Friday, 16 December 2016

OUGD601 - Abstraction in Modernist Graphic Design

Kurt Schwitters, Theo Van Doesburg, 1923 - Kleine DADA Soiree

In 1923, Kurt Schwitters and Theo van Doesburg embarked on a tour of Holland— their so-called “Dada Campaign”—to introduce local artists to Dada through a series of evening lectures and performances. This poster for the Kleine Dada Soirée (Small Dada Evening) is a jumble of words that shift direction and overlap. The word “Dada,” is repeated in bold red letters in various orientations. Within the cloud of black lettering sit a few small images—a deer’s head, an arrow, pointing hands—cut from various sources and transferred onto the surface. Slogans in various languages proclaim: “Dada is against the future, Dada is dead, Dada is idiotic, Long live Dada!”
The poster’s discordant appearance reflects the tenor of many Dada evenings, which often commenced with mock lectures interrupted by barking audience members, absurd jokes and skits, and experimental poetry. This evening’s events included a prelude of “Dadawisdom” by Van Doesburg, “abstract poems declaimed as loudly as possible” by Schwitters, and ragtime music by composer Erik Satie.

Joost Schmidt, 1923 - Bauhaus exhibition poster

This poster, for the first Bauhaus exhibition in 1923, symbolises the highly experimental style adopted at the school through its use of confident, abstracted forms, bold primary colours and an array of highly geometric sans serif typefaces. All the visual elements have been reduced to their simplest of form, and flattened together on one two dimensional surface. This design was produced in the same year as the piece of Dadaist work, but they couldn't be more dissimilar in terms of their use of abstraction. They share similarities in the sense that they are both posters and both use a limited colour palette, but the messages are highly contrasting. This poster epitomises the modernist endeavour for neutrality and simplicity. The Bauhaus were determined to forge an aesthetic appropriate for the time, and this design certainly achieves this. Its visual elements are evidently inspired by the forms of machinery, and the colour treatment is responsive to this as well. 

Herbert Bayer, Laszlo Moholy Nagy, Marcel Breuer - 1930 

This poster abstracts the plain in a unique way, playing with the audiences's sense of depth and perception of form. Through the simple use of angular lines and flat colours, a composition is created which appears to escape the frame, expanding beyond the surface. Herbert Bayer's 'Universal' typeface has been modified here, aiding the overall theme of simplicity. This poster is evidently influenced by Russian Constructivism and Dutch De Stijl. 

Beethoven poster, 1955, Josef Muller Brockmann 

The Beethoven poster for the Tonhalle series is one of Müller-Brockmann's classics. The stark black and white and moving circle arcs hint at the drama of Beethoven's music. Here, abstraction of form is used as visual metaphor.  The circulating pattern creates a building sense of atmosphere, visually expressing the complex, multi layer quality of the music. Brockmann is actually negating the surface, as he is not actually committing to imagery. His use of abstract shape negates realistic visual representations of the subject matter. 

'The design of the music posters is a special case in that they were not sales oriented – their appeal was intended to be artistic. The stylistic difference between the posters with pictorial geometric forms and the purely typographic ones is that the latter contain no pictorial interpretation of the musical programme. Without exception they are free creations that took shape within the underlying grid system. For the most part the effect of these posters is lighter and more poetic.' - Interview with Brockmann - 

OUGD601 - Raff Rennie's Tweets

Raff Rennie is a New York based graphic designer who voices strong opinions regularly on Twitter. For me, he is the best type of design critic, one who actively practices the discipline and has strong views about its current state and what direction it is heading in.

A recent stream of Tweets tie in nicely to the theme of essay, and express similar views to mine. Some of the things he has said will be explored in the concluding section of my essay, particularly the theme of cheap forms of modernism re-surfacing in many areas of 'contemporary' graphic design.

OUGD601 - Forms of Abstraction in Contemporary Design

Cover of "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories" (Delmore Schwartz), cover by Erik Carter, and very nice too.:
Cover Design - Erik Carter - In this design, abstraction takes form through the use of scanning. This method is popular in contemporary graphic design culture, as it produces highly unique results. It has been equated with experimental typography. To an extent, the use of a scanner is experimental, but it's hardly radical. It doesn't challenge the structures of typography, it just distorts them, playing with notions of legibility in the process. This use of abstraction is fairly basic, but it does produce diverse and visually exciting results. This aesthetic would be conventionally be achieved through the use of a scanner or photocopier. In the current moment, this effect can be achieved through digital manipulation using the liquify tool in Photoshop. This approach to abstracting type through distortion is inextricably linked to postmodernism. Members of deconstructivist movement in America and the UK pioneered this aesthetic ithroughout the 80s and 90s. It has since been disseminated across the world and is popular in amateur and commercial sectors of the discipline alike. 

'Misker Festival Identity 2012' - Studio Fuzz - this identity work unashamedly uses abstraction in the form of 'scanned type'. The decision behind its use appears to be purely aesthetical, as it doesn't seem to any offer conceptual meaning. It would seem that the overall design treatment was chosen as it seemed trendy, thus aligning itself to a category on Trendlist. 

