· Part III case study
1) Assignment and constraints
As a graphic design practitioner one often engages with a new project as a doctor would with a new
patient ; the practice involves the assessment of a design issue which needs to be solved and implies
an understanding of the existing parameters along which a new system of visual communication
can be built and implemented. The degree of input, requirements, and interference that comes with
each assignment depends on a large number of variables ranging from the personal involvement of
a client to elaborate marketing objectives. In this particular case, the initial oral briefing was rather
concise consisting of only a few guidelines or prerequisites and some elementary constraints. The
brief put forward the following constraints: the designation of the entity as the “Australian Centre
for Visual Technologies” and the integration of a secondary descriptive headline or tagline
“Innovation and education in visual information processing” as well as the use or at least the
emulation of the University of Adelaide’s existing color palette (fig.1).
Subsequent to the initial brief, a period of gestation or ideation moved the project into its
conceptual phase. A concept outline was then formulated to situate the creative intention and how it
might relate to communication objectives and the entity’s profile.
Please refer to “appendix 1” to review the initial briefing report, visual identity objectives and
shape exploration (this document was submitted to the client in week 26).
2) Language and vocabulary
“As a metaphor, the term ‘grammar’ when used with ‘designs’ draws attention to elements and to
rules that specify how those elements may be combined or altered to form members in a corpus of
designs.” (Bruton and Radford 2004) 12
In ‘Bending Rules’ 13
Bruton and Radford develop the notion of grammars of art and design and
make a case for contingency in reflective practice. As they examine the interplay of rules and
contingency it becomes clear that purpose and intuition are deeply intertwined in the practice of
design, and that this correlation is a catalyst for creativity. Purpose is at the source of the design
process because it is concerned with the objectives outlined in a concept. Contingency is the
variable that will trigger singularities of creative actions outside of the perimeter defined by rules.
By definition, such actions are intuitive because the events that triggered them are implicitly
contingent. This is a bipolar dynamic and the best metaphor I can think of to illustrate this balance
is to compare Purpose to direction, Intuition to speed and Process to a trajectory.
Just as a point is both the beginning and the end of a line 14
so can the creative act be found both at
the start and at the end of a creative process. In fact, the creative act occurs throughout the creative
process and does not cease until it is consummated.
“In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization through a chain of totally
subjective reactions. His struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfactions,
refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully selfconscious, at least not on the
esthetic plane.” (Marcel Duchamp) 15
At first glance it seems somewhat contradictory to evoke both ‘a chain of totally subjective
reactions’ on one hand and a ‘series of efforts, pains, decisions, etc.’ on the other to describe a
succession of creative actions. However, I would argue that if you would make a distinction
between creative action and creative process, intuition and intention can complement rather than
oppose each other and so perhaps achieve a balance between the ‘not fully selfconscious’ act so
dear to Duchamp and the deliberate act. Arguably, an intuitive act becomes deliberate once it is
applied but this does not mean that it becomes an integral part of the process. It is crucial however
to reference all these actions and record all instances of contingent occurrences and the actions they
demand. The record of such a reflective practice is extremely valuable as it notably offers insights
into the idea of the ‘not fully selfconscious’ creative act Duchamp refers to. In effect, a reflective
practice relies on a reflective journal where the creative process is recorded; a vocabulary of
elements generated by a set of rules within the framework of a grammar is thus created. The
creative ‘journey’ which precedes the artwork is diverse, it can be contained in the single brush
stroke of a calligraphy master or apply to the long gestation and elaboration of an architectural
project. One artist uses a vocabulary of brushes, inks, motions and scrolls to apply his strokes, the
other uses a vocabulary of shapes, volumes and landscapes to achieve his goal. Whatever the
medium might be the external reality or meaning of the artwork will pervade the physical existence
of the artwork, it exists because we recognize it.
3) The design concept
Since the core activity of this entity is described as a ‘centre for visual technology’ I opted to
develop a representational logo which references, or is at least evocative of graphical optical
I willingly excluded all other options to privilege the relationship between the words ‘visual’ and
‘optical’ by associating their meaning within the same plane. My decision relies on the metonymic
between a paradigm of graphical optical illusion devices (see fig.2) and the syntactic
designation of the entity, in particular the inherent meaning of the word ‘visual’.
