Designing an Advertisment
The last thing we had talked about in the previous segment was how designing happens. Where do you start when you're beginning with a project and what are the kinds of phases or stages that a designer goes through? And as I said before, it's a little bit different really for every designer. But there is more or less a kind of a typical process for working. And so we're gonna track that process through a couple of projects right now. And I thought we'd start off a little bit simply. Simple in terms of the kind of thing it is, a very, very focused communication, that is, an advertisement that is essentially image-based and that uses really only a minimum of typographies. So we can look not only at the creative process from beginning to end, but also see what kind of decision making is involved for this kind of a communication with a very, very simple image material, some sort of basic color ideas and integrating a small amount of type. So I chose an ad, it was developed for New York Bike...
Expo. It's for a group of Bike New York that advocates for bicycling for green purposes, for exercise, for community development, and the expo runs annually. So the client presented basically the idea that this ad was to be preliminary promotion, not a full-on campaign, and that they were going to initially use it in a print environment. They had a particular budget set aside already for half-page advertisements in magazines, which began to dictate, even from the outset, how I was going to think what would be happening there. Because the format is somewhat wide and not so deep, which could pose some problems. But it was important for me to understand that it was not going to be a flexible format, something that would be changing from vertical to horizontal to square on a regular basis. And beyond that, they were really interested in finding a unique language that was going to be very compelling, especially in a busy environment. Because they did have some thought that they might extend the ad to subway posters within the subway cars in New York, which are, as you might imagine, in an incredibly hectic environment where there a lot of other competing ads and also a lot of motion activity, people moving around, bringing things in, stopping, starting, and so on. So the graphical presence of the imagery and the color really had to establish this kind of powerfully loud but simple kind of space. Sort of unsympathetic kind of environment. And so here we go. So as I noted last segment, the first thing that I started off with is research, and most designers do. So I had to find out. I know what a bicycle is; I have ridden one before. Not for a long time, but really what is it about an expo? So I searched on the interwebs for first off, information, images, any kind of campaign information or photos of the actual event itself. And, of course, I found hundreds of thousands of things. So it was interesting to note what kind of a color and a type idea had been. And there's some image usage. But it is a very, very large event that takes place in a number of different venues. There are different kinds of cycling events. There are trade show components to it and so on. I was also just interested in bicycling in general, mostly to get a sense of kind of shapes, postures, certain kinds of dress. What do people wear when they're biking in different kinds of contexts? And that might give me some information about how I would think about what kinds of photographs and subjects in those photographs might I use? But then I was also interested in the idea of sporting on a more general level. So I looked up extreme sports, X Games, other kinds of biking events, other kinds of sporting events, including sailing. This is some research about a sailing event called the Kieler Woche in Germany. And also to see not only what kinds of visual approaches attend those events or what people associate in terms of color, in terms of graphical shape and form and typography because of your experience with those things, but also what's the history of that kind of communicating. So I also looked at, of course, the Tour de France, which is another kind of large bicycling event, very, very close in relationship to that current one. And then the Olympics, which is the granddaddy and mommy of all possible sporting events combined, which has a very, very long and rich design history in terms of its communications, posters, and graphic programs and so on. So that really was just sort of fodder to get started. And so I began to notice certain kinds of things, some very, very strong color feelings, typically kind of analogous in relationship, combinations of colors that are very close to each other on the color wheel; red, orange, yellow; blue, green, blue-green; green, blue, violet. As well as very, very bold shapes, singular kinds of graphical forms. Sometimes in figures doing the sport kind of in situ and at other times kind of removed from that context in order to create greater focus. And so I began sketching. And so my sketching in this case bounced back and forth between hand-generated images, which you'll see shortly, and graphical digital things. So I began to find and make and alter images of bicycle parts, because I thought those might be graphically appealing because they're made up of lines and dots and that could likely produce a very, very bold and simple statement potentially. And the option, of course, or two of the options were are they gonna be very highly reduced, sort of iconic kinds of images or are they gonna be naturalistic photographs, and what would I get from either of those. So these are some more of the kinds of images that I was researching and altering at the same time as I was sketching; is it a bunch of dots? For some reason, the photography kept jumping into my head. There