Design Analysis

Art 200 / Greg Clayton

Study, Describe and Formally Analyze Visual Designs

We learn from other designers.

      If we study their designs.

       That's what this is about.

We're aiming to learn to learn from the successful design tactics and strategies of other designers.
Every successful designer spends a lot of time looking at form — at designs that impress, at designs that disappoint, at designs that are surprising.
We look to figure out what makes it work — to figure out what differences make the difference. We want to recognize the differences in form that evoke our different responses -- how do varying lines, shapes, colors, arrangements, etc. change how we feel?

Recall that we don't design objects, we design viewer responses — we aim to evoke thoughts and feelings, to stimulate attitudes and choices. The objects we design are only means to that end. Recall also that we can't "make beauty" or "make provokative" or "make meaningful". The only thing we really do is to select, edit and arrange forms — lines, shapes, colors, textures, space, etc. We select raw form, imagery and text to refer to ideas and emotions. But we do not "make" or "control" things like beauty, energy, strength, truth, etc. And we do not control our viewers — they feel what they fee,l and think what they think, and do what they do. All we can do is select and arrange forms so as to influence them.
So what selections and arrangements of form have the impact that we want?

One designer's strategy is to look at forms — to critique or analyze interiors, web sites, paintings, etc..

Look and feel.
See and sense.
Observe and consider.

What does this make me feel? How engaging is this? How evokative? What thoughts come to mind?
The designer observes both the design itself, and her own response to that design. Both aspects are essential.

Then, the designer begins to analyze the forms, imagery and references in the work. This analysis aims to connect the "things" in the design, to the felt response — how or why did this design make me feel this way?

This sort of design analysis helps us learn strategies from the designs that impact us -- adding tools to our personal creative toolbox of ideas, tactics, techniques and style.

Your job is to explore a variety of designs and to describe/communicate their form and content.


Design Analysis Problems       

Unity and Variety Analysis 1

You are exploring...
      a) What forms unify or "pull together" this design?
      b) What forms add variety, contrast, diversity or energy to this design?

A) Find Successful DesignA

— Find a design that exhibits strong, successful unity… a design that YOU like.
Describe the work...
You do not have list a bunch of hard-to-find facts about the work, but describe what you do know — (does it have a title? do you know what medium it is? If it is an interior, what is the function/purpose of the space? do you know who created the work?)

You may find images/designs online -- copy/paste them into your email message.
You may photograph or scan images and then place them in your message.

B) Find Unsuccessful DesignB

— Find a design that is clearly un-unified… a design that YOU don’t think is very good.
Describe the work, as noted above.

Recall our premise: successful harmony involves an expressively appropriate balance between similarity and variety.

C) Write your critiques:

Explore what makes designA work well.

What creates unity or wholeness in this design?
If helpful, you might try responding to one or more of these questions:
— What helps unify this design?
— What forms are repeatedly used?
— Is there a particular kind of line ... or shape...or texture that is prominent?
— What structure, arrangment or alignments are used? (symmetry? a grid of rows and/or columns? aligned edges...centers? ...groupings/clusters?)
— Are certain colors used and reused?

What creates diversity, energy, surprise or contrast -- variety -- in this design?
— What forms and traits add variety, contrast, diversity or energy?
Where are contrasts strong?
Where are diagonals or aggressive curves used?
Is there strong imbalance (asymetrical balance)?
Are there highly directional forms — forms that point to, or drive towards a particular direction?
Are colors brilliant — high chroma?

Explore what makes designB look weak.

What can you find that causes this design to be less strong?

You might try responding to one or more of these questions:
— Is there any single trait the dominates or "pulls it all together"?
— What might be corrupting unity or harmony? What distracts or competes?
— What features are commanding attention that should not?
— Are there any organizing traits? (alignments, symmetry, grouping...) or does it all seem chaotic?
— Where is too little white space being used? Does the design seem crowded?

D) Include images: Create JPG images of A & B and send as attachments. (150kb max)

Paste or place your message into an email message.
(Please don't embed images in a word processing (MS Word) document and then attach that wp document to your email... just insert or attach images to your email message. )

E) Email your critiques to ( :

Email to :
subject: 2D01
by 9:00am on day of class.



Examples: some of these web-posted critiques/analyses include sections on unity and variety.

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