of the musical.
BKLYN
Art Director: Gail Anderson
Designer: Darren Cox
2003 Brooklyn The Musical, poster
ad: Gail Anderson, SpotCo
d: Darren Cox
c: Producers Four/Jeff Calhoun, John McDaniel
This poster for the Broadway musical BKLYN, designed by Spot Co, was created to
elicit knowing, if not intimate, reactions among New Yorkers and announce a new
theatrical event.
Chain-link fence
Ripped paper
Rebus and anagrams

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