In doing the research for this post, I am again struck by how confusing colour theory is, so once again I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible for my own sake and yours.
So let’s start with the term hue. Basically this is a fancy word for what you and I would call a colour. Hues are the pure bright colours that we see on a colour wheel.
A shade is one of these pure colours with black added to it. So the words to the song ‘A whiter shade of pale’ are a bit misleading and should be ‘a darker shade of pale’.
A tint is any colour with white added and a tone is any colour with both black and white added (in other words grey!). So when people ask you to tone down your behaviour, they mean just that.
BUT WHY AM I TELLING YOU ALL THIS?
I think the main reason is so that you can sound a bit wise and you can participate in conversations about colour. One of the things that makes a beginning designer feel like a beginner is not having a good grasp of the terminology, so I think its a good idea to get used to using the correct terms for things. But mostly, learning the terminology is just the first step to exploring the wonderful world of colour and understanding how to select and use colour palettes in your design work.
When you see something that ‘just works’ this will usually be because the concept is clear, the language is easy to understand and the images support the concept, rather from detracting from it or confusing the issue. They are a lot of elements in making something beautiful and clear and one of these is colour.
Last week I had dinner at the RSL club with my 90 year old father-in-law and during the meal he asked what the green ‘running man’ sign meant. I said it was an exit sign and asked him what he thought it meant. He replied that he thought it might be a sign indicating that there was a toilet nearby. When I asked why the man was running, he said “he might be in a hurry to get to the toilet”. This exchange was followed by a lively discussion on whether signs are actually as clear as we assume them to be. Does the green running man really indicate that there’s an exit, or is he just a man in a hurry?
I noticed that the word EXIT was on another sign, some distance away from the running man, however there was nothing to indicate that there was any relationship between them. In other words, proximity really does matter. If words and pictures are a long way apart we assume that they are not related concepts. Of course, the addition of the word EXIT on or near the sign doesn’t help people who can’t read very well or don’t speak English.
According to Wikipedia (always a reliable source!), the ‘running man’ pictogram was designed by Yukio Ota in 1982 and is used in Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Norway. So the green running man is very widely used across a range of cultures, but is it clear?
Can you think of a better way to indicate an exit using only visuals?
There’s a lot I could say about typography (just ask my family!) but let’s start with some basics.
First of all typefaces have personalities of their own. Plain typefaces send the message that they mean business because they are no-nonsense in their look and feel. Curly fonts tend to be whimsical and romantic. These are the ones you usually see on wedding invitations and personal emails.
Type must be appropriate for the topic, be sympathetic to any images nearby and be suitable for the intended reader. Until recently, there was a view that sans serif fonts – those without pointy ends, such as Arial – were easier to read than serif fonts. Whilst this might be true as a general rule, some recent research suggests that the typefaces we find the easiest to read are those that we grew up with. In other words, the fonts that were in use when we were learning to read, remain the easiest for us to read. Type faces reflect social conditions and go in and out of fashion, just like wedge heels.
You’ll notice that I’m using the terms font and typeface interchangeably here. They aren’t actually the same thing, but the explanation is rather long and tedious so I’m not going to go into that now. Suffice to say that you need to choose your typefaces carefully. Don’t write a board report in comic sans, it just doesn’t send the right message about you or your topic.
You’ll be seeing more about typography in future posts, so stay tuned.
So here we are at the first post. As I said in the introduction, learning about design involves thinking, observing and just having a play around with ideas.
The first idea to ponder is what is ‘good’ design and why is it important? I strongly believe that everyone has a little bit of a design mind and that’s why we like gardening, cooking, art and maybe even having a tidy desk. In my book, good design is a combination of functionality and beauty. In other words, well designed things are both useful and attractive. I’ll have a lot more to say later about why it matters that things are attractive and why it doesn’t have much to do with decoration, but that’s a conversation for another session. If you are interested in the connection between functionality and beauty you should read Donald Norman’s book on why we like things to look nice.
What do you need to do?
Start by carefully observing the world around you. Do you have favourite objects, tools or websites? What makes them useful? Name three things that are well designed and say what’s good about them. You can post examples here if you would like to.
Then find three things that are badly designed – post some examples as well. Alternatively, get yourself a work book and write down your thoughts, ideas and examples.