As an example or precedent for the triadic relationship between a logo, a designation and an entity
we can first look at the original Nestle crest or logo (fig.3.1). It consists of a figurative illustration
of a bird’s nest on a branch, housing two birdlings being tended to by a fullgrown bird. It is
important to note that the word ‘nestle’ is actually German for ‘a small nest’ as this allows for the
relationship between the word itself and the logo to exist, as a metonym, on the same plane of
‘meaning’. The image denotes one thing but as a metonym it also stands for other related meanings.
The picturesque quality of the image, the instinctive nurturing characteristics of a female bird
tending to its offspring and the sheltering nest are all devices that serve the purpose of enhancing a
metaphorical mechanism when they are associated to the representation of the entity’s values and
activities. By comparison, the equally famous Apple or Shell logos (fig.3) also have a builtin
metonymic relationships because the ‘word’ and the ‘image’ or ‘pictograph’ are on the same plane
of ‘meaning’ and are meant to stand for a whole. However, by associating the logo to an entity the
inherent qualities contained in the metonym’s representation of reality are transposed from one
plane of reality to another and become part of a metaphorical device.
“Each metaphor can be traced back to a subjacent chain of metonymic connections which
constitute the framework of the code and upon which is based the constitution of any semantic field,
whether partial or (in theory) global.” (Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the
Semiotics of Texts, 1979, translated by William Weaver, 1983)
When a sign is extracted from a paradigm of pictographs to be reassigned as a logo, its metonymic
qualities are subdued in favor of a new meaning which usually relies on a metaphorical mechanism.
Regardless of a metonymic relationship between a pictogram and a designation (word), the implied
associative relationship between pictogram/designation and the entity is often arbitrary.
In the case of the ‘Australian Centre for Visual Technologies’, the objective is to associate an
abstract yet evocative pictograph to a quite literal formulation of the entity’s activities. The
metonymical relationship between the pictograph and the designation retrieves a set of associated
attributes and delivers them as a metaphor to stand for the entity thus creating an independent logo
with its own intrinsic meaning. In this particular case, my strategy is to create an evocative rather
than representational logo in relation to the words ‘visual’ and ‘technology’ by using an element
from a paradigm of graphical optical illusions to stand as a metonym and deliver meaning as a
metaphor. From these theoretical implications of a design concept based on a communication
strategy it is now time to move into the creative process.
4) Methodology and grammar
In order to regulate the creative process, a set or system of methods, principles, and rules needs to
be established. The nature, complexity and range of application of a methodology will vary from
one design practitioner to another and from one design case to another. In this context, rules and
methods will situate the design process within a constrictive and generative frame. The constrictive
nature of the process will naturally generate purposeful derivations as well as contingent events.
My initial set of rules was devised to produce an array of derivations based on a selection from the
initial paradigm of graphical optical illusions. In effect, I selected and reproduced 5 elements (fig.4)
from the initial paradigm of graphical optical illusions on a vectorbased computer program.
Each element displays a particular combination of graphical attributes and devices operating within
the same paradigmatic plane. By using principles of derivative shape grammar in conjunction to
applying the colors palette (fig.1) I generated 15 variations or derivations per element (fig.5). These
derivations are part of a new set of elements that can now be referred to as a vocabulary of elements
generated by a particular set of rules. While the initial selection from the paradigm emulates
graphical attributes related to specific optical illusions, the newly generated set of vocabulary is
original and diverse.
Part IV derivative design
1) Creative process analysis
The graphical attributes of element 4.1 can be described as a square shape duplicated and scaled in
regular increments from its center, with each new square adopting a different and progressive hue
to achieve an effect of optical illusion such as depth or relief.
Figure 5.1 shows the progression of the derivative design process in numerical sequence. In the first
derivative instance 5.1.1 the central shape is changed to a circle, in reference to the metonym
identified previously, and follows 6 incremental steps changing both in scale and in shape to
become the outer square.
