rockpaperink

May 17, 2012

Commanding Design

Stop, Think, Go, Do!

Authors: Steven Heller, Mirko Ilic

We are conditioned to respond to the controlling missives we receive, and not inconsequentially, by the illustrative and typographic appearance of those missives. Take the everyday act of crossing the street: It is dictated by terse commands—stop, go, cross, don't cross. Alt! Whatever the language, the orders are always comprehensible in print. If not the specific words (berhenti means "stop" in Malaysia)—or the alphabet (Cyrillic or Chinese)—then the colors (like red for stop, yellow for wait, green for go), symbols (flat outstretched hands for stop), and sign shapes are often unmistakable indicators. There is a wide range of forbidden (verbotten), beware, and scores of iterations of never ever or never again messages presented to us in picture and word—some of them are official, others are ad hoc—found everywhere.

Fucking A is Suzan-Lori Park's contemporary reshaping of The Scarlet Letter—now the "A" stands for abortion, rather than adultery. Client: The Public Theater; Studio: Pentagram; Creative Director: Paula Scher; Designers: Paula Scher, Sean Carmody

Street signs are not the only graphic interventions that impact our behavioral consciousness and subconsciousness. Our lives are filled with typographic and pictorial decrees and warnings designed to either regiment, protect, or otherwise condition the everyday. So common (even inconsequential) are some, we often take them for granted—and might even ignore them entirely (who knows what post no bills actually means, or employees must wash hands doesn't apply to me). Other times they are so jarring (like the unambiguous word quarantine) we cannot skirt the implication, even if we tried. Short and lengthily worded commands, proclamations, testimonies, and directions have been essential to our hardwired behavior since signs and symbols were first scratched onto the Lascaux caves. "Watch Out for Wooly Mammoths!"

Using 12,000 Campbell's Soup cans, the designers spelled the word hunger. People were encouraged to remove a can from the display and donate it. The more people donated, the more the word and the problem of hunger, disappeared. The campaign has been running for three years and continues to grow in the number of displays being built. Client: Campbell's Soup Company; Agency: Leo Burnett Toronto; Creative Director: Judy John, Israel Diaz; Art Director: Anthony Chelvanathan; Copywriter: Steve Persico

The Ugly Mug campaign is about maintaining high standards, but taking an unpretentious approach to do so. To give the brand a feel that communicated both unpretentious and premium coffee, Y&L partnered with traditional letterpress and design company, Yee-Haw Industries. "We felt that the painstaking art of letterpress was key to creating a signature graphic tone," admit the Yee Haw folks, "first and foremost because letterpress is both unpretentious and hand-crafted. Ugly and beautiful." Client: Ugly Mug Coffee; Agency: Young & Laramore; Designer: Yee Haw Industries; Art director: Trevor Williams; Creative director: Charlie Hopper; Copywriter: Bryan Judkins; Photographers: Harold Lee Miller, Gary Sparks

Designing commands is not, however, the exclusive province of graphic designers. In fact, when words are used to influence behavior, the niceties of typographic design are often sacrificed for the brutish immediacy of pure, untutored expression. Of course, typography is essential in getting most messages across, and designers are responsible, at the very least, for designing the typefaces, if not also how they are used. It is unlikely that the word STOP would be typeset in a curlicue script—it just doesn't have the authority—but anyone, designer or not, can select a slab serif or bold gothic face to make the word (or statement) "scream."

Arts In Area Development is a collaboration between artists and area developers. Together they are looking for a way to provide a place for art in areas yet to be developed. Autobahn made a small but congenial publication, containing the answers to these questions and a presentation of the realized projects. The image concept of this booklet is inspired by the series Landscapes by photographer Levi van Veluw. In consultation with Levi, Autobahn has adopted this visual language to create a typographical cover image. Client: Treaty of Utrecht; Studio: Audobahn; Photographer: Marieke Wijntjes

It is a fairly safe bet that if you want someone to take a message seriously, then you must (emphasis on must) draw the letters big and bold or select a typeface with those same characteristics. It doesn't take a master of fine arts to do it. But a master of letterforms will do it better than someone who is merely selecting random alphabets—or so we masters of letterforms want to believe. When manipulating (or influencing) behavior of any kind through print, on signs or LED screens, the words carry the "song," but type and image are the "melody." These design elements are hooks that make good lyrics into great music. This metaphor is apt, since what is music but a means of altering behavior and triggering emotion?

This is a flyer for an installation about interactive documentaries produced on recycled wood the designer found in the environment. Client: IDFA, Docs Online; Studio: EGBG, Martijn Engelbregt

Design is symphonical, quietly melodical, romantically poetical, and let's not forget rousingly oratorical. Type and image, composition and arrangement, color and hue—choices that designers make all the time—can make a huge difference in how we receive the messages and, ultimately, take those persistent orders from others.

The hypnotic patterning of this Farsi calligraphy in its chaotic and unraveled state beckons the viewer to decipher and comprehend. Client: Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art; Studio: Amirbeik Studio; Art director, designer: Amirhossein Ghoochibeik

All these images and hundreds more can be seen in Stop, Think, Go, Do: How Typography and Graphic Design Influence Behavior, by Mirko Ilic and Steven Heller.


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