is something, of course, really powerfully clear and direct and understandable about an image that represents something that you can see. It leaves little to the imagination, which in an advertising context is kind of useful because people don't have to think too long about what it is and it doesn't take them long to understand it. But with a very literal image, you run the risk of losing any sort of specificity in the messaging, that all photographs of real objects or figures riding bicycles look essentially the same no matter who the photographer is unless the photographer is really imposing a very particular kind of stylistic effect that they're shooting from an extremely low angle or the lighting is skewed away from natural or they're focusing in a very edited way in a very tight shot. They're emphasizing certain kinds of details or negative shapes and so on. But the photography still seemed very, very appealing. And especially because people don't wanna look at ads usually. You're trying to grab them while they're flipping through things, through a magazine or a newspaper, trying to get to the content that they really wanna look at and the ads are in their way. Or in the case of the possibility of the ad showing up in a public environment, there's so much competing information that it really had to be something that you could understand pretty quickly. I'm just gonna go back. In looking at the riders, I noticed that there was-- the shapes produced a lot of really, really interesting contouring, a lot of dynamic angles that could be useful in a small space to create movement and tension and contrast. But the vast majority of the form is essentially a kind of a vertical. And thinking back to that, I was really limited already by a horizontal format. I had to think about what's really visible in a tight letterbox situation. And so I was more or less kind of scanning up and down like where's the action here? What do I get and what can I understand from how little is revealed in that kind of a crop? So I thought that rather than something vertical, that may be something horizontal would be useful. Whether it was some kind of iconic illustration, some very simplified graphical form or something photographic that would be cropped along that way. The bicycle turned to its side created a natural horizontal but all by itself, not necessarily all that interesting. And it is relatively complicated. Most of the fun action is down here, and you lose a sense of the rider from focusing too low. And if you crop somewhat in the middle where you can get some rider and some wheels, you lose the hands, so you get a floaty, disconnected casual quality, and that seemed not quite the right energy for what I was after. And then I was also thinking still about this complicated environment. But I went through some very, very rapid sketches out of small format, just thumbnails to see do I want something that's a side view and is that very relaxed in its feeling because of its horizontality, which can often happen, that horizontal kinds of images become or perceived as being more restful, more drawn out, slower in a kind of a sense if you're thinking about how that things is moving through space. It takes up a lot of room from left to right. I want something that was going to cut that horizontal and create a moment of a jarring energy. So I started to gravitate towards the vertical. But I was also thinking about do I want a couple of riders? That way if I have to crop one of the image elements in a really extreme way for scale impact, for boldness, would I also then use a secondary rider as part of that setup where I could also then introduce a sense of deep space or perspective. By organizing the images or imagining that I would select images of riders not head-on, but at three-quarter angle and then by changing their sizes, I imagined that I could achieve a very, very rapid and dynamic kind of movement, sort of an explosive energy forward. But I was still bothered by the fact that there are two things to look at and not one. And that if you're standing, if you're flipping through, you've gotta concentrate on still generally much smaller kinds of elements. And recognizably of smaller elements tends to be a little more challenging than larger, simpler kinds of elements. So I did actually begin to gravitate towards a head-on view. And I wanted it to be a really dynamic crop where there was a lot of potential for interesting spacial breaks in the composition left to right. But what was left, what was revealed really contained all of the essential information that would allow a viewer to identify this image as bicycle rider. And so the action really is in that area, it's the sense of the figure balanced or poised over those handlebars. And the weight, the tension of bearing down, the contrapposto or shifted gesture of the legs in pedaling, which creates a new kind of up and down motion. And then the sense of the frame and at least a hint of the wheel could get in there. So what seems initially like a very spare amount of information turned out to be incredibly rich and comprehensive and that was useful. Because now I could think about what kind of medium do I want to use to portray this subject matter? How do I want to depict it? Do I want it to be photographic? Do I want it to be something illustrative? So I began looking at photographs. First, given that photographs are so immediately recognizable, photographs are also often perceived or interpreted as being contemporary as opposed to illustration. It's less personal. It's more objective or neutral. It's more about the subject overall and not so much about the specific act of making that image. So you really concentrate on the content and not how beautiful the art is, even though the photographs are quite lovely, especially the one on the