The next string of derivative instances, from 5.1.2 to 5.1.9, explores variations of color, hue and
rotation. A significant change occurs at the level of instance 5.1.10 as the central shape reverts to a
square and the outer shape to a circle with an incremental rotation added to the incremental change
in scale and shape. Subsequent changes repeat the explorations of color, hue and incremental shape
alterations (5.1.11 to 5.1.15).
The graphical attributes of element 4.2 are based on the superposition of 6 equilateral triangles,
their subsequent equidistant displacement and their partial subtraction which produced three
identical shapes on three different rotational increments. The achieved optical effect can be
described as the suggestion of a 3 dimensional construction from a 2 dimensional point of view
based on three identical and intertwined objects revolving around a centre point.
The first derivative instance in Figure 5.2 has had color applied to it while the second instance has
also been rotated. Derivative instance 5.2.4 introduces a gradient blend into the color palette which
further enhances the optical illusion effect. The next significant change occurs in step 5.2.7 where a
beziers curve tool was used to curb all the segments of the shape; in step 5.2.10, the curved shape
was subtracted from the original triangle to produce an new instance which was then returned to the
triadic construction as a substitute for the original shape. This new array of derivative instances
however does not retain the same graphical attributes as the previous instances and in step 5.2.11 a
contingent event comes to light, the new shape can be perceived as a stylized letter. It could stand
as a symbol for the letter A, C and/or V which coincidentally are part of the initials of the
‘Australian Centre for Visual Technologies’. In the last derivative instance 5.2.15 a fourth shape is
finally added to represent the T letter and the color palette is used to balance the construction.
In this series there were 2 major turning points where decisions were made to bend the rules in
order to privilege contingent events and explore new instances of perceptive shape grammar.
The core attributes of the initial element rely on the relationship between two vertical segments of
the same length. When these segments are in position between two pairs of opposed diagonal
segments, one of them appears to be shorter. The original element 4.3 is contained in a frame and
its vertical segments are sitting on the edges of a sequence of opposed trapezoidal shapes.
Derivative instance 5.3.1 simply eliminates the two main vertical segments; reverting the element to
an optical illusion based on trapezoidal properties, while instances 5.3.2 and 5.3.3 retrieve the
original relationship between the trapezoidal shapes and the vertical segments. In derivative
instance 5.3.4 an important change occurs, as the two vertical segments are substituted by dots or
filled circles in reference to the metonymic relationship between ‘visual’, ‘optical’ and ‘circle’ (or
oval as a shapes). In terms of focal intensity and balance, this new configuration retains some of
the attributes of the initial version. However, this similarity is lost in instance 5.3.5, when one of the
circular shapes is removed and the focal point becomes singular. The next turning point occurs as
the remaining circular element is also removed and vivid colors are added to further enhance the
trapezoidal shape configuration (5.3.9). The circle shape returns in instance 5.3.11 and again
becomes a strong feature, first as a singular focal point then as a dual focal point (5.3.12); note that
the sequence or combination of colors slightly shifts the perceptual balance of the configuration.
Once the frame is removed (5.3.13) a further perceptual alteration occurs as the trapezoidal shapes
and the circles seem to flatten and take on a more horizontal character which is also due to the
combination of colors. Finally, in derivative instances 5.3.14 and 5.3.15, the trapezoidal shape at
the center of the configuration is entirely removed and the circles subtracted to enhance the optical
‘suggestion’ created by the space between the left and the right trapezoid.
This powerful triadic configuration is composed of three circles and a triangle. The center point of
each circle is placed on a different corner of the triangle so that the circles are equidistant from each
other. The triangle is then subtracted from the circles and the space left between them validates the
suggestion of the triangular shape.
With color applied to them, the first three derivative instances ( 5.4.1, 5.4.2 and 5.4.3) still retain all
the attributes of the original element 4.4. It is noticeable however, that instance 5.4.3 is not as
balanced as its predecessors, due to a proportional reduction of space between the circles. Instance
5.4.4 references the idea of a metonymic link between ‘visual’, ‘optical’ and ‘circle’ and breaks up
the sequence but should not be considered as a turning point even if it. Derivative instance 5.4.5
retrieves the original configuration but changes the perceptual balance because contrasting colors
were added to the subtracted triangle parts intersecting with the circles. The next derivative instance
5.4.6 is similar to instance 5.4.4 in that it retrieves the same metonymic theme as a concentric focal
point; in this instance however its relationship to the original element 4.4. is evident as it swaps the
position of the triangle with that of the circles.
