An Encounter With Design

Contribution to the blog, “Isenberg Marketing”.

The inspiration for my blog contribution had not dawned upon me until yesterday morning. Likely for the first time since I was in the sixth grade, I found myself passing a Sunday morning on the couch watching VH1’s Top 20 Video Countdown. One of the videos shown was that for Franz Ferdinand’s single, “Right Action”, off their three-song album of the same name (plus a preceding “Right Thoughts, Right Words”). The song is addictive. If a catchy chorus can be enough to render you incapable of studying for an exam due to, perhaps, an uncontrollable desire to manufacture percussion sounds with your hands and a desktop, then heed my warning: postpone this listening adventure until after you are through with pressing short-term commitments.

While the music in the video alone was enough to leave me happily satisfied, it would not be the star of this particular show. The richest source of amusement I found in the experience was derived from its stunning graphics. While I am unaware whether or not the video’s content served a satirical purpose, I found that it near perfectly typified an artistic movement which has proliferated in modern marketing; the kind of abstract, minimalist style you might have seen in a Piet Mondrian work, a Saul Bass poster, or even a textbook on psychology produced by Pelican Books during the 1960’s (the supposed inspiration for the graphics in “Right Action”). We have seen this stuff nearly everywhere; the color field-like tiles in Windows 8, the new app icons in iOS 7, the webpage for The New Yorker, or even those handsome graphs on the Wall Street Journal’s Facebook page, just to cite a few examples.

Thinking about this more evoked the question: why this particular style? Intuitively, I can attribute the style’s popularity only to the nature of communication in [social] media today. It is a process of rapid stimulation, one in which efficiency is paramount and all unnecessary detail is eschewed. Moreover, and let’s be honest: a way more intuitive explanation, people just really like simple shapes and distinctive colors, as is evidenced by toddlers’ love affair with such things (for what I remember, I was certainly no exception). I would be interested in hearing an educated opinion on this subject of artistic style in contemporary marketing and graphic design. For now, as someone who sports a green pair of khakis and a t-shirt containing boldly colored horizontal stripes (see bottom-right hand corner of the class photo above), and has a “West Side Story” poster hanging in their room, I can draw only one conclusion: Piet and Saul live on.

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