Tag Archives: shape

Design Principle – Scale & Dominance

Scale and dominance are about the relationship and ratio between parts within the design. Scale can draw attention to the focal point of a design, which should be the dominant feature or motif. We hear the term focal point a lot when people talk about interior decoration. Scale naturally pairs with Shape, but acts on all the Elements.

On a web page the focal point might be the Call the Action with the words “Click Here” being in a large or bolder font. The question to ask is “where do you want your viewer’s or reader’s attention to go?”

Changes in scale can create the sense of depth. Scale works interestingly with color, where the smallest amount can be the most visible focal point. Dominance can be asserted through point of view and framing.

Scale expressing ideas

Scale expressing ideas

Scale acts on Texture to change it enormously. Texture magnified changes to shape. Scale has to do with filling space comfortably and with balance also. Think of furniture in a room. We recently changed our living room furniture because it was so large that it made the space feel crowded.

Scale is a function of distance – the distance of the viewer from the object.

People speak of the scale of a production in theater – that the set concept fits the space and the gravitas of the script. Spectacle is large scale – epic and thrilling; character drama is intimate and engaging.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

Sparking Creativity by Playing With Scale

Layer and overlap shapes in different sizes for a design.

Look at fractals, where the amount of complexity stays the same regardless of how much the original is magnified.

Fractal

photo credit: SantaRosa OLD SKOOL via photopin cc

Imagine how a small piece, sculpture or painting might work if it were tripled in size. What about if it were miniaturized?

Words – change the size of individual words for emphasis as you journal or make quotation posters.

Scale in music – not musical scales – but the idea that some parts might be louder, more grand or that in an orchestra different instruments dominate the melody line at different times.

 

 

 

 

Design Principle – Contrast

Contrast image

Contrast is one of my favorite Design Principles because it is completely accessible and so very dynamic. In school you will recall being asked to “compare and contrast” two ideas or opinions. We have an intuitive understanding of contrast as opposites, when we see it. In politics, there is no debate without contrasting opinions. In life, change is contrast happening over time.

In designing, the idea is to use the Principles intentionally to change and effect the Elements of Design. Contrast is all about examining or depicting difference. Contrasts, especially those that are unexpected, create vibrancy, draw attention to the subject. Visual contrast creates interest and contributes to a sense of movement or balance (another Design Principle). Contrast defines edges. Uniformity is the absence of contrast. Incongruity is unexpected contrast.

Contrast does not have mean diametric opposites, however. Just like the Tonal Scale where contrast is inherent in defining it, degrees of contrast are possible. Contrast is always comparative – about the relationship between two or more values. Sometimes the degree of contrast defines a style.

One example is the 1940’s film genre Film Noir. The style is defined today by the deep contrast in tonal values of the visuals – with many deep shadows. Shadows will be cast on characters’ faces, highlighting their emotional duality and ambivalence. The audience is left with uncertainty, since every character seems to be both dark and light. The other part of Film Noir mis-en-scene will be the sense of deep shadows in the distance, much of the action taking place at night, in poorly lit cities. The visual style underscores the drama of the story, often crime dramas or mysteries, and characters’ journeys who often represent the “seamy underbelly” of society, or are engaged in some kind of deceit.

This visual style of deep shadows is known as chiaroscuro in painting, a characteristic of the High Renaissance and Baroque eras, among other periods. Painters and sculptors alike were interested in deep folds, faces looming out of dark backgrounds, and consistent looking light sources.

Shabby Chic and prim styles have an intentional lack of contrast. Blurred edges, faded prints or text, distressing and age. If it’s too white, it’s dipped in tea. If it’s too dark, it’s washed. If it’s too shiny, it’s sanded.

I’ve always been intrigued by Dazzle Painting – a high contrast method of camouflage. The key is distance. In nature high contrast often means a warning.

Dazzle painted battleships

Dazzle Camouflage obfuscates the shape

Let’s look at how contrast works with other Elements of Design.

 Color

Complimentary opposites, the colors opposite each other on the color wheel would be a Dual color scheme. Using three colors in an equilateral triangle is a Triadic scheme, while using four colors from the points of a square is Tetradic. Analogous colors have low contrast in hue, but might have high contrast when tonal values are considered.

What do you want the colors to convey? What ideas or emotions? Are you concerned with beauty and comfort, or challenging discomfort? (You see what I did there…..)

Texture

Triadic/Tetradic “texture schemes” are more interesting than just opposites. The opposite of hard is not just soft, but also spiky.

Too much of the same texture can be overwhelming. In Transformers (2007) it was sometimes tough to tell who was an Autobot and who was a Decepticon, when the two were battling. There was a lack of contrast in the bodies, and limited color palette.

Line

The properties of Line include thickness, degree of straightness or curve, and length. Line defines shape, but so does contrast; for example where two colors come together there is the suggestion of Line. However consider that a line may have blurry edges.

Shape and Space

Shapes may be geometric or organic, vary in size or complexity.

photopin.com

Mid-century Modern and Danish style of furniture employs a nice tension in the contrast between the simple shapes of the furniture and the space below and around the pieces. For example the height from the floor is an important part of the sense of airiness and definition.