right, which is lit very dramatically. And that kind of lighting against this silhouetted, dark background brought an intensity that seemed to speak to me a little bit about not just the fact of bicycling, but about the energy of the environment and that would be New York City. So it's an urban environment, of course. It's very harsh; there's a lot of movement. But there's a lot of strength involved. And so the choice of high contrast image, I thought, could be somewhat useful. As opposed to this one, which was another contender, among others, where there is something that's intrinsically urban and identifiably New York-ish about this image. First, of course, the background, I think, reads, of course I'm speaking with a New York bias here, but it reads because of the scale of building elements and, of course, the taxi, that it has to be that particular city and not another one. The fact of a person riding to work in a suit is something that's a very common scene to witness in the morning in New York. And I still was getting the same kind of attitude. But the lighting, of course, was not all that interesting. It's a relatively washed out and deadpan neutral, very kind of generic in its quality. So it didn't have the same kind of compelling draw that the other did. So I started to look at that one first. That was the initial crop. And I stuck it in the middle just to get a sense of what was happening and that was dull. So here's a situation where symmetry is not your friend. So what happens usually is that when you put something in the middle is that you get spaces and very often shapes that are identical on either side. So the compositional quality of that object in that space and how it relates to it is relatively static. It's not going anywhere in particular. And since the shapes on either side are also the same, there's not really much comparing for the eye to do. You see those shapes together, you realize that they're the same, then you're like (snoring) okay, I move on now. And plus at this size it didn't really seem all that dramatic. And what I was really after was something like this where that information was in your face. So I re-cropped it within the frame to get a little bit more drama where even though the image of the central axis of the bike's frame is diving the format equally, that is symmetrically left to right, is that now because I've pulled in so close to elements that are, in fact, different and enlarged them, this particular curve and this particular dot-like shape against the horizontal, against dark as well as light areas that are now operating in much more of a clear up and down rhythm from left to right as you go, became much more emphatic. So I was thinking about it and then I became annoyed. Because at the end of that whole process what I was really looking at was a professional biker and not something that really related as clearly as I thought it could to the idea of bicycling in New York City. So I went back to the other image. I cropped it the same way first. And before I began moving it around, because I knew I was going to, I had already done that test. I decided that the information is really here. And this, it's blurry, it's softens the whole graphical presence of the field. It confuses the contours of the figure so they don't pop out within the space. And even though the blur introduces an interesting spacial depth, the illusion of depth, it seemed kind of confusing, so I removed it. Very often I tend to work with images that have been cut out of their surrounding environment, which is also called silhouetting. Simply because it creates a much greater focus on the actual contour of the subject matter. And by liberating the subject from its environment, it means that other things can go behind there and you're really freer to position it or crop it in different ways or alter it because now it's no longer connected to reality and you're not gonna be affecting anything that's around it. So I usually crop to something that's very, very vivid as a color just so I can really see clearly how simple or complex the contours are. I can really look at where the negative spaces are intruding into particular areas and what's the shaping of that. There's a strong diagonal of upward motion from lower left to right that I began to see. I re-cropped it following my thoughts from the previous image in order to gain that tension. And in doing that, created very, very radically different kinds of interval of spacial breaks. That is a kind of a pushing and pulling and opening and compressing of these major intervals or these axis of lighter and darker shapes across where almost every single measurement that you could take from left to right is different from all of the other ones around it. When intervals or proportions become very different you get a sense of movement, rhythm. Sometimes it's a progression. It's going one way really fast or it's zooming in and then stopping or it might be something that alternates or jumps a little bit. But that kind of movement or energy is something that influences an audience's perception of the subject matter. Even without the benefit of any other graphical material, the viewer's likely to perceive not only because of the kind of the close confrontational cropping of the image but also because of that rhythmic movement that difference in interval, that the biker is in motion and that it's kind of a frenzied motion. There's something frenetic going on. That kind of communication happens under the radar. It's not something that people understand or recognize intellectually. It's something that their brains understand and then they internalize afterwards. So I further exaggerated that. Because still the up and down motion was a little bit, conflicted a little bit too much with the upper and lower edges of the format. In