28 February 2009

grad problems research : rhythm's role in graphic design

503A : project 1: Rhythm's Role in Graphic Design, brian prince

The purpose of the research in this paper is to develop a basis for proving how rhythm is the fifth element of graphic design, and furthermore, the most important element. Topics explored herein include: life’s rhythm and the responsibility of the designer to be in touch with everyday human behavior; and the parallels between designer and music composer, designer and poet, and their roles as authors.

To critique graphic design, the academy usually breaks the art down into four descriptive categories, what I’ll call the four elements of graphic design: scale, color, typography and image. All important in the design process, each element brings a necessary cornerstone to a solid design. But, what I’ve discovered as a Graphic Designer, is that those elements need an emotional tie to make them effective to the audience. That emotional tie is rhythm. The designer as author has to understand A) the process: be as involved as possible in the initial research of a design problem in order to add real value, and B) the emotion: has to understand its readership as if they were the reader and be able to control what they are viewing.

The designers role IS rhythms role, making the relationship between content and the reader a synergetic harmony.

To be in tune with the viewer (reader/audience), the author must understand their needs. Articulating their needs into an effective, strong result is the challenge. This is where rhythm comes in. The term, human-centered design sprouts out of this very idea. It starts in the research, which can be as complicated as understanding the mind sets of a people group you’ve never encountered to as simple as a familiar everyday experience. The end user’s experience is the goal in mind. If you’re not pushing the right buttons at the right time, you will be out of tune and left with ineffective communication. The designer must become the ethnographer in every design problem he faces. In an article titled, Impact: Inspiring Graphic Design through Human Behavior, (Ia. ch. 21) the authors and principles of a design firm, IDEO, break down their fundamental step of the design process: contextual observations – getting into the environment, hands-on, personal interviews; and analogous experiences – loosely related, but inspiring to the project topic.

Design thinking should be immersed in the rhythm of the subject.

IDEO finds human-centered research to be inspiring to design. While I agree with that, I also feel that it is the basis for good design. It is the designers job to observe, organize, and tell the story appropriately in order to create effective communication. In order to obtain rhythm, the designer must embrace all three. Directly or indirectly, communication is persuading the reader to believe in something. Assuming you are in your target market, or playing the right sport on the right field, this persuasion plays the same role whether you’re translating music, poetry, or visual communication, all equally important.

Now that I’ve discovered how important the relationship between the content and the reader is, the responsibility of the author is greater than ever. To illustrate that, I first explored the similarities between an electronic music composer and a designer. When I say electronic music composer, I mean as in music producer, not wedding or radio disc jockey. The most obvious similarity is that they are both arrangers as opposed to creators. Ultimately something new is created in the end because each arrangement is unique, but the content was not from scratch. Rather than just playing someone else’s record, a good composer/producer carefully selects, combines and manipulates different parts of records into new compositions that differ substantially from the source materials. (II. pg. 33) I can easily swap out the title Composer/Producer with Graphic Designer or Poet in that statement and it would work just the same.

Granted the many levels of music, production, genres and sub-genres, the relationship I’m analyzing is between the electronic music composer—one who samples other music but creates a new rhythm, the poet—one who takes a dictionary of words as reference to create a new structured rhythm, and the designer—one who uses elements relevant to the subject in need of communication. Electronic music rarely has vocals and poetry rarely has music behind it, while design is mainly viewed with the eyes. Despite all three authors depending on different senses to absorb their message, they are all grounded in rhythm.

Rhythm is an absolute when articulating the patterns of each author. Each can feed off each other and still work in harmony because they all contain the common denominator: rhythm. Each has a duty to be a descriptive rhythmic pace-setter. As lyrics add another dimension to music, images add depth to words, and so on. And as mentioned earlier, the audience is a crucial factor in the effectiveness. Professional writers demand a reader, electronic music composers demand a dancer, and graphic designers demand a viewer. There are so many parallels between the three authorships, even in their evolution of tools. Music can be made with an instrument or electronically, while poetry can be written or typed and graphic design, drawn or computer generated. To me, these author-playing comparisons are important when exploring rhythm because when you align anything with music and poetry, you automatically associate movement and flow. I feel those associations are lost when thinking of graphic design because of either A) the eyes can’t sing or, B) design is perceived as the stand still medium.

Just as an electronic music producer can change up a beat, or a poet can break up a line to control pace, the designer can enhance the meaning of of a message by attaching emotion to their design. If rhythm was absent, we’d have loud monotone high pitches on the dance floor, unruly, page-full novel-lengthed poetry, and design consisting of only the four basic elements.
Max Bill once said in reference to one of his Bauhaus colleagues, Josef Albers, “Each picture has a unique ‘sound’, and this ‘sound’ is its ‘meaning’, each ‘tone’ finds it atonement.’”

to download the pdf click ://here.

Ia. Bennett, Audrey. “Impact: Inspiring Graphic Design Through Human Behaviors.” Design Studies: Theory and Research in Graphic Design, A Reader. Ed. Givechi, Groulx, Woollard.
New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006. 306-310.

Ib. Bennett, Audrey. “Shaping Belief: The Role of Audience in Visual Communication.” Design Studies: Theory and Research in Graphic Design, A Reader. Ed. Tylor, Ann C.
New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006. 36-50.

II. Butler, Mark J. Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2006.

III. Herford, Marta. Max Bill: No Beginning, No End.
Zurich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2008.

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