Darren Oorloff - This designer utilises abstraction as a devise across the work they produce. In the album cover design for Sluggers 'Anthem EP', Oorloff has severely distorted the typography, achieving a highly fragmented overall aesthetic. The deconstructivist movement in the 1980's has either consciously or subconsciously influenced the practice of this designer, as all of the characterises of deconstruction are plain to see in his work. In this instance, abstraction appears to have been used for purely aesthetic reasons. 

Creative Direction/Art Direction: Nedjelco-michel Karlovich  Design in collaboration with: Hort. These posters were created in collaboration with Hort in Berlin and Nike Global Football in EMEA.:

‘Turn chaos into control’ – Collaboration between Ned Karlovich and HORT Berlin– Here the distortion of the typography is used as visual metaphor. By presumably 'scanning in' the typography, the designers have produced an aesthetic which communicates the literal message of the words through semiotic play. In this context, abstraction has been used to imply further meaning rather than remove it. This form of abstraction is distinctly Postmodern, as it has intentions of ambiguity and subversion. 


'Lost in Konglish Zine' - Ran Park - 2016 - Konglish is the use of English words, or words derived from English words, in a Korean context. This simple premise was the concept behind Berlin-based designer Ran Park’s zine, Lost In Konglish. “The inspiration is a little bit whimsical,” explains the designer. “One day, I heard a gentleman explaining to a foreign tourist what a ‘banana’ was called in Korean. Phonetically it was the same, which made me think of the subtle alterations in the Korean language over the past decades.”The publication shows the words that are phonetically pronounced the same alongside the Korean and English letter forms. 

The layouts are chaotic, the words smeared across the pages. The use of abstraction here appears to be conceptual as well as aesthetically. The content of the publication is concerned with chaos and confusion, therefore it is appropriate that the aesthetic is distorted and visually chaotic. Here, abstraction is audaciously used: it hasn't necessarily been utilised to solve a problem, if anything is exacerbates it. Under Modernism, abstraction was employed to reduce form to its most minimal state, and in the process, remove any cultural, conceptual or political ambiguity. Here, abstraction is used deliberately to achieve a sense of ambiguity. 

Scanned aesthetic: A lot of these designs fall under the Trendlist category of 'scanned'. This effect can be achieved simply through scanning in something visual and manipulating whilst it is being scanned. The results are always unique and have become synonymous with visual experimentation and play. Scanning emerged from the Punk and Grunge movements, where a deconstructed, distressed aesthetic was favoured in order to represent feelings of anarchy and disruption to social order. Before the scanner became widely accessible tool, people would usually use cut and paste methods to achieve similar levels of abstraction. These approaches evidently had a profound impact on graphic design practice and culture, reflected in the work of these designers operating in the current moment. 

Minimalist abstraction: Abstraction was a key device of negation for the early protagonists of Modernism. Reducing a visual element to its simplest form allowed the designer to negate politics and social convention, through removing the need for conviction. Modernists favoured bold geometric shapes and sans serifs as they were pure abstractions of previously complex, ornate forms. Modernism was a radical rejection of the old approach. In order to communicate to the newly modern world, Modernist graphic design placed great faith in the aesthetic of the machine and new technology, translating its efficiency and functionalist qualities in simple visual elements. This approach to the notion of abstraction had a fundamental impact on the discipline, many modernist devices of abstraction are still active in graphic design culture today. 

garadinervi: Hans Gremmen, Alexander Kluge, Poster for OCA, Office for Contemporary Art Norway, 2014:

Hans Gremmen, Alexander Kluge, Poster for OCA, Office for Contemporary Art Norway, 2014 - In this poster, abstraction is happening blatantly, but its use is not as abrasive as the use of scanning or liquefying. In this particular design, a Modernist approach to abstraction is taking place. Use of circles, a form favoured throughout Modernist graphic design, abstracts the typography in a way that still allows the audience to understand the information. The legibility of the type is relatively high. Designs that employ scanning techniques often push legibility to their upper limits, causing the type to become virtually unreadable. 


Sarah Boris Poster Design 2015 - This poster embodies a distinct modernist approach to abstraction. The visual elements, the sun and waves, have been radically reduced to their most minimal form - this pure abstraction is derived from the early modernist ventures in art, architecture and design. The simple use of geometric shapes and lines represent huge things in reality, but have been completely simplified to flat signs. 

Monday, 12 December 2016

OUGD601 - Metahaven: White Night Before a Manifesto

In the first section of my essay, I explore the notion of surface, outlining its transformation throughout the timeline of graphic design. A surface is the locus for the application of various sign systems and visual elements. Without the surface, graphic design would cease the exist.

Since the advent of the internet, the notion of surface has expanded beyond all recognition. Graphic design was conventionally found on physical surfaces such as paper, glass, metal or wood. The internet in the words of Metahaven is an 'anorexic, hyper-thin architecture' in which graphic design is readily applied.