this compressed space-- I'll go back again. All of this up and down motion in these verticals is slamming into the edges of the format. And by giving a slight rotation as well as by actually distorting the image, by skewing it with software, I was able to create a little bit more of a directionality as well as exaggerate this kind of rhythmic motion across the frame of the format, and to start to create this kind of emphasis from left to right. So when we read elements as being weaker in presence on the right, no on the left and gaining in presence, becoming larger in scale or bolder in mass and actually tilting from left to right, we get a sense of forward motion and rapid forward motion, depending on how the intervals are being adjusted. So then I thought well, what goes in there? Because it's a dynamic figure and there's the possibility of all this movement going on. Clearly it's a person in a suit riding a bike, but what's really New York-y about it? So the first thing I did is I took some stock images of New York buildings and thought about well, if I introduce a texture in the background, that is, the pattern of windows and building grids and so on that that could be interesting and it would be a contrast visually to the overall massive presence of the figure. And it could also potentially be communicative. In that set I also removed the color from the biker and I did that because the color was uncontrolled. It was the color that I was left with that didn't really have or express any kind of specific relationship between the coloration of the skin and the coloration of the suit. There wasn't really an idea there in terms of color. And color itself is an idea. So I removed the color, and that makes the image somewhat more journalistic or objective in nature and it also frees the designer up to mess with the color. Once the true color or the natural color of an image disappears is that you no longer have to be concerned about well the figure is not really the right color compared to these objects in the background and so on. Or the hands are too-- there's the question of ethnicity. New York is very diverse, as many cities are. And the coloration of the hands as being clearly Caucasian was something that was bothering me. So by removing the color, even though the tonal value of the hands is still relatively light comparatively, there is some leeway for interpretation. But the background seemed a little bit too busy and distracting, again, trying to go for something that was very distilled, very bold, and very immediate in cognition and perception. So then I thought well what about some kind of abstraction of architecture. So I built this scape of graphical elements, lines and planer forms that operating together could be interpreted as city, simply because of the geometry involved. And they had an interesting effect. There was something quite urban about it, which I would then interpret in the context of the suit-wearing rider, as being New York-ish. There's a slightly art deco quality to the quality of that drawing even though that wasn't really intentional, which speaks to the stylistic period of the 1920s and '30s, which is often associated with New York because of the heyday of jazz and architecture at that time, the Chrysler Building and so on, that kind of streamlined visual form. But still a little bit complicated. I thought about using something that was actually very, very soft going back to the blurred idea and drawing from one of those early sketches the sense of the perspective from background or from far to near by altering a photograph of street traffic lights, changing the contrast, blurring them, warping them to create a little bit more forward motion, this kind of emphasis into the foreground. And that seemed kind of interesting. But at the end of the day I was not really so thrilled with that, so I took that out. So I'm looking at these things. I tried a couple of other things. And this is where this iteration in the process comes back is that I'm trying to go forward but I really have to take stock of what I've looked at previously and see what is it that really was drawing me to those kinds of possibilities. And some of it was the texture and some of it was the bold graphic form and some of it was the perspective movement. And I'm thinking that the thread that I see showing up between all of those things is the diagonal. There's a diagonal axis. And the diagonal's highly pronounced in the image. Not only because I rotated it and because the focal points of brightness or contrast are zigzagging along, but there's also this upward movement from a weight at the lower edge of the format to something that shoots up so the eye is directed along this axis to this crook in the knee to the other knee to this point where there's a lot of visual activity and then off to another point where the form leaves the format. So there's a kind of a direct diagonal line and there are all kinds of interesting diagonals in there so I decided to isolate some and define some. And in a really spontaneous way, I just threw some graphic shapes down to play off of those diagonals. I chose these planer forms because they were quite simple. They broke the space in a dynamic way. And they could essentially, potentially overlap the figure depending on what might eventually happen with color. And then I overlaid another set and I started to look also at what was happening in terms of these overlays. I didn't really pick the colors for any reason in particular other than they contrasted each other and when I was changing the layers and moving them around I could just see clearly where these kinds of interesting joints would show up, like where the edge of one plane appeared to overlap a portion of the photo and where that colored area of that plane continued and then got disturbed