Powerhouse Design Skills:
In the Design & Publishing Center we will build a complete course
in creative thinking and design for publishing. This is the beginning.
. . . What we will do is take a deliberate,
step-by-step series of analytical concepts and apply them to techniques that will
arm you with the tools you need to get quick, fresh ideas for publishing.
The Path to Success:
1. Refresh our understanding of the principles of design
2. Investigate subjective concept tools
3. Establish an analytical approach to creativity
4. Forging the concept
5. Self Critique
These are the steps we'll take over the months to come. Each is important,
and none can exist successfully without the other.
steps also happen to apply to any publication, no matter how produced or how delivered...
from newsletters to bus posters to trade show displays to post cards. If it's visual,
you can use these techniques to make it look fresh and inviting to the reader. You'll
also build a cohesive message and a dynamic story line. Even though the players may
change, the game remains the same.
... It needs
to be said (even if you already know) that the advent of computers and desktop publishing
has taken away one of the most valuable tools we once used to visualize and concept
materials for publications. No one uses a pencil any more; and that's the biggest
mistake to be made. Conceptualization needs to go quickly, and with as few barriers
as possible. The medium needs to become the least important element in the process
of thinking. The computer is a barrier. We're wrapped up in the intricacies of the
interface, the input device and the software and this stands in the way of lucid
thought. I have never met anyone who could manipulate fundamental concepts and ideas
on a computer. Keep pencil and paper handy at all times.
Do yourself a favor: go to the art or stationery store and buy yourself
a handful of #6 Venus drawing pencils. Sharpen them, but not real sharp. You'll notice
they don't have erasers. You won't need an eraser. As we move along, if you make
a mistake, or go in a direction that you don't like -- trash it and keep moving to
the next. As soon as you stop to make a correction, you're dead in the water. The
concept has become precious to you and you can't move.
Thumbnails. Repeat after me: Thumbnails. At the onset of any project, think about
how it will look by quickly scribbling out shapes into a very small space. It's always
easier and faster to draw simple shapes into a 3 x 4 inch space than it is into a
full page. Do not worry about elegant rendering. We're concerned about how big, how
dark and where on the page visual objects will appear. Not text. Not borders. Not
illustrations. These things all stand in the way of dynamics.
month's disk edition will include a series of thumbnail templates that you can print
and use to help organize this process, making it easier to use and understand.
Getting Started: Looking and seeing...
most important in creative thinking is not so much originating the ideas, but in
developing the ability to recognize powerful ideas when they happen. This is not
so much a technique as it is a frame of mind. We have to force our minds to interpret
the visual information, letting it move freely and quickly through our consciousness
as a flowing thread. Once we stop on a visual idea the thread stops, and we're stuck.
The trick is to let the process flow then go back and evaluate.
second most important skill is actually recognizing opportunity in the elements you're
given to work with. All projects begin with logical "givens" that must
be used or included. These elements represent opportunities. As we discover these
opportunities - and verbalize them - it becomes a very easy matter to apply the basic
principles of creative design -- and act on those opportunities.
now you're probably saying that Fred's lost his mind, and we're bogged down in all
this mental hocus-pocus and ... "WHAT'S THE POINT?"
me, and stick with me. It will all dawn on you later as the creative process unfolds.
Now, until next time...
Here's your assignment.
I want you to save all your mail. All of it. Now, pull out what
must be acted upon immediately, like bills and the like.
Put all the rest in a pile.
At the end of the month, methodically go through the pile QUICKLY and separate it
into two stacks. DO NOT READ THE COPY... this is a VISUAL exercise.
- Stack ONE will contain all the things that caught your attention,
and that you felt compelled to look at more carefully.
- Stack TWO will contain all the things that you did NOT like, or
that did not interest you and would have gone into the trash can.
What are your findings?
Now, ask yourself why.
What caught your attention -- and why? Still without actually reading
copy, ask what drew you into the piece -- and why. You can discount all those things
that have obvious reasons. What I want you to do is begin to actually "SEE"
what you're looking at. I want you to wonder what it is MECHANICALLY that has drawn
you into the piece.
the same respect, ask yourself why you did NOT like, or feel compelled to look further.
Not so much the subject of the piece of offending mail, but more importantly what
it was about the piece that gave you the signals -- what the signals are, and why
you reacted to them in the way that you did.
these reasons down. This helps you burn-in the reasons people read or don't read
take one or two (or more) pieces that really grabbed your attention and tack them
to the wall, and stand back six feet or so. Now ask yourself:
Why do I like it?
What specific visual tricks did they employ to get me to look?
What is it about the visual that got my attention?
... Now, take your #6 Venus pencil
and draw a small quick thumbnail of the piece, diagraming it in terms only of light
and dark, and the positioning on the page. Could you do it accurately? Try again.
Now move to the next.
by drawing thumbnails, see if you can reorganize the visual devices (quickly and
roughly) into a different layout that might have been as good. Do you like it? Try
Now, do the above for the ones you didn't like.
What I think you'll discover from this exercise (if you follow it to the end) is
that you've learned what it was that grabbed your attention, and now have the feeling
for applying it to the pieces that offended you.
You're now actually seeing, rather than looking.
For me this has become a way of life. I automatically, and quickly, go through the
process in my mind. I can instantly see dynamic work, or the lack of... I'm acutely
aware of opportunities taken -- and opportunities lost.
Try it. A whole new world will unfold for you.
Some other fun things to try...
Apply the same basic series of steps at the grocery store. Stand
back from the magazine rack, (or, say the cereal rack) and be aware of which covers
are sending you the most dynamic message. Don't read the copy -- get far enough back
so you can't really make out details or what the copy is actually saying. Which ones
come out and grab you? Why? Was it the type? Was it the background color or texture?
Was it the primary image? You're discovering visual dynamics.
the same series of techniques with your favorite magazine - only in this exercise
go very quickly through the pages. Establish a rhythm of page turning. When you're
aware of a pause, tare that page out, and keep going. (I read magazines with a razor
blade!) Now stand back and look at the ads and other pages you tore out. Start asking
In closing, do this:
your favorite design, illustration, brochure or magazine ad that you've recently
run across. Ask yourself: if you handed the artist a #6 and a sheet of paper, do
you think he could impress you as much NOW as he did before?
fun discovering that wonderful tool you have but seldom use - the connection between
your eyes and your brain. And until next time, keep this firmly entrenched in your
The human brain is still the most powerful computer of them all.
Next. . . "Visual Proof Reading"