In 2008, Metahaven produced their 'White Night Before a Manifesto' document, which focuses heavily on the theme of surface. I decided to give it a read in order to contextualise this theme and gather some useful quotes for my essay:

'We are designing surface. Surface multiplies, beyond any measure of necessity, beyond the laws of demand and supply, beyond reason. The multiplication of surface, formerly called information overload, is the new reality of design. Its unit of measurement is virtual.'

'Surface is not territory. Territory, which is actual and geographical (for that reason limited in supply), can be contested and may become the site of an actual conflict, a physical confrontation. This cannot happen on, or to, a surface. Surface is to territory what speculative capital is to gold. Surface may be multiplied without encountering the physical limitations imposed by someone else’s terrain, opinion, presence or personality. If surface is a kind of place, or site, the designer is its geographer.'

'Surface is folded out in order to produce value, while it is folded in to secure it. The production of surface is design’s equivalent to the production of space; surface in the generic sense means flat space to display. Surface is anorexic, hyper-thin architecture.'

'Surface, representing no particular meaning or message, is the precondition for virtual capital, projected revenue and speculative value. Advertising surface in public space initially is merely an add-on to the already existing historical structure of a city. Gradually, surface replaces the primacy of historical structure and its territoriality. The city becomes the profit base of a virtual spin: the multiplication of surface accounts for the exponential growth of value extracted from its public space. By our being in public, by simple existence, we already automatically affirm the exposure which grants the surface infrastructure its right to the city. The inhabitants of cities are, through this m mechanism, directly inscribed into the means of value production.'

Whole text available at:

OUGD601 - Time Management - 12/12/16

Time management is something I am pretty good at, however I have struggled somewhat with keeping organised and on top of things with COP3 so far. With exactly one month to go until the deadline, I have decided to devise a daily plan in order to make sure I make good progress before the end of the year. Admittedly, I am not at a point I would have liked to have been with the dissertation, I am quite behind. However I intend to have at least 6,000 words done before I go home for Christmas, which will be achievable provided I follow my time plan:

Goals – 10/12/16
Complete Signs and Surfaces section
Continue with introduction
Do some blogging if you have time

Goals – 11/12/16
Re-write synthesis paragraph
Blogging if you feel up to it

Goals – 12/12/16
Edit Communication section
Develop some practical work

Goals – 13/12/16 
Start Politics section

Goals – 14/12/16
Finish Politics section
Develop practical work

Goals – 15/12/16
Start Roles section
Continue with practical work

Goals – 16/12/16
Finish roles section
Continue with practical work

Blog about books used throughout the research and how they are relevant

Thursday, 8 December 2016

OUGD601 - Practical Work Crit 8/12/16

I found today's crit session pretty useful in helping me articulate the synthesis between my essay and practical research. I discussed the theme of my essay and outlined how I see the conclusion taking shape. I then summarised the synthesis between the overall theme of the essay and the practical work I have produced so far. 

My crit group thought that my ideas so far are inventive, playful and highly conceptual, synthesising nicely with my dissertation theme. They gave me a few areas to consider and refine which I found helpful:

- Consider the inside of the box and what it would include - would be cool to produce a fold out leaflet containing the information about the medication, examples of things that it cures and perhaps the 'side effects' - basically taking inspiration from the slips you find inside paracetamol packaging for example - really like this idea and was considering doing it anyway, the crit affirmed it

- Consider whether or not the packaging needs braille, as these products will be aimed at people who are affected by visual culture. I included the braille for comic effect, but after receiving the feedback, I think I will get rid of it

- They agreed that the packaging should give an indication to the condition it claims to cure - in other words the aesthetic should reflect an aesthetic. They also said that there needs to be a level of consistency to the designs so they integrate as a range of medications. I thought these points were very valid. 

- It was suggested that I look for visual characteristics that run throughout the trend categories on trend list and apply these elements to my packaging design - this way, there will be parody and visual play underpinned by some sort of consistent design treatment

- They suggested I experiment with designing the medication itself - for example, making pills out of clay and decorating them accordingly. The shape and size of the pill will relate to the condition it cures. I think this concept is great, and even if I don't have time to physically make the medication I could always mock it up digitally. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

OUGD601 - Practical Work - Conceptualisation

Today I came up with a really strong concept for my COP practical project, which I am really excited about and look forward to developing.

In the conclusion of my essay, I will be commenting on the current condition of graphic design and the state that I believe it to be in based on my research.

Personally, I find the current state of graphic design to be quite stagnant and self referential. Trends appear to be dominated by pastiche and insular preferences and are celebrated within graphic design circles, rather than wider audiences who are perhaps not as engaged with contemporary visual culture.

I feel like this condition will only be left behind once something radically new comes along. Cultural and technological shifts have been the driving forces behind changes in the field in the past, spurring on the emergence of trends such as modernism and postmodernism. Today, technology advances on a daily basis, and graphic design seems to have become jaded by this, adopting an almost sceptical stance towards its own devices and tools used to develop its practice.

So, I have come up with a concept to 'cure' people 'suffering' from the contemporary condition with fictional medications. The practical element will require me to conceptualise various ailment and the suitable medications for the issues. I will design the packaging and 'branding' for the fictional medicines and potentially some promotional material.