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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Thinking in Large Format Print : Striking Designs

Having traveled in both the world of fine arts (my fiancee and I do art therapy with the autistic) and the graphic arts (as a designer, art director, and consultant, to name a few), I have come to firmly believe that a few principles of good design pertain to both.

In this light, I was struck today while installing one large format print standee at a movie theater by the design of another standee. It was unique. I had never seen anything like it, although it was simple. There was no artifice about it. It was simply good art.

The Standee

The standee was a three-dimensional collection of five cartoon characters from the movie Inside Out surrounded by the contour of a head. The contour of the head acted as a white frame around the activity inside. The frame was stylized and very sparse in its detail, in contrast to the strong primary colors and activity of the characters inside the frame.

Even the logotype for the title of the film was brassy and set on a slight angle. In contrast, the dominant white contour, which included almost no printing (just the date of the film) was massive (about a foot wide and a foot deep, extending all the way around the standee).

Why It Worked

I thought long and hard about why this standee appealed to me, as I assembled the three graphic boxes of the Fantastic Four large format print standee. I knew the answer rested on a few simple principles of art and design.

Here are some thoughts:

The Unique Format

The simple white outline of the head was sparse in design compared to the interior. This created contrast and tension, which capture viewer interest in a piece of fine art or graphic art. The stark white of the contour of the head also echoed the white of the movie title and tied the two together. (Repetition is another useful tool in both fine art and graphic art.)

I even saw similarities between this standee and the unprinted areas of a blind embossed design. In this case as well, a section of unprinted graphic can stand in dynamic contrast to its surroundings even without an image. This reflects the physicality of print. On the standee (as in an embossed design), the foot-wide and foot-deep contour both contains and balances the interior four-color image of the five chaotic characters. It acts almost like a wall, a definitive boundary, in its large size and simplicity.

The Contrast of Color Against White

Usually four-color imagery would be more dominant than a white area within a graphic design or fine arts painting. But the size and design of the white contour of the head invert this expectation, evoking interest and making the standee unique.

The Simplicity of the Form

From across the room, the first thing you see is see the outer contour of the head. At first sight, the overall design is simple, contained, almost rigid. The contrast between the noise and activity within the head and the solemnity of the head itself creates tension, which is a key element of a compelling design.

The Form Echoes the Meaning of the Movie

Form follows function. This is another element of good graphic design and fine art. A picture (painting, poster, or large format print standee) should be more than attractive. It should say something, and all graphic elements of the design should support this message.

I did some research into Inside Out. In Wikipedia the plot description notes:

“Riley is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Riley and everyone else are guided by their emotions, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. The personified emotions live in … the control center inside Riley’s mind …. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues ….”

So, essentially, the rigid outer wall of the head contains the tumultuous emotions of the main character. And the structure of the design reflects this completely. That’s good art.

How You Can Apply This to Other Graphic Design Work

Here are some rules of thumb to consider:

  1. Make sure the design you create (everything from the overall form to the color usage to the typefaces to the imagery) supports the message. Whether you’re designing a brochure, a large format print poster, or a print book cover, you’re saying something. You’re making a statement. Make sure all elements of the design support this statement.
  2. Try something different. Color usually dominates white surroundings. Consider inverting this expectation to make your design unique.
  3. Consider sculptural ways to make your design stand out. The contour of the head acted as a frame or cookie cutter, with all of the action taking place inside the frame. You can do something similar with blind embossing or perhaps die cutting, or some other physical design process. Make your design a tactile experience. Consider making it three dimensional.
  4. Realize that a rigid structure containing a chaotic image creates tension and intense energy within a design (either fine art or graphic design). Consider ways to use contrast to create such energy.

These are a handful of simple design elements and tools for both fine art and graphic design. Used well, they can make your work stand out and shine.

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