ANATOMY OF DESIGN
When George Orwell published his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (in
1949), originally titled The Last Man in Europe, he meant it to be a social critique
of Great Britain, a cautionary prediction of what his society might become as
the postwar world’s superpowers realigned and dictatorial rule usurped
traditional democracies. The book was (and still is) a shocking and prescient
foretelling of the Cold War. Orwell could not have known the extent to which his
Frankenstein monster, Big Brother, sewn together as a patchwork of past and
present leader cults, would eventually become a synonym for squashed civil
liberties and government intervention in daily life. And despite selling his novel
to the movies (two versions were made), he certainly could not have imagined
that Big Brother would become the title of a reality television series that pits
individuals against one another—like a Roman gladiator circus—while the whole
world watches, Big Brother–style.
Such is the manner by which the entertainment industry inveigles its
way into serious literature to extract consumable gimmicks. Yet as cynical as
this sounds, unintended consequences often have positive implications. In this
case, one virtue lies in the awe-inspiring 2003 and 2004 on- and off-air
identities of the British version of
Big Brother designed by a 1998 Royal College
of Art graduate, Daniel Eatock, who says his work can be viewed both as art
and design: “The concepts and solutions are driven by a search for an inventive
entrepreneurial authorship of ideas that can inform the aesthetics of the
solution.” He adds that he is not an artist in a traditional sense: “I am less
motivated by aesthetics and beauty, and primarily concerned with invention,
questioning, subverting, and the transformation of the familiar.” A sometimes
difficult goal when working with clients, but one he has accomplished with the
eye-catching identity for the popular TV show.
Equally influenced by sculptor Robert Smithson’s famous “Earthworks,” those
fields mysteriously plowed in the form of labyrinthine signs and symbols, and
orchestrated manifestations of masses of people and objects that together form
images or words when seen from above, Eatock created the all-seeing, all-knowing
eye implied in Orwell’s narrative as the Big Brother logo. Although the eye is not a
unique idea (Bill Golden’s classic 1951 CBS logo fostered the expression one-eyed
monster as a common pejorative term for television), when cut into the land as an
earthwork or made from hundreds of black cubes (as here), the cliché is afforded
monumental proportions—and becomes a new way of transforming the familiar.
In their quest to expand the parameters of graphic design beyond the
printed page, designers routinely occupy outdoor natural and man-made spaces and
structures to shout their messages. One of the most nefarious, but curiously akin to
Eatlock’s extravaganza, was a grove of deciduous trees planted during the 1930s
amid evergreens in a German forest in the shape of the swastika. The shape could
be seen only from the air and only in the autumn when the leaves turned gold. In
another attempt at monumentality—though more ephemeral—in the late 1980s the
Minneapolis chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) plowed their
logo into two feet of snow and photographed it from an airplane.
Eatock must have been acutely aware of the optical illusions created by
primitive and computer-generated bitmapping. His eye made out of boxes is an analog
version, as is the traditional quilt whose squares of colored fabric compose an image.
The total picture is, therefore, made from component inspired by ancient mosaics—which
one might say are the original bitmapped forms. But perhaps the key construction of the
Big Brother identity derives from 1970s-vintage Op Art, particularly when parallel lines
and halftone dots are manipulated to reveal otherwise concealed images.
Designer: Daniel Eatock
2003–2006 Big Brother, installation
d: Daniel Eatock s: Eatock Ltd c: Channel 4
1. Each season of Big Brother, a new logo is created with a new optical effect.
2. A series of installations to announce a new series of Big Brother.
Pixelization to be viewed from above
Art to be viewed from above