again, just to see what that was. And then I started to mess with that composition a little bit and I started to refine. It seemed useful, so why beat around the bush? So after moving around the various layers a little bit I defined what I thought were or what I felt were very, very decisive, very specific kinds of overlap situations between the two layers of plains, all of these angles intersecting, and the angles and forms within the figure. So I began to look at color. I was drawn to these vivid colors initially just because I had been working with them and there's something edgy and jarring about it. And whether it's in a newspaper or a magazine, which is essentially gray type expanse or other photos, it would be likely to pop out. The graphic forms, even though they're all very, very dynamic and relatively complex, are also essentially bold, simple expanses of nothing really with color information. And by adjusting the value relationships between what appears to be foreground and background, I could minimize the actual sense of layered break and actually pull those layers together to create a simpler planer experience. So I started messing around with these colors. I went to the green-blue because that spoke to a certain degree, the heritage of the event from previous years, as you saw in some of the research that I looked at. I began to go into the opposite direction pulling from some Olympic posters and also Tour de France advertising, which focused mostly on the red, orange, yellow situation. And that also seemed fine. I'm really the worst person to ask about color. I shouldn't really say that. Because for me color is so subjective. And what I'm really interested in is once I find an optical relationship that gets a certain intended energy across, whether it happens to be blue or green based or yellow based or orange based is really, like I could like these all and be okay. So I just kept playing. I began to notice that depending on how I was moving the layers I would get different kinds of contrasting situations. Where in this case, for example, the background breaks become a little bit less pronounced. And the figure actually jumped out a little bit more. And the exaggeration of light/dark value within the figure relative to those backgrounds became even more pronounced, which I thought was a good thing. Just for fun and just to test it out I flipped the whole color relationship into more of a primary situation. As you can see here, not all tests work out and that's why you test things is to find out what is effective and what is not effective. Because you can't really envision everything that could be in your head. Our brains don't work that way. Everything looks good in your head until you put it on paper or you see it, yes?
Would you test these with colleagues or something, ever mark it up?
Yes, in this case I was working independently. And so the ultimate test would be in front of the client. The client would test it for me. But I'm typically the kind of designer that likes to become very, very comfortable and convinced by the decision that I'm making. So it's through all of this comparison, 20, 50, 100 variations of color interactivity that I can begin to make comparisons and thereby see well, what yields certain kinds of effects and how are those effects different than these other kinds of effects that are yielded by other variations in the color. Which ones give me greater emphasis on the figure, which ones confuse the figure, which ones are not appealing in a color sense or seem too complex, and this was one of those that did all three. The spacial breaks became so complicated, the color became so all over the place, essentially primary and variance, that there was no real true color idea. And the figure began to get obscured. But there was something interesting about that. In obscuring the figure in some places, still other elements of the figure began to pop out. And I thought well, does the figure actually have to be behind all of the elements? And so I began to selectively remove some of the upper layers of color by selecting just certain components of the black and white gray scale image and allowing them to pop through the color, whereas in other cases they would be overlaid. And I could also change the density of the color or the opacity of it in certain areas. So the color in this case begins a little bit bolder and is really obstructing the figure here, but then fades out. Here the hand leaps in front of this graphical boundary, as this one does, cuts in front of that division rather than being overlaid or stuck behind it. So the figure became much more dimensional. Its tonality, again, became much more pronounced. And I had also then isolated essentially this analogous relationship. The intense vivid yellow/green that was created naturally between its interaction with that green and a cooler blue, or rather a warmer blue that is a blue that's not quite so purple-y but one that's a little bit towards the green, a little bit more analogous. And then I decided to interact with some type. So I really just chose a face because I thought I would like that one. Usually I look at a few faces, and you'll see me do that again in a bit. But because of all this diagonally, which has a kind of linear quality, and the line elements and because everything is essentially planes, I thought how do I cut into that environment sharply enough? I guess something that's very round or extended in a typeface, the energy is a little bit diminished and it may interact with more things. I might have less control over where to put it because of how far the strokes are separated by each other within the characters. So the very, very condensed sans serif was very, very clean. It was very sharp, and it spoke to some of the graphic language in the image itself. I didn't