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CAUSIN’ SOME
TROUBLE:
WHEN AND WHY
TO BREAK
EVERY RULE IN
THIS BOOK
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Rules in graphic design exist as guidelines
that provide context for evaluating work
and serve to help designers avoid problems
that interfere with communication. It is
often said, however, that rules are made
to be broken, and this is never truer than
in design. No two projects are alike: Every
project comes with different requirements,
different ideas to be expressed and, often-
times, audiences with very particular needs.
No design approach is ever out of bounds
or “illegal”—thou shalt not, on pain of
death. In breaking rules, it is important for
designers to understand what a rule means
and, most importantly, what will happen
when the rule is broken. Some rules are less
flexible than others, and there is likely to
be a trade-off in breaking any rule—some-
thing will be gained, and something lost.
The designer must decide whether the
sacrifice is acceptable and ultimately be
prepared to accept the consequence of the
decision. Once a designer feels confident
that he or she understands how the rules
work and what the effects of breaking them
will be, a designer must decide why, when,
and how. Some of the greatest innovations
in graphic design will happen when the
designer knowingly—and intelligently—
throws the rule book away.
design elements
297
MICHAEL ROCK/DESIGNER AND
EDUCATOR /
Principal, 2x4, New York
Dont expect
theory to
determine
how things
look.
SAWDUST UNITED KINGDOM
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The design of this trade book
approaches its subject as
information to be delivered in
a clear, concise, and neutral
way—letting the content
speak for itself. It is, after all,
an instructional volume. The
restrained presentation allows
the book’s readers to access the
content without interference.
CONOR & DAVID IRELAND
Sometimes, the content needs to speak
with as little interference as possible. This
is true in the case of pure information
design—in forms, for example, where the
content’s only requirement is to be under-
stood very easily—but might also be true
for other project types, as well. Being
neutral and having no concept—presenting
content very directly and efficiently, refining
legibility and hierarchy, and using color
and material to craft a refined artifact—
is a concept unto itself. This approach can
result in a quickly accessible, informative,
and functionally user-centric experience,
which is not without its appeal.
HAVE A CONCEPT.
BREAKING IT:
causin’ some trouble
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The audience targeted by this
poster is young and interested
in messages that speak to them
obliquely, pose questions rather
than answer them, or suggest
ideas that may be anti-estab-
lishment, or discussed only
within small segments of the
population. While the formal
manipulation of the type
suggests some relationship to
electronica, the image of
the wild boar is a conceptual
message inserted to provoke
a reaction.
SUPERSCRIPT FRANCE
COMMUNICATE—
DON’T DECORATE.
BREAKING IT:
BE UNIVERSAL.
BREAKING IT:
When the message warrants it, use form
willy-nilly, without regard for its meaning.
This, in itself, might be interpreted as a
message and—on rare occasions—that
message is appropriate as part of a design
solution. A project concerning Baroque or
Victorian aesthetics, for example, might
very well benefit from extremely decorative
treatments that would otherwise constitute
a crime against nature.
Always tailor the message to the audience.
For a subculture whose expectations of vi-
sual messaging are very specific—a hip-hop
website, as opposed to a large-scale, gener-
al-public branding campaign—using visual
metaphor, idiosyncratic stylistic treatments
of type or image, and color that references
their shared context will resonate more
powerfully than images and color that are
designed to speak to the world at large.
design elements
299
A kaleidoscopic collage of
varied form languages and
image elements capture the
experimental energy of a hip
cultural event. Rather than
attempt to parse the visual
langauge for meaningful
content, viewers will absorb
the imagery’s exuberant color
and movement to interpret
an appropriate feeling.
VIKTOR MATIC ITALY
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