Sunday, August 18, 2013

Breaking the r / U / LE / s

 Raygun Magazine designed by David Carson

I have been thinking quite a bit about the "rules" of design and when I choose to break them. The "rules" make sense to me – following the grid – paying attention to balance with regard to scale and space. But when do I get to B-R-E-A-K the rules?

Knowing when to break the rules in design is as important as knowing the rules. One of my favorite designers is David Carson. I have reflected on the pure genius of his punk/grunge, groundbreaking design of Raygun magazine. Carson broke all the rules. 

If you have ever seen his TED talk he makes fun of the fact that his copy is often illegible and he happily claims to have a degree in sociology rather than design. He sees the world around him and interprets is differently from the rest of us and it all works. It works, because it defies your expectations. It works, because it makes your brain decipher the visual code. It works, because you remember it. It ALL works.

Carson didn't break the design rules because he was being rebellious, although there was a little of that I'm sure. He broke the rules because his design sense was telling him to. He was designing in the surf/sport industry and his audience had short attention spans and a lot of physical energy. If you think about his work it often has the sense of catching something as you pass by in a speeding car. The words would fly off the page, unfinished or difficult to read. There was a new energy to the work.

David Carson has been widely emulated by other designers, with distressed design and broken typography but when Carson did it his "rule breaking" design came from an internal place. He was having fun and using "whatever he had around the house." His xerox machine, photos from surfing trips or roadside advertising, emulating the dilapidated textures of the strange little surf towns he had visited. It was all present in his typography and photo manipulation. His design came from a personal place – that's how he knew when to break the rules, he had seen it done in real life and found the beauty in it.

I think about this and realize that if I follow the rules to a "T", I am doing what feels right for my subject and my audience. Of course my ego wants to create bone-ratteling, jaw-dropping, ground-breaking new work but if I were to pursue that as a goal I would fail miserably. So I listen to the little voice in my head and I play.

The first two issues of 3.1 Venice magazine have surprised me with regard to the final design. I thought that given my head I would, like a wild horse, run through the field, jump the fence, and stray wayyyyy out into the world of design. But I did not. Instead I went back to basics and applied restraint and discipline to my work. Balance became incredibly important. Flow. Keeping the reader engaged without tricks. My subject was the beach community of Venice, California and we are known for having one of the widest expanses of beach in Los Angeles.

Venice is a balance of congestion that ends on the edge of Pacific Ocean with expanses of blue sky, blue water, and beige sand. The magazine design reflected my internal feeling about the city. The expectation would have been to create a jumbled, crazy quilt design of graffiti art, wild color, and density but for me that is a design element, not the infrastructure of what Venice feels like. If you don't believe me just look at the large numbers of minimalist painters and architects that live here – obviously we are all picking up the same vibe.

Back to the rules – as designers we have favorite, "go-to" fonts, colors, layouts, and tricks. But what about that one new thing you have always wanted to try? When do you try it? I have one firm rule about breaking rules, if you are consciously deciding to do a design a certain way BECAUSE it breaks the rules... you have failed. If you are playing and experimenting and a happy "design accident" happens, be strong and roll with it. You just broke the rules and it didn't hurt a bit.

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