Monday, 19 April 2010

What is a Line? (OUGD104)

Based on initial images collected for the project relating to lines forming connection and boundaries, I began to construct visual ideas in relation to the game of darts:

Darts Ideas

I felt that ideas relating to dart board boundaries and point values were strong. Particularly in relation to the idea of teaching novices the game of darts. The bottom right idea with the dart boards shape being conceptually communicated through things such as cheese and pizza appealed to me also due to it's potential for a younger audience. However, I decided to move away from darts as although ideas had potential, I felt they were too direct and could be exhausted easily.

I moved into exploring countries boundaries - particularly the UK for the sake of it being the country I am in. I looked at a 4 dimensional, progressive way of expressing shape and clarity of the UK through its border/boundary:

What I liked most about this was pushing the boundaries of recognition. It's interesting to think about what point the country stops being the UK and just a shape. It could be argued as soon as it changes as the exact shape of Britain is lost. But it may also be argued it is still recognisable towards the most prominent abstract representations of the nation due to general shape. I thought that the idea could help to represent the flow of conservatism to liberalism respectively. However, the images seemed to work better as a set as if you pull one out it looses it's clarity further as it has nothing to be compared to.

The following image was produced on Illustrator:

Working over a map to form the countries of europe, it becomes clear that countries are much more recognisable as a set when placed together, even if their shape is distorted. The design becomes universal and international.

I looked at other alternative way in communicating a country through it's shape - again using the UK as an easily recognisable example:

These UK shapes were formed using the aid of a map displaying the major towns and cities across the UK.

CONCEPT - Countries are formed economically and sociologically by the settlements within them. These maps are a visual conceptualisation of this. This way the settlements within the country literally form the shape of the country just as they form it sociologically and economically. Settlement 'connect' to do this to form a country with no physical boundaries.

The top left idea appealed most to me due to the centralisation of the capital city (London) being the focal point of connection fitting the concept aptly. Although the top right idea forms a more legitimate, recognisable form of the UK, I felt that the top left fitted the concept more comfortably. Bottom right is barely legible as a form and bottom left doesn't work conceptually as it connects to the border itself dismissing the concept of settlement connection.

The following image was produced on Illustrator:

Much like previous idea, it deals with connection. However in this case it relates to major airports across the UK. It sports a surprising legitimate shape of the UK when the lines work with the country's border. Although due to the specific relation to air travel it seemed like an idea that would have to take this into consideration a lot more with the danger of it overtaking the original concept of national connection.

Here is the top left idea from the previous design sheet in digital format done on Adobe Illustrator:

British Connection

Working digitally with this idea sprung it to life more. In crits people recognised it much more as the UK itself. Colours of the lines are relevant as they relate to the colours of the national flag. This fits with the concept of national connection between settlements 'forming' the nation itself. However, it was raised as to whether this could work with other countries due to the fact that it was established earlier that countries shapes become far clearer when they are connected with other countries on a map.

Here are just some other countries in this format standing alone:

Irish Connection

Dutch Connection

Luxembourg Connection

Obviously, to almost all eyes these countries would be unrecognisable and just look like firework graphics. However, when placed together...

... A much clearer idea of a map begins to form resulting in a much more convincing information graphic. In this case, Western Europe. Although the blue background is representational of the ocean it didn't seem to give the impression of clarity I felt I could be getting. So when finishing Europe entirely it changed to black:

National European Connection

The reason I chose black was that the majority of colours on the graphic map's lines are of lighter tonal value and therefore react with the black visually pushing them out the image. The result on screen is very successful in my opinion. However, after printing the image, it is much less clear than on screen therefore making the graphic lose its clarity and definition which ultimately, and disappointingly, undermines the concept.

The simple resolution would be to use thicker lines in the image. However, financial issues prevented this from being printed.

Experimenting with another way to shape Europe, I focussed on the night lights of Europe visible from space:

Europe Night Lights Development

By using the trace tool on Illustrator set to register an image in different definitions, different effects were gained offering very different interpretations of the continent of Europe investigating an alternative way of forming the continent without the explicit use of physical boundaries and borders. However, Due to the unusual shape of the original image which occurred due to the curvature of the earth, the top half was difficult to manipulate which is why the UK looks squashed. Aside from this deformation, the images have the potential to be worked into further and perhaps even to construct a new concept. Perhaps about light pollution?

