Noticing the Unnoticed: Reflecting on Vignelli’s Cannon

Glancing over some of the design elements that I must consider this week, I feel somewhat foolish that I need to research things like color and balance. Shouldn’t I inherently know these concepts? Or if not inherently, shouldn’t I have captured a thorough understanding of these ideas having completed kindergarten? Vignelli’s opening words quickly dispelled these thoughts, I have realized that what I innately know of basic design concepts is actually quite useless in the process of designing. I might get lucky in producing a good design by way of the human instinct to organize materials, but what I know about design is minimal enough to make me prone to simply walking by both expertly and ill-designed features of my world without taking notice. To make something great, I’ll need to return to the basics.
Vignelli explanation of syntax that it is more than just the language incorporated into a design, that it includes grids and overall structure, is compelling. The semantic elements of design are conveyed through the many other elements of the artwork, including the syntactic elements. Syntax can have much more literal and straightforward interpretations, and relies far more on consistency, pattern and organization. However, contrary to my initial assumptions, syntax is not the element of practicality in design. I had interpreted Vignelli’s initial description of syntax as the important aspect of functionality in design, but I think that quality lies within pragmatism in design. The brief description of these three elements does tease them apart so that they become individual and recognizable within design but I have also realized that without unity of these elements, a design will be insufficient.
I was particularly interested in Vignelli’s discussion of ambiguity in design. Having previously mentioned the importance of discipline and appropriateness, ambiguity seems like an undesirable aspect of design. However, the ability for a design to convey unique meaning to several consumers is quite powerful. In this sense, ambiguity is synonymous with versatility, I hope to incorporate this flexibility of meaning into some of the designs I will create this week.
As I read through Vignelli’s cannon, I initially failed to actively recognize the very simple yet elegant and effective design of the cannon itself. The text is minimal but the language flows beautifully, managing to fully discuss each subject. Of particular note was the manner in which Vignelli provided examples of each concept, rather than referencing photos, he simply lays out images to the right of the text. Each adjacent image is representative of the concept being discussed, but by leaving the photos uncaptioned as they are, Vignelli leaves us to our own devices. We must take his descriptions and apply them to the examples, even as he teaches us Vignelli expects us to sense just what it is about the given photos that fulfills the concept of discussion.
Vignelli’s discussion of timelessness in design is of particular importance to me. Timelessness is not a quality that will come naturally to me. To be timeless, a design must be uncomplicated and clear, and I certainly have a tendency to overcomplicate much of my work. Therefore this is a concept that I hope I can work on, perhaps if I can create compelling designs that are also simple, then I can begin to take on the other challenges in my life without creating unnecessary impediments for myself. These intangible concepts are all much more difficult features to incorporate into design and are the qualities that I predict will be most challenging for me. However, tangible components will come more easily to me as I begin to define them for myself and create clear understandings of what makes for good and (equally important) poor design.
I found it fairly interesting that Vignelli takes such significant offense to the colloquial use of typography since the invention of the computer. While I agree that perhaps the radical availability of typographic tools may degrade what was once an impressive art form, I do not see this as quite as much as a tragedy as Vignelli. I think that the availability of these tools of typography has the potential to push designers farther in the development of their products. When an art form becomes so accessible, only a true expert will be capable of generating their unique craft. It is surprising, too, that Vignelli is so concerned with over-production of the craft, although as I type these words I am reminded that I have very rarely strayed from “Calibri (body)” font in any typing that I have done since probably third grade.
Color is a deceptively simple element. Prior to reading Vignelli’s cannon, I thought effective use of color in design would require intricate subtlety, but it is apparently much more simplistic. I think this is conformation of Vignelli’s belief that color is used as a symbol. I have been under the impression that color in design is far more complex because the ideas that colors convey are complex. I am much less fearful of my analysis and use of color this week. Had I not read Vignelli, I think I may have sought out overly complex color schemes, not knowing the power of simplicity in colorful design.
Vignelli’s brief cannon was the perfect initiation into the realm of design. I know now that our world operates on a scale of organization that requires our conscious appreciation in order to understand it. But more impressively, these designs do not necessarily demand our conscious appreciation. The most perfect designs may go unnoticed by us as we traverse through our conveniently constructed world, and this week it will be my job to take notice.

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