(Why old interests are coming back to the fore.)
Lately, I’m finding where I’m tending to focus is rooted in my – relatively – distant past. These are the factors that will be or already are (to varying extents) influencing Unstated and its off-shoots.
I don’t know where my interest in grids as design tools comes from. It started many years ago. I would guess it is rooted in when I was researching structures for innovative web site designs.
In more recent years, on the web front, the usefulness of grids has been undermined by the allegedly paramount requirement of making sites work well on smart-phones … but I increasingly am questioning that primacy.
The role of Google, particularly, in promoting smart-phone primacy has to be questioned. After all, Google a) wants to make money via online advertising, and b) it’s well known that a large proportion of Google’s users, increasingly, gain all they want from a site (address, phone number, email) from the results page on Google itself. Thus, a site’s potential traffic never actually clicks any further. But getting visitors to Google means Google can serve adverts – and make a profit.
I’m thinking now is perhaps the right time to be revisiting using grids in design – both for web sites and off-line.
If design/layout grids are one type of structure, finding structures for text is another long-standing interest.
I’ve mused before on the positive roles of frameworks – constraints – in this regard.
But those positives aside, I do have a problem with what I’d group together as ‘concise visual representations of language’. Verse or poetic structures or rules and similar – whatever they’re called, they often feel too alien, too imposed.
Of course, all such structures are, inherently, merely imposed. But notwithstanding that, I’m finding it both interesting and useful to enter into some sort of discussion – albeit with myself – about them.
My aim is to balance the essence of what I’m seeking to communicate – the initial essential words – with the syllabic structure they can lead me to. And to then take that initial syllabic structure and, as it were, reverse the process to see how it might then influence the words I have initially opted for.
That sounds more complicated that it is, and the goal of all this is fundamentally simple: communicate more effectively.
This is all to take up old interests, but to take them into new (to me) areas.
Of course, there are plenty of roles performed well by photos. The obvious one is triggering memories, but there are numerous others.
But in other contexts, I’ve long thought that in the image-saturated world we now live in it can be hard for a photo to ‘speak’ any words at all, let alone the thousand it was once supposed to supplant.
Closely associating text with a photo is an obvious way to try and address this – giving an image a meaningful textual context. I know I’m no pioneer in having an interest in photo captions, but finding a way of presenting text-with-images in an articulate, attention-gaining way is, I find, less than obvious. All the more-or-less obvious ways can easily fail to be engaging by dint of over-familiarity. But on the other hand, presenting text-with-images in a way that’s overly taxing to understand is in itself a turn-off. And there’s the problem of avoiding the trite slogan or saying too. Grappling with all this looms large.
Not Another One
An additional problem arises in a photo saturated world. Whatever the text that might be associated with a photo, and however engagingly presented the text-and-image whole is in theory, we have all simply seen too many pictures. The grotesque and the commonplace, the sad and the happy, the beautiful and the ugly, the inspiring and the mundane … and so on and so on. The result is that it is hard for a photo to make any kind of significant impact, whatever the context provided for it is. To my mind, this is particularly true of any strongly representational photos – where it’s overly obvious what it’s depicting.
Further, the fact that photos can easily be treated, manipulated and distorted – for good reasons and bad – must be added to the new reality. Amplifying the problem further still is the high quality of the images that can be taken by pretty well everyone because the technology needed is now so cheaply and widely available.
Images With A Voice
As a result of these issues with photos, I suspect there is an increasing role for ‘non-realistic’ images. Images (for example, oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, digital formats, and, yes, photos too) that can offer more than a mere capturing of what can be readily seen can assume a fresh importance, a fresh value. Indeed, a fresh role.
This needs a lot more thought and experiment on my part, but a conscious, obvious and declared move away from simple depictions is also something I’ve long considered but haven’t – until now – embraced to any consistent extent.
That I’ve long been nagged by a liking of relatively ambiguous images, not least some older era Chinese art, was perhaps an early sign of my future direction. To my eyes at least, they are more an evocation of a feeling or emotion rather than ‘just’ a capturing of a scene.
Bringing together images that I think might be properly engaging with text that effectively enhances them has, in its own right, complexities. Giving an image a context is one thing; preserving enough ‘space’ for the viewer to be able to actively engage their imagination as they see it is another. This strikes me as important. I am fairly sure that consumption without any engagement is, at best, a very small step away from being meaning-free.
Thus, there’s a balance to be struck, too, between providing a textual context for an image and leaving sufficient ambiguity. Yes, whether the viewer is actually engaged is an issue in its own right. But you can be fairly sure that if you make everything about an image explicit, they probably won’t be.
And I think this aspect can be extended by what I think of as appropriate neutrality. That is to say, ambiguity can be usefully aided by what’s not stated.
(Indeed, Unstated’s deliberate anonymity is itself an example of striving for what you might call an appropriate neutrality.)
Overall, these good ghosts of past thoughts are combining afresh to push me towards finding new approaches, new combinations. These are interesting times.
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