An important turning point occurs, as instance 5.4.7 again reverts to the original configuration of
shapes, when the proportions of all three circles are altered while their original positioning is
maintained. The suggested and perceived surface of the triangle is not influenced by the change in
proportion of the circles in fact it is identical to instance 5.4.1.
As a direct consequence, instance 5.4.10 stands out as the next turning point where one of the
circles is placed in front of the triangle and finally changes its suggested surface. This configuration
is explored further in derivative instances 5.4.11 and 5.4.12 where the triadic relationship between
the circles becomes the dominant feature and the suggested triangle becomes a malleable space.
The last three instances (5.4.13, 5.4.14 and 5.4.15) take advantage of this new configuration as a
concentric hierarchy is applied to the circles and the suggested triangle is used to subtract space
from this new circular shape.
The core attributes of this element rely on the relationship between two identical circles. The
configuration of the initial element 4.5 is based on the optical illusion that is achieved by placing
the two identical circles at the centre of two different constellations of scaled circles. By straining
the proportions of one constellation to be superior and the other to be inferior in size to the identical
circles, one can affect their perceptual qualities. The constellation of superior circles will make the
original circle appear smaller where as the constellation of inferior circles will make the original
circle seem larger in comparison. Note that one constellation validates the other and that they will
not stand as optical illusions if the two identical circles are not in a comparative relationship.
The use of circular shapes throughout this string of syntactic elements naturally refers to the
metonymic relationship I have identified earlier.
Color is applied to derivative instance 5.5.1 and the constellation of smaller circles is aligned
horizontally with its counterpart, which seems to reduce the perception of an optical effect. Instance
5.5.2 marks a turning point as one of the circles from the larger constellation is replaced by the
smaller constellation with the result that the optical effect is flawed. In instance 5.5.3 the original
configuration is abandoned and in derivative instance 5.5.4 it changes dramatically to become
triadic and concentric, using both size and color to create a balance which emphatically imposes an
analogy to the human eye. Instance 5.5.5 abandons the concentric rule for an asymmetrical structure
shifting the balance from horizontal to diagonal, with a central focal point. Only one of the three
subelements is retained in instance 5.5.6 and a new optical effect is added, first as a reflection
(5.5.7 and 5.5.8) and then as a graphical element (5.5.9). The next three instances are concerned
with the eccentric positioning of a number of circles both, inside (5.5.10 and 5.5.11) and outside
(5.5.12) of a larger circle, while the main derivative feature of instances 5.5.13, 5.5.14 and 5.5.15 is
the use of a gradient color making the circular elements seem spherical.
2) A vocabulary of derivative instances
The objective at this stage of the design process was to provide the client with a range of graphical
instances of a design concept and once the appropriate language for the design concept was
outlined, a number of derivative vocabulary items were generated.
As a graphic sign, each item or instance can stand on its own; however, to exist as a vocabulary
item it must be part of a system. The process that spawned these instances is based on an array of
associations, metaphors and metonymic relationships which were synthesized into a design concept.
The result is a graphical vocabulary of 75 connotative signs. The value of each sign depends on its
relation to other signs within its system and is in fact determined as much by what it is, than by
what it is not 17
It is also important to acknowledge the ambiguity of some of these signs, not the least because the
system of signs cannot be exhaustive and originates from an arbitrary selection of signs, itself
extracted from a paradigm of graphical optical illusions.
Each sign or instance derives from a particular set of attributes, which references the basic
metonymic relationship that lies at the core of the design concept. Consequently, each graphical
configuration is an exploration of these attributes and naturally, some are more successful than
others; in this context discrepancies between original graphical attributes and remaining attributes
are emphatic and should be considered as an integral and indeed crucial part of this particular
· Part V from sign to logo
1) Derivative instance 5.2.9
The objective up to this point was to produce a consistent if not exhaustive vocabulary of signs,
whose individual and distinctive graphical attributes could visually represent the entity. Once the
vocabulary of graphical derivations was produced, it was presented to the client and one vocabulary
item or derivative instance was selected as a placeholder for the new ACVT logo.