really think of that, so I just sort of plopped it in there. And then I started to mess with things. So I was thinking about this perspective space. And does all the type have to be the same size in order to be read as a continuous phrase? And no, of course it doesn't. And by maintaining a strong relationship of alignment to the cap lines of the text, I can enforce their relationship to each other and also enhance the directional movement or the speed of reading from one end to the other by emphasizing elements of the text that are important in terms of meaning and then stepping backwards in scale into space. So interestingly, the perspective of the text goes in the opposite direction of the perspective that's suggested by the image, so you get this cross-tension. Still very bold and simple, but now much more detailed element. I looked at making it small. Sometimes type being smaller than you expect in an environment where it's not really yelling at you but it allows the image to get out there and do its work. And once it's drawn the reader in, just sort of quietly speak the information. It could be very, very effective. So when I did that, I separated bike expo, NYC, and the year. I noticed that there was a lot of space. The two things seemed disconnected from each other. So type is made up of other things than letters and numbers and words. It's also made up of punctuation, and one of those is the slash. So the slash was an interesting way of creating some visual connectivity between the two groupings of the text and at the same time picking up on the diagonal in the image. I tested that theory out again the perspective type idea, moving in the opposite direction, just to see, because sometimes you think you know something and you don't until you see it. But I ultimately went back to the small to large relationship so that the scale of the type supported directly the same kind of relationship of scale or distance in the perspective. I used a mid-line to still create that horizontal connectivity between the text elements. But then I thought well, do the type elements actually have to stay on the same baseline or hang from the same cap line in order to be a unit? And what happens if they jog up and down? The connective tissue there, which is the horizontal, was also the slashes again, which creates this connective small rhythm on top of the large massive elements in the foreground. And so then it came time for execution, which was really simply testing the color breaks in terms of the ink mix formula as they would appear in print and then introducing just two pieces of information. Both the client and I were of the mind that as little information as possible that would be useful would be more effective so that the flavor, the energy, the engaging quality of the image would be the most pronounced, would be the driving force in drawing attention and in communicating. But there are some things that are important for people to know. That would be the dates and where to go to find out information about it. And that's what it looked like in context. So it's interesting that even here in the context of another image which has some bold color, is that it really stood out against the grayness of the page. And most of the media body, again, was in editorial. Yes?
I have a question. On the first sketches you have two shapes, the shape of the ad and a square on the side. What was that square for?
So that extra square-- I can even zoom back.
It's like a lot.
It's fine because we're gonna jump backward. The reason that that square is there in the sketch is because I was aware-- these in particular. I was aware of the proportion of the half-page magazine format that they had already bought. I imagined, based on our conversations, that they might be buying other formats, in particular, whether in other magazines or a tighter format that is a third of a page as a possibility in some particular magazine, depending on what the price of that magazine's ads were. And also thinking about the potential for this to extend into the subway poster format, which is very narrow or very shallow rather, and very wide. I was thinking about that space in advance so that I could consider or accommodate that space and by being able to bring graphical material into it. So even though I did most of the refining within that specific format that we saw later, I had to be thinking about, well, if there is all this extra space, how far do I have to go out with stuff and how do I track that energy out in order to get it so that that space doesn't feel like an empty nothing, that it actually feels integrated and part of that composition, part of that experience overall. So theoretically, had this gone to, or rather when this went to subway and the format is really out here, yes I could adjust the whole grouping a little bit, but it'd also give me the opportunity to add very rapidly, just by extending some of these planes and then taking a chunk and dropping it all the way over on the right-hand side, a way of completely involving that space without having to do very much. So it did sort of become its own little system. It solved the problem in advance. And really this typographic configuration is also flexible because the intervals can be exaggerated, even the scale can be changed a tiny bit to pull that information out. So there's always a lot of problem solving that goes on. And sometimes you're not aware of what's gonna happen to something down the road, but whenever it's possible and whenever that happens that you know, okay, there's gonna be this other version of it or it's gonna be used in a different place, that's always helpful to know because you can start thinking about that in advance, and does that impose any restrictions on the way that you are considering what's gonna happen in that environment.