Visual Language – Week 5: Composition under PCOMP Theme

This week’s VL work is by far the most difficult one for me -not because composition is particularly hard, but because that I need need to come up with a holistic design with all the design principles we’ve learned so far working together. It is also the first time I genuinely realized how much it takes to give birth to a seemingly simple but beautiful piece of visual arts.

Below is my design for the ITP Winter Show 2018:

And now I’ll explain how it is made 😀


ITP Winter Show Poster

—-Version 1—-

In my first attempt, I began at conceiving how should I respond to the creative brief which says “we are hoping to see a more humanistic view of ITP – not just breadboards, hamburgers and LEDs”.

It was Oct 6, a Saturday morning, and also the date of NYC Comic Con. I was sitting at the ITP Shop located at 4th floor of Tisch, surrounded by cardboard, wires, wrenches, resistors, and the humming of laser cutting machines. While regretting that I should have bought the Comic Con tickets before they were sold out, an idea popped – how about turning the electronic circuit parts , the least “humanistic objects” around us, into human form? Even though I couldn’t go to the actual Comic Con, I could make a Comic Con of my own! With what I had in hand, I came up with these –  a wired & sensor version of Spider Man and an Iron Man.

Okay, I know they look kind of silly.. But at least they made Winner (a friend and classmate from ITP) laughed! And once I finished, I realized that I was merely trying to replicate the form of an existing figure. It was fun during the process, but as a visual design, it was not convincing, and it did not convey a story. I tried to make it better by destroying Iron Man and giving Spider Man some context, like this:

Still, not very convincing. I couldn’t explain why would Spider Man was dangling outside someone else’s terrace. Recalling what Christoph Niemann did in humanizing the objects, I thought I could take further advantage of the physical shapes of the circuit parts themselves, rather than just making them “look like” human. So I came up with these:

I turned to Winnie for opinions, and she told me that they were better and more interesting. But unless we were design for a Tech-Kitchen Conference, or a Cyber-punk Tennis Tournament, simply taking advantage of the physical forms of an object is not enough for my task. After all, I am designing for the ITP Winter Show!

And that was when I realized, I should have a guiding theme, or a story, in mind at the first place, before I actually stared working on the design. The message we are trying to convey should be the most important thing. And this gave me inspirations for my version 2 design.

—-Version 2—-

Considering what expresses a Winter feeling, I came up with an idea to team up my little FSR (Force Sensitive Resistor) guy with a snowman. After several experiments, I found that I could incorporate the poster design from Totoro, a famous Japanese animation movie,  to my story. After playing with more wires, I had the following draft:

Now finally, I thought, I was on the right track. So I followed this idea, and tried to make the composition better. I also moved it onto a black surface (so that the white wires would stand out) and provided it with abundant lighting.

Here what the second version eventually looks like:

At this point, I thought I might have finished my work. It should be telling a story; it was using the Rule of Thirds and scaling in the composition; and it the red LED nose should be able to give the eye a focus at the beginning. But, something seemed like missing.. I talked to Winner again, and she gave her feedback – It was a story, but quite inclusive. The characters in image live in their own world, and there were no conversations happening between the FSR guy, and me. So I decided to make a third attempt.

—-Version 3—-

With this “tech-and-human conversation” concept in mind, I suddenly feel that things could be a lot easier. I mean, making wire arts was fun, but it took a pain in the back and neck in order to carefully aligning the wires well together with shaky hand movements. Now, all I need to do is put human – myself – into the story! Like this:

Winnie also told me that the breadboard reminded her of a checkerboard. So I make some chess pieces with wires as well:

After some editing on Photoshop, they became two simple but more compelling posters. And I chose the first one as my final work.


Reflections on both VL and PCOMP

It took me four days to complete the poster design from scratch to finish. And you know what, the last attempt only took less than 3 hours! I think this gave a huge lesson in that designing visual graphics should follow the same “Fail Often, Fail Fast” guidelines just as coding or compiling a physical project. Since the actual execution of visual design could take much less time than writing codes or building circuits (since there are less debugging activities involved), it is very tempting to just rush to execution part first without much thorough thinking. And this could be detrimental to a visual design! Winnie also told me that it’s not uncommon that it takes a visual artist 10 hours to think and plan an idea, and only 10 minutes to execute it. Now I know what it means.

Another experience I gain was about PCOMP. During my making process of these posters, I was constantly asked whether I was working on a PCOMP project. And after hearing my “no” answer, they were surprised.  I think this somewhat reveals a certain degree of negligence of people, including myself, in the visual aspect of the circuits we’re using and building everyday. Indeed, they’re generally produced to serve a particular function – to digitize the physical world, to help lift an robotic arm, or to play a lovely melody upon a touch, but we should not forget that they, as physical objects, have a visual property, and we can take advantage of this as well in expressing ourselves.


Composition Exercises

And finally, these are my composition exercises.



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