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Piet Zwart image

To pick up where I’d left off in last week’s article, years ago while living in The Netherlands, I was asked to give a design symposium to first-year students at Delft University of Technology’s Media & Knowledge Engineering program.

I dug into the roots of Dutch Constructivism and De Stijl movements as examples to marry form and function of the 1920’s and 30’s.

Artists such as Piet Zwart and Paul Schuitema needed to produce catchy advertising material for telephone cable and public utility companies, often not the most captivating industries when thinking of visual aesthetics.

Their answer to the design challenges at hand brought about some of the most well-known and dynamic design of their time.

Piet Zwart was also considered a pioneer of modern typography, and chose not to adhere to traditional typography rules, using the basic rules of constructivism and De Stijl instead.

His work can be recognized by its primary colors, geometrical shapes, repeated word patterns and early use of photomontage.

Early Dutch design examples

The orientation and angles of the objects were skewed, and often photo montage and super-imposed elements were used, resulting in captivating art that related to the product as well.

Constructivist examples

The primary focus was on the advertisement as a whole; the product came second. This way, the formal elements of the design complimented the informal content of the advertisement. Good design, unlike fine art, must always solve a particular real-world problem.

I demonstrated this point further by breaking it down into four main concepts:

Approachability

Does the design lend itself to further exploration? Is it easy to follow the essence of the message in the design? Does it communicate to the audience?

Recognizability

Simple designs can almost always be recognized more easily than more elaborate ones. It’s easier to understand, remember, and grasp a design with less visual information being presented.

Immediacy

The impact of simple design is greater because a minimum amount of conscious effort is needed on the part of the audience. Symbols in our culture with the most minimal approach are also the most powerful ones.

Usability

Simple designs that eliminate unnecessary variation or details are often more prominent as well as informative. Enhancing the usability of a design improves both its approachability and memorability.

View Part One here. This series continues next week…

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