AIGA of Richmond, Virginia, presented a mind blowing lecture by Ellen Lupton that opened my eyes to thinking about design differently. I expected more information about typography since she is an expert, but I was inspired to incorporate these creative ideas into my designs.
Vision is a process
Ellen explained that vision is a process inside us that triggers our brains to do something. How we perceive words, colors and design can be manipulated through our bodies and senses and evoke an emotion or behavior. For example, most people will tilt their heads up or lean their bodies forward to look up when they hear a topless woman is on the 10th floor. Designers employ design to amaze, delight, and manipulate the eye and mind through images, words and color.
Another example of visual manipulation, was when Ellen asked us to visualize a guy running in purple tights and asked which way was he running? Most people would see him running left to right because that is the way we read English. Japanese who read right to left, would see him running to the left.
The most compelling visual Ellen presented was the shower scene from the black and white movie Psycho. You didn’t have to see the color red to know there was blood or that it was a murder scene with the music screeching. Music and color also communicate to our senses.
Ellen gave some practical examples of affordance. An affordance is often taken as a relation between an object or an environment and an organism, that affords the opportunity for that organism to perform an action. For example, the sound you hear when you put a file in the trash can on your desktop is an affordance. Ellen explained that the design must be with intent to control a behavior as in user experience in relation to website design. We viewed an example of affordance in design from an episode of Orange is the New Black. One of the prisoners made a lighter using what she had available out of a battery and aluminum foil. Simply creative.
Ellen ended her lecture with illustrated jokes and a fun personal story about a shark girdle. Now picture that.
Ellen is a curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in
New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore.
One of the first posters I designed in college (before computers) was a spoof on Jim Short’s Book of Running. The poster was similar to the cover of the running book with the same legs in motion drawn in pen and ink with a rainbow of colors behind them simulating running in heaven. The headline read, “You CAN take ’em with you!” As if the shoes were so great that you would keep running forever. They reached new heights in comfort and took you over life’s roughest roads.
After running a 10K for the first time, I reflected about the whole idea of running life’s roughest roads. Our trainer had us build our endurance weeks before by running hills. As in life– we have hills; getting through school, getting your first job, finding a spouse, giving birth. Once we get “over-the-hill,” life kind of coasts. I think you get a second wind once you’re over 50 and life feels like coasting. No more “getting” but giving it away and leaving stuff behind.
During the race, I laughed as I read the signs along the road. “Teresa will you marry me? If YES, keep running! Another said “Run Forest. Run!” In life we see signs that graphically tell us which direction to go like arrows that point us in the way we need to run. They are images like a wedding announcement or pregnancy test with a plus or minus sign or a For Sale sign in front your house. Words and letters communicate thoughts, evoke feelings and emotions, and behavior. Many of the signs encouraged me to keep running just to see what lay ahead, just as when I saw “SOLD” in front of our house, it made me want to see where my life would go.
Most of the road was bumpy with cobblestones and some holes. That’s when I had to look down and make sure I didn’t trip. In training, we were told to look straight ahead and anticipate what was ahead. Sometimes in life you can anticipate a bumpy road like when you hear about cut backs at work and know you better start looking for another job. Other times, you can’t see the hole when you get diagnosed with cancer. That’s when you get lifted up out of the hole with God’s strength. About mile 5, I was weary and wanting to walk then I heard a church group singing “Our God is an awesome God” I jumped up and gave them high fives while they cheered me on. I kept going with enthusiasm looking ahead and singing with them. This gave me a boost to keep running to mile 6.
As I looked ahead, there was a sea of people of all colors of the rainbow running for miles. Metaphorically, we’re all in this race together. We can share the road and lift each other up as we head to the finish. I heard about a teenage girl running the Shamrock Marathon last year with her friend who was quoted “Let’s finish this,” before she ran the last mile then collapsed and died at the finish line. We all finish this race but it’s how you run the journey that matters, with selfless determination, joy and faith.