Intentional Design Process – using contrast

Contrast makes things interesting.

  • Define your message – the reader/viewers takeaway – what you want them to think, see, believe or do?
  • How can contrast convey this message?

Writing with Contrast

Contrast is the foundation of much great literature. The contrast between good and evil is the most basic plotline. People say that irony is the foundation of Jane Austen’s work, but the irony is impossible without the contrasts inherent that idea.

Incongruity is the contrast between the expectation and the result. It works especially well in comedy. For example when the reaction does not match the trigger – that’s comedy. (“Nobody’s perfect.”) Interesting characters contain incongruities or apparent inconsistencies. A flawed hero is far more interesting. People sometimes behave inconsistently too. There can be a contrast between their desires or hopes and their ability to realize their potential.

Mismatches between sequential images, or between the image and the soundtrack, foreshadow events, or strengthen the message. The ominous music always cues our concern when the scene is children playing on the beach. Jolly music playing from the radio strengthens the horror of a catastrophe; lyrical music emphasizes the evil of cruelty. One famous example: Beethoven in A Clockwork Orange (1971).

“A Clockwork Orange” (1971) – Stanley Kubrick

Contrasts invite value judgments – that one product is better for your needs, more suitable than another. For this reason, be cautious when considering Contrast to do with real people. Especially your kids.

 

The Elements of Design – Shape

The Second of the Elements of Design – Shape

Shape – the outline of an object. It will have at least height and width, and in three dimensions, depth/thickness. Shape is often defined by line, but also by color, and texture. In a sense, a shape is defined by where it ends.

The simplest shape – the circle – is the foundation of technology – the wheel.

There is positive shape – the space occupied by the object – and negative shape – the space left empty. And there is optical illusion – variations on this famous face vs vase illustration.

Vase or profiles

Silhouettes – distinctive shapes in the absence of detail – can be extremely evocative. Instant shape recognition is something advertisers have long known and taken advantage of, as do graphic artists, logo designers, and the designers of public signage. Fact is humans are hard wired from birth to take note of high contrast simple positive and negative shapes that represent faces.

Shapes

Shape in garments – well shaped garments create shape in bodies, including illusion and enhancement.

Proportion is a factor in shape. The visual meaning of a shape alters with changes in proportion.

Proportions

Shape is important in set design. First the floor plan, dependent on the performance space, is a 2D shape. The floor plan facilitates movement and flow. The elevations might show levels. Set pieces  show the architecture of the set – realism, abstract, expressionist. The shapes may have soft edges and curves, or straight lines and hard angles. Geometry, the science of shape, is important – especially for defining sight lines and the effective wedge (the part of the stage visible from every seat in the audience).

The Golden Mean

This is a magical seeming ratio produces rectangles that are considered to be the most pleasing to the eye, the most balanced and the most restful. It is believed to occur all over the place in nature. It has been called the Divine Proportion. Euclid is known for exploring it, and it is a big feature of Classical Greek architecture.

The actual number of the Golden Ratio is represented by Phi, and like Pi, goes on forever. The mathematical formula is:

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but for artistic purposes we can approximate the ratio as 1:1.618, so a rectangle where the long side is a little more than one and half times the short side is getting there. (Long side divided by short side.)

Try using a drawing program to draw a pleasing, comfortable rectangle. There will be a moment when intuitively it just feels right. I bet you will be very close to the Golden Mean. Some artists are known for intentionally measuring to use the ratio. However it turns up automatically in all kinds of art because of aesthetic intuition. The proportion looks and feels right.

Looking for Shape

Just as once we started looking for line, it seemed to be everywhere, once you start looking at shape inside art, and appreciating the shape of objects in your environs, shape will be really obvious.

Animal silhouettes

Spend time appreciating the pleasing shapes of your belonging and shapes in nature. Shape is often governed by function – leaves, birds’ beaks, animal’s teeth, teapots. Ergonomics influence shape, how a well designed tool feels in the hand. Look at shapes within architecture. It isn’t all rectangles.

Disney Concert Hall

Fun with Shapes

Play with kids’ blocks. Look at the shadows cast by your towers.

Play with tangrams.

Negative Shape – Space.

One reason people stand with their hands on their hip in photos is to create the negative space under their arm. It breaks up the shape and makes you appear slimmer.

The beauty of an object on a shelf can be better appreciated if the space around it is defined – hence shadow boxes, and bookshelves. Many pictures look better framed with a mat.

In music, moments of silence can give clarity to the next notes. It’s called “phrasing”.

Originally the editing of the penultimate scene from “Casablanca” (1942) went like this.
Captain Renaud: “Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects”.

Adding in some space made the moment immortal.

Captain Renaud: “Major Strasser has been shot…”
Rick stares at Renaud.
Renaud looks at Rick, and makes a sudden decision.
“Round up the usual suspects”.

Here’s a quote from Doctor Who:

“Oh, you’ve been eliminating yourself from history. You know you could be reconstructed by the hole you left.” Cyber Doctor, Nightmare in Silver.(Series 7, Ep.12)

The History of Interiors in architecture is the history of shape defining space, and space defining function. But that’s for another time.

Steps

Steps – shape and line

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