In the fall of 2018, I cross-registered for a course at the Rhode Island School of Design, one in the Graphic Design department on Poster Design (taught by AIGA 2017 winner Tom Wedell). As a part of the course, students were invited to submit a poster to the “20/20: International Schools of Art and Graphic Design Celebrate Graphic Design” exhibit at Échirolles.Centre du Graphisme, a cultural association and studio space in Échirolles, France.
Every two years, this space holds Échirolles Design Month, and invites 20 art schools across the globe to send posters, designed around a specific country and theme, to be displayed from mid-November to late January (November 17, 2018—January 31, 2019, in this case). This year’s theme was “Circus,” and the country in question was Poland.
An exercise in experimental composition.
As an effort to step outside my normally systematic methodology, I utilized collage to make tangible my intuition as a designer. Before even thinking about the brief or doing any research, I spent some time making tens of collaged vignettes from randomly-cut pieces of magazines. I then chose a few I felt were most gesturally interesting and visually dynamic, and scanned them:
With these shapes that had already taken a nebulous form in the back of my mind, I began to do more research.
A deep-dive into history, context, and motifs of the assigned subject matter.
The research I set out to do was twofold—I needed to acquaint myself better with graphic design in the context of Poland’s history, as well as the meaning of circus in any and all facets. My observations were compiled in notes and sketches:
After I was thoroughly educated on both the poster’s form and its function, the next step was to reconcile the two. I chose a collage from my collection, cleaned it up to observe more carefully, and used the already-existent structure to convey the message I wanted to convey.
Once I had a solid foundation, I began to tinker with visual elements, changing them to what worked and what didn’t. This included testing different color combinations, text placement, visual reflections of dynamicism, and when to follow the structure of the collage and when to deviate from it. I wanted to stay consistent with the overall structure of the collage, while simultaneously ensuring that I created a believable representation of "Circus" and Poland's graphic revolution. A series of edits:
Every iteration led me closer to the final product, revealing to me aspects of the design that worked and those that didn’t. Ultimately, I reached a conclusion I felt happy sending off to France to be exhibited for three months. A red background with white and yellow accent colors lends the poster more depth than the white background did, and reflects both the theme of "Circus" and the historical graphic styles of Polish posters. The large, gestural “Poland” remained, with the theme and exhibition name whimsically falling through the word’s “O,” which also serves as an abstracted circus ring. Supplementary text parallels the structure of the yellow rectangle, and outlines the rough shape of the window from the collage.
Converting form to content instead of the infinitely more familiar other way around was challenging. Assembling abstract forms with either a cloudy or nonexistent idea about how the actual message will translate was tough, but I think that this exercise opened my eyes to other perspectives through which I could see the design process.
Moving forward, I think this is an extremely valuable methodology to add to my routine as a designer. It prevents me from falling into apathetic assembly of visuals based on narrative, and forces me to confront shapes, gestures, and the overall forms of a cohesive and meaningful design in a more active way. Tom puts it this way, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree:
“By leaving the form/content relationship more malleable, you are better able to engage with the creative act. Removed from the pressure of having to produce an immediate solution, you can allow yourself to be immersed in a realm where one decision leads seamlessly into the next. Hunches and conscious choices will sustain you throughout and lead to an inner space where you can experience the wonderful give and take of a true creative process.”