Wanting to move the project further, in order to develop it conceptually, I drew out these conceptually illustrative ideas which all relate to food. The logic behind this is the notion of 'delicacy' which is something that is consistent with different nationalities. Each idea has a few words to help explain it alongside it:

In relation to working with the original question of what a line is in relation to boundaries and borders, some ideas become a lot more representational of countries borders and boundaries defining a nationality to clarify recognition within an idea through the use of flags. This happens particularly in the 'Salt/Pepper, UK/France (respectively)' idea, The 'Eastern Bloc Burger' idea and the 'EU Soup' idea as there is no visual reference to countries boundaries although it is still clear that the ideas are about connection through borders and boundaries. Each idea has it's own potential to develop and flourish. Although the theme of food can come across as somewhat irrelevant, it is this very irrelevance that makes the concepts suggested much more amusing to the viewer. This is a tactic that I have taken from Christoph Niemann who's work has influenced this project's development.

My preferred ideas were the two that relate to Russia, Communism and the Eastern Bloc ('Eastern Bloc Burger' and 'Eastern Bloc Steak'). I therefore took these forward:

This design sheet works mostly alongside the notion of 'Eastern Bloc'. The concept from the Russia/Eastern Bloc designs from the previous design sheet was carried forward. Which was:

Although Russia is a capitalist state nowadays, it still likes to bully former Soviet and Eastern bloc states, almost as a reminder of the power the Soviet Union had over them.

Particular incidents which sparked this concept were the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia and an incident last year where Russia abruptly blocked gas supplies to the Ukraine. News reports of these incidents can be found on my Design Context blog. Also from my own experiences of my Polish heritage, I know that the Poles have always had rocky relations with the Russians because of their Soviet history and the control the Soviet Union had over Poland.


The Rubix Cube derives its origin from Eastern Europe - specifically Hungary. This is fitting for the Eastern Bloc theme. Also, the fact that the game involves a high level of control from the person playing it makes it a fitting conceptual metaphor for the control Russia likes to suggest upon its old 'comrade' states. The difficulty in this idea came with getting the notion of Eastern Bloc onto the cube/block itself. For the cube based on current countries in the old Eastern Bloc/Soviet area of Europe, using their flags, there are more squares than flags needed. The repetition of flags held the idea back and - in my eyes - seemed messy and lazy. It just prevented it from working as well as it possibly could do.


I considered Tetris to be an appropriate theme to work with. This works especially well due to the fact that it was invented in the time of Soviet Russia and intwines with the Eastern Bloc concept very aptly to work as a visual conceptual metaphor. Much like the Rubix cube idea, it is a game which implies the notion of control. So essentially, the boundary of the old Eastern Bloc is literally formed by blocks in a Tetris grid. The sheet commnunicates the simple translation from old Eastern Bloc states to the countries of the present which used to be either Eastern Bloc or Soviet. This way an abstract shape could be formed to fit into a Tetris grid. Ideally, I do feel that I could have experimented more with how the countries could be distinguished on the Tetris grid by the blocks. But nevertheless, I feel that the concept is pretty strong.

With the idea on paper, I digitised a section of the developing old Eastern Bloc Tetris wall using the countries of Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia in order to test out background and line combinations:

A black background with black block outlines works the best for me. For the same principle as the 'European Connection' design due to the tonal values of the colours fighting with the black in order to make the colours appear visually more striking. With this decided, I took some time to produce some finalised compositional ideas for this piece:

Compositionally, I wanted the piece to be predominantly image led. Although this is true for each image it doesn't work with all of them. Top left is fighting between the Tetris grid and the Russian flag. There is also too much text. This is much the same for the top right idea. Although the flag is of a more appropriate size, the text seems scruffy and out of place compositionally. What was being said needed to be condensed so that the concept could be suggested by the text and controlled by the image as opposed to the text simply saying what is happening. Shortening it to 'Soviet Tendencies' worked much better. As did tracking the type which spreads the design more. Especially moving the Russian flag next to the text makes it clear who is expressing the particular tendencies. The type is a Russian Cyrillic based typeface. This is self-explanatorily apt. However, one change was made to make it clearly a Tetris-based metaphor. A box to show that the game is being played. A simple but very necessary change to induce clarity. This is the change in the bottom right idea which I chose as my final. Here it is:

Soviet Tendencies

In order to further enhance the clarity of concept to the design, there is a Tetris piece coming down so that it is clearly a game of Tetris. This is also a hint on Leninist Communist design. Particularly a piece by El Lissitzky which can be found on my DC blog involving the red wedge or triangle which was a strong Soviet communist symbol of power. So I basically used the only Tetris piece with three protruding blocks and coloured it red. This works as a hint on the red communist triangle/wedge penetrating the capitalists as a symbol of strength.

The piece is in A2 format. This is what I like least about the design as after careful consideration of how it could be improved, the format could run with the narrow composition more. Form should follow function. However, as the Bauhaus rule of form following function is key to the leftist, socialist principles of the Bauhaus, it could be argued that this principle is not followed as a response to the message of the piece which is an attack on communist ideals that are themselves, very leftist and socialist.

I also spelt 'tendencies' wrong in the text which I'm pretty annoyed about. I only realised after printing the expensive print. Not great.


This idea comes away from the games in order to communicate Russia's Soviet tendencies by simply combining elements of both flags together. Idea 4 seemed to work more successfully due to the fact that it is not a literal combination of both flags like ideas 1, 2 and 3. They seem a lot more forced into working together whereas idea 4 blends elements together nicely to produce an effective conceptual metaphor to communicate the Soviet inclinations of Russia's actions. The design suggests that Communism is still in the blood of Russia.

I decided to take this idea forward to produce a finalised piece. Here is the original drawing before Illustrator manipulation:

Annoyingly, Blogger refused to post up the image the correct way up. Here is the final piece after Illustrator manipulation:

The Blood of Russia

Black was chosen for the background because of the clash of white being in the flag. Also, much like the 'European Connection' development piece earlier, because of the tonal values of the colours in the design, black brings them out more. This also makes it work with the Tetris idea. The piece is standard A2 format which is probably the worst thing about it. Just like the Tetris piece previously, it's not the most creative format especially as it could work with the composition of the design more by being more narrow for example.


The following design references earlier work on European Connection. By taking out the old Eastern Bloc area of Europe from the 'European Connection' map I created ideas for a piece to represent the old Eastern Bloc and Soviet states in Europe. Here are the ideas:

Much like the Tetris piece, this was to be a strongly image led piece. After trying these ideas out, large type was out of the question as it engulfs the image. Each idea apart from the bottom right one do this. The eyes are drawn towards the white of the text and the image is feeble as a result. By making the text much smaller and tracking quite a bit, the type spreads over the image not so much drawing the eye to any particular spot. This is necessary due to the delicacy of the information graphic image. Here is the final:

Soviet Connection

The piece displays the ex-Eastern Bloc states and European Soviet states with each country connecting to major towns and cities from their capital cities. Although the tag line of the poster is 'Soviet Connection'. The gist is to communicate the freedom and independence of the ex-Eastern Bloc and European Soviet states through expressing the current countries' internal connections but nevertheless, what really connects these countries together is their Soviet past.

However, problems arise straight away in the form of recognition of the countries. Not a lot of people would be able to tell what countries the lines are let alone tell if they are indeed countries. But still, it maybe that it is only difficult to foreigners. Eastern Europeans may perhaps understand the piece a lot better than those of Western Europe. However, as I can't afford a plane ticket to Moscow right now to find this out, it doesn't seem like the best alibi to go by!

The lines could be thicker just like on the 'European Connection' map. The poster looks better on screen than printed. As I printed the two pieces at the same time I could not adjust this. It would be most likely to help with the little bit of clarity in the image.

Nevertheless it nicely communicates the old Soviet controlled area of Europe in an interestingly visual way and would certainly create a cool piece of wall art. The same could be said for the other two pieces, 'Soviet Tendencies' and 'The Blood of Russia'.


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