100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design #53
In the second of our extracts from the new Laurence King book, 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, Steven Heller and Véronique Vienne look at 'shadow play'...
#53 Shadow play
One of graphic designers' most enduring obsessions is to try to escape from flat land. They would like to free images and text from the confines of the two-dimensional plane. Hungarian-born László Moholy-Nagy worked all his life to solve this vexing problem. Using photography and controlling light and shadows by means of lenses, mirrors and filters, he imparted a sense of depth but also movement to otherwise static graphic elements.
In 1929, for the cover of a brochure titled 14 Bauhausbücher (14 Bauhaus Books), Moholy-Nagy photographed metal type on a composing stick at various angles and collaged the prints together in such a way as to create a strange visual amalgam. Not only did the words pop up, they also defied the laws of perspective. Pairing letterforms with their distorted shadows, he realised, could transform the surface of paper into a window opening on an otherworldly realm.
Moholy-Nagy would have loved the work of American artist Ed Ruscha, whose monochromatic ‘word compositions' are often associated with an odd play of light and shadows. Inspired by the typographical environment of Los Angeles, his paintings are a cross between film title sequences and roadside advertisements. Mighty Topic, painted in 1990, is set in blocky capital letters, while its slightly fuzzy shadow appears on the wall behind in upper- and lower-case italic. In addition, it is projected at a steep angle, an optical absurdity. Yet, strangely enough, the image does not give the impression of being erroneous. On the contrary, it comes across as a faithful rendition of the kind of visual incongruities that give so much character to the southern California landscape, its billboards, motel signs and oversized gas station marquees.
In 2004, for a poster for the Châtelet Theatre in Paris announcing a production of Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, Rudi Meyer created a ghostly illusion involving type and shadows. A large cutout ‘T', seen in perspective, projects across the page a long forbidding shadow in the form of a cross. The angle of the ‘T' and that of the cross do not match, a detail one might not consciously notice yet which contributes to the eerie impression of the composition.
Le Fou poster by Rudi Meyer rudi-meyer.com, not included in 100 Ideas
Shadow play is often used in scenography, so it is not surprising that during his seven-year tenure designing posters for the Châtelet Meyer created many such graphic illusions. His poster for Le Fou, in which bold letters cast crazy shadows on the page, makes a passing reference to 14 Bauhausbücher, with some of the words arranged on what looks like a composing stick – as they are in the Moholy-Nagy topsy-turvy photograph. The overall impression is both bizarre and wonderful.
This essay is taken from 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, published by Laurence King; £19.95 and available from laurenceking.com. We will be posting one more extract from the book next week. The previous post, on The Big Book Look of the 1950s, is here.
CR for the iPad
Read in-depth features and analysis plus exclusive iPad-only content in the Creative Review iPad App. Longer, more in-depth features than we run on the blog, portfolios of great, full-screen images and hi-res video. If the blog is about news, comment and debate, the iPad is about inspiration, viewing and reading. As well as providing exclusive, iPad-only content, the app will also update with new content throughout each month. Try a free sample issue here
CR in Print
Thanks for visiting the CR website, but if you are not also reading CR in print you're missing out. Our April issue has a cover by Neville Brody and a fantastic ten-page feature on Fuse, Brody's publication that did so much to foster typographic experimentation in the 90s and beyond. We also have features on charity advertising and new Pentagram partner Marina Willer. Rick Poynor reviews the Electric Information Age and Adrian Shaughnessy meets the CEO of controversial crowdsourcing site 99designs. All this plus the most beautiful train tickets you ever saw and a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at Thunderbirds in our Monograph supplement
The best way to make sure you receive CR in print every month is to subscribe – you will also save money and receive our award-winning Monograph booklet every month. You can do so here.
..VERY refreshing to have a periodical devoted to our 'field'. Eagerly await each entry from your researchers' folders of material for you to include. Does any one else feel that there is a Gap in this area
of specialised subject reading..?
I love looking at the problems people solved within design throughout the ages. Very inspiring arrival well done!
With immagination and creativity all is possible! Yes, very inspiring.
where can i find the first 52 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design?
Having graduated from The Institute of Design (IIT), it is especially refreshing to briefly review some of the design principles in this article. Excellent.
This is old hat... it was and still is boxie design and lacks flair. This old type of design has
a very industrial look and feel (cold), lacking the human touch. Thank god design as moved on.
I love the optical illusions that designers have been able to create using shadows. It's a great technique to grab attention.
Loved the infographics!
It is very creative and inspiring to produce such illusion of three dimension graphics without modern software which does these things in seconds. These artists which were creating their designs in the past had to solve this problem in various ways. Bravo!
|How Fredrik Bond achieved an 'epic strut' for Moneysupermarket.com (62)|
|Delightful new ad from Ikea (7)|
|New type: Formist, Hoefler & Co, Studio Feed & more (6)|
|Ads of the Week (7)|
|CR February iPad edition: The Food issue (1)|
|Björk's Vulnicura album artwork|
|Artist INSA makes his latest animated gif... from space|
|Vital Arts transforms Royal London Children's Hospital|
|Designing for The Grand Budapest Hotel|
|Jean Jullien: Life Drawing, an interview|