I should mention that in this particular case, I chose not to interfere or confer with the client about
the choice that was made nor did I remove or favor any of the instances as I felt that it was
important for the subsequent case study to rely on an ‘impartial’ selection.
Derivative instance 5.2.9 was thus selected:
The selection of this particular derivative instance effectively implies the selection of its graphical
attributes and qualities. Furthermore, its attributes and qualities are directly related to the initial
element 4.2 (below).
2) Construction sequence and configuration of shapes
In order to understand the core attributes, both graphical and perceptual (as relating to the paradigm
of optical illusions) of this element, it is essential to refer to the construction sequence and
configuration of shapes as shown in Figure 7.
The informal description of element 4.2.:
The graphical attributes of element 4.2 are based on the superposition of 6
equilateral triangles, their subsequent equidistant displacement and their partial
subtraction which produced three identical shapes on three different rotational
increments. The achieved optical effect can be described as the suggestion of a 3
dimensional construction from a 2 dimensional point of view based on three
identical and intertwined objects revolving around a centre point.
Figure 8 recapitulates the construction sequence of derivative instance 5.2.9. (it is understated that
like all the other derivative instances, instance 5.2.9 should not be considered as a “finished” sign
but rather as a rough sketch).
It becomes apparent that the original shape’s (8.1) graphical and perceptual attributes are essentially
three identical (8.2) and intertwined objects revolving around a centre point. So, by applying a rule
where straight lines are changed into curves without displacing anchorpoints by means of the
Beziers curve tool, a new derivative instance is produced. As a result of the intervention (see 8.3,
8.4 and 8.5), the shape of the object moves away from the stern and grounded configuration of the
original element and introduces a softer, smoother visual flow without forfeiting any of the
attributes relating to the perception of this particular optical effect.
The occurrence or event, which produced instance 5.2.9 was summarized in
The next significant change occurs in step 5.2.7 where the Beziers curve tool
was used to curb all the segments of the shape…
Please refer to “appendix 2” to review the corporate identity development report, the refined
version of instance 5.2.9 and its final version (this report was submitted to the client in week 33).
3) Refine and conquer
It was mentioned earlier that derivative instance 5.2.9, despite its graphical and perceptual qualities,
is considered a rough sketch which implies that it needs to be refined before its representational
meaning can be shifted from an instance to a sign and from a sign to a logo.
Figure 9 is a visual recapitulation, which links the initial element 4.2 (or 9.1 in Fig. 9) to its final
version as a sign (9.8). All the configurations in this sequence are related to 9.1 and are derivative
instances of 9.2. As such they retain all the inherent attributes of 9.2 and consequently the residual
attributes of 9.1. However, the refining process demanded a new exploration of shape versus space
and as a consequence the basic rule which spawned 5.2.9 was redefined.
The step between 9.2 and 9.3 was to be the determining event that eventually led to a
reconsideration of the basic rule “where straight lines are changed into curves without displacing
anchorpoint by means of the Beziers curve tool”. It wasn’t the desired effect of the rule which
became questionable, but rather its modus operandi. I identified two reasons for this.
The first reason was that it became very difficult to produce a curved shape that could be assembled
into a balanced triadic configuration (as in Fig. 7). The second reason was that since the initial
element was based on an equilateral triangle, it seemed more appropriate to revert to the original
shape and start the refining process at the core rather than from a derived shape (8.2 from fig. 8).
I decided to rethink the construction of my configuration of shapes without compromising the
desired graphical and perceptual attributes of derivative instance 5.2.9.
A further exploration, this time involving the construction method rather than derivative instances,
took place. Instances 9.4 to 9.7 are the result of inconclusive variations that eventually led to the
final construction method displayed and described in figure 10.
