Monday, April 7, 2008

Design Guy, Episode 23, Elements: Smooth Moves with Texture

Download Episode 23

Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply. Or as Emerson once exhorted, "If you learn only methods, you'll be tied to your methods, but if you learn principles, you can devise your own methods." If we update that advice for today, we might say to designer, "Learn how design works, don't just learn software applications."

We're talking about the formal elements of two dimensional design, which are the building blocks that we use to compose our work. And today we turn our attention to texture.

Texture is a bit more sensual than the other elements, because in addition to the visual qualities or the surface appearance we portray in our work - which looks like a relative smoothness or roughness - texture is also a tactile phenomenon. It's something we feel and, in some cases, literally touch, like when we select gloss or matte lamination for an annual report. This is a case where someone will see it and respond to the textural elements, but they'll also hold it. They'll feel the weight of the paper and they'll feel the tactile qualities of the stock we've chosen, as well as any special treatments, like lamination.

Robin Landa, in her book, Graphic Design Solutions, says it this way:
She says, "Sometimes you decide just by looking at a texture whether or not you want to touch it. Some textures are appealing, like velvet, while others, like rust, are not. In art, there are two categories of texture - tactile and visual. Tactile textures are real, we can actually feel their surfaces with our fingers. Visual textures are illusionary; they simply give the impression of real textures." (end of quotation).

But texture comes in a number of forms. And we express texture in a variety of ways. We describe it using words like hard or rough or coarse or craggy. Or we use terms like smooth or velvety or even warm or cold or soft. In other words, all surfaces have a texture. And it's up to you as the designer to recognize texture, and decide how you'll incorporate it as an element in your composition, and do so for the right reasons.

Will it play a minor, supporting role? Or will texture be the dominant and central idea? Maybe you're going with a corrugated cardboard look and feel, along with typography that looks hand-markered, and its the strong texture aspect of the composition that achieves the intentionally crude feeling that you're after. On the other hand, you may be creating a very spartan, sophisticated piece with lots of white space and a tight grid, and a relative absence of texture. You'll probably be staying away from a rough-hewn, organic feeling, in favor of a smoother appearance. Maybe you'll want to use a combination of textures, a contrast in textures, knowing that rough looks rougher and smooth looks smoother when you play them against each other.

One way of the other, you need to make decisions as a designer. You need to consider various options in texture as part of your lexicon and vocabulary, and choose what you want to communicate, in the same way that, in the verbal realm, you would choose the right words. In fact, we use the terminology of texture to describe verbal language all the time. For example, we engage in "rough" language or we use "course" words. Other times, we describe someone as a "smooth" talker, a politician perhaps, or that their words were "slick". So, it's really interesting how these ideas carry over. But it does reinforce the idea that designers should choose texture strategically to convey and support meaning.

So, give careful consideration to texture as you plan the communication aspect of what you're doing. Plan it in the visual realm, as you use visual elements that only have the appearance of texure. And, if you're creating tangible products, like printed pieces, give thought to how you'll create actual, tactile texture, by virtue of the kind of papers you'll use, and the treatments that will actually be touched and felt by the end user. We use the phrase, "look and feel" all the time, even in web design. But texture is truly the "feel' part. So, ask yourself what you want to say, what tone should come across, and how texture can support those concerns, and your work will be looking and feeling just the way they should.

Well, that's it for now. I want to thank you for listening.

And I'll ask that if you've been enjoying this ongoing series, please consider dropping a comment at iTunes or podcast alley to show your support, which is really just a great way to get the word out. And I thank you in advance for doing so.

And, until next time. Thanks again for listening!


Robin Landa, Graphic Design Solutions, 3rd Edit, Cengage, 2005

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