The equilateral triangle is the starting point. All three anchorpoints are modified using the Beziers
curve tool. It is noticeable that the anchorpoint sitting at the top of the triangle is modified on a
horizontal axis while its lateral counterparts are modified on a vertical axis. The obtained shape is
to be the outline of the final sign.
Next, I needed a subsidiary shape that could be used as a “cookiecutter” shape. I used the same
technique as before though applying slightly different parameters. The amplitude of the Beziers
curve tool effect was increased and instead of following a vertical axis, the lateral anchorpoints
were modified on mirrored diagonals constrained to 45 degrees.
The grey shape (cookiecutter shape) was then reduced to 60% of its original size and its apex point
placed on top of its counterpart from the white shape (outline shape). This operation was repeated
twice and the resulting duplicates applied to the two remaining anchorpoints.
The next few steps involve purely intuitive actions that are the result of a number of unsatisfactory
attempts and contingent events. Eventually, I found that by rotating each grey shape by 22.25
degrees out of its position, I could enhance the optical effect by giving it a sense of direction. This
action was enhanced further by incrementally modifying the size of the grey shapes. The top grey
shape was reduced to 82.5 % of its size, and the grey shape on the left was reduced to 87.5 % of its
size. Subsequently, I toggled the three cookiecutter shapes into a satisfactory position.
With the cookiecutters in place, I made them intersect with the white shape. I then removed the
protruding shapes, marked in red, and reassembled the remaining shapes into a triadic
Finally, we can compare the original element and the refined sign and ponder the implications of a
purposeful creative process driven by specific visual communication objectives but pervaded by
intuitive actions resulting from contingent events.
Both configurations are triadic and wholesome in that they are complete and balanced. If we were
to simplify these signs to the extreme, it is likely that we would draw a simple triangle sitting on its
base, and that would summarize the essence of their likeliness and kinship in terms of shape.
In terms of perceptual qualities, as pertaining to graphical attributes related to optical illusions,
there are undeniable similarities, the circular flow, the evasiveness of the focal point, the suggestion
of depth and negative space and the ambiguous wholesomeness that pervades them.
Eventually, I would also like to discuss the obvious differences between these two signs; but at this
point in the report, I would like to avoid reflecting on such an unfortunate affair and would rather
leave it to your imagination.
4) Corporate identity system
Please refer to appendix 4, featuring a substantial corporate identity system which was delivered to
the client at the end of the project, to review a variety of graphical applications including
typography, stationery, digital media applications and derivative signets.
The End of Print: the Graphic Design of David Carson by Blackwell and Carson (Chronicle Books, 1995)
The Graphic Language of Neville Brody by Brody and Wozencroft (Thames and Hudson, 1994)
John Brumfield, B.A. California Institute of the Arts, M.A. UC Berkeley, M.F.A. CSU Los Angeles. Photographer, writer – currently
Faculty Member at the Media Design Program at ACCD, Pasadena
Introduction to communication theory by John Fiske: p.115 – 1982, Routledge, London
excerpt from the ACVT website: http://www.acvt.com.au/
Introduction to communication theory by John Fiske – 1982, Routledge, London
"semiotics." WordNet® 2.0. Princeton University. 17 Oct. 2006. <Dictionary.com
Introduction to communication theory by John Fiske: p.115 – 1982, Routledge, London
Introduction to communication theory by John Fiske – 1982, Routledge, London
Saussure, Ferdinand de ( 1983): Course in General Linguistics (trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth
Bending Rules by Bruton and Radford – excerpt from Grammar and Rules (draft at May 2004)
Bending Rules by Bruton and Radford (draft at May 2004)
Islamic Patterns by Keith Critchlow (London, Thames and Hudson, 1976)
The essential writings of Marcel Duchamp: Marchand du Sel, edited by Sanouillet and Peterson (London, Thames and Hudson, 1975)
Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts, 1979
Saussure, Ferdinand de ( 1983): Course in General Linguistics (trans. Roy Harris). London: Duckworth and Saussure,
Ferdinand de ( 1974): Course in General Linguistics (trans. Wade Baskin). London: Fontana/Collins
http://www.beyeler.com Mark Rothko: A consummated experience between picture and onlooker 18.02/29.06. 2001 – Fondation
Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland