Thursday, May 27, 2010

Design Balance: Fitting one character's positive shapes into another's negative space

Japanese magazines have some really good layout in them.

These clusters of Dream Pets could easily have been cluttered disorganized messes, but instead they ad up to a pleasing and easy to understand design. The whole composition and arrangement invites your eyes to navigate easily accross the page.

The layout artist arranged all the characters very carefully to make them:

1) Read Clearly (functional)
2) To form flowing patterns within the larger scheme (To be hierarchical and aesthetically pleasing)

Here, the toys are arranged in a flowing curve that helps frame the curved Type.
Augie Doggie's head (below) is neatly framed by the wide spread crotch of the character above.
This is using one characters negative space to frame another character's positive space.

The penguin below is neatly framed by the negative spaces of the characters around him.
Here, there is a group of small characters forming a circular shape, next to a larger character.

If you study the whole-page spreads- Squint your eyes and look at them - you can see all kinds of clever patterns, forms and flowing shapes that make the whole picture easy to read and aesthetically pleasing. This is good design.
These margins are nice too. They help separate a different concept from the rest of the page.

Bad design is chaos and clutter, when all the individual shapes bash into each other or create awkward looking negative shapes between them.

Bad designers think of each small individual shape first and don't look at the big picture.

These concepts apply not only to page layout but to staging characters in a cartoon, or designing a beautiful building.

Design is functional and aesthetic.

Easy to see, organized and hierarchical in structure.
Here is a sample page I laid out for the Spumco book where I tried to apply some of these ideas.

The middle section of the 2 page spread shows Ren and Stimpy reacting to the unfolding horror story of the Children's Crusade surrounding them.

The panels of Ren and Stimpy are arranged on a flowing curve that relates to the flowing curves in Nick Cross' pan layouts of the children below.

Say no to chaos, I say.

I am working on a couple of projects that require this kind of clear and happy layout and I wrote this post to help the designers understand what I like.

Kristen McCabe is very good at this
So is George Clark:See how one character's silhouette frames the other characters'?

14 comments:

Eric Noble said...

Very nice. BTW, I find these toys to be very appealingly designed. Each toy is pleasing to the eye. Where did you find this?

Luis María Benítez said...

Very interesting how this negative/positive spaces could be applied not only with cartoons.

Paul B said...

I LOVE DREAM PETS!
This toy are very appealing, they have various shapes, interesting and entertaining. I also like the colors.

They are like stupidly funny, ignorant and stupid little fellas.

I can see that these toys are an inspiration for Rex Hackelberg.

Thanks for explain this "balanced design" stuff!

RooniMan said...

Magazines need to be more organized like that japanese magazine.

Valerie said...

Great posting. Thank you so much!

Sherm said...

Great stuff! George Lichty and Roy Crane were also masters at this.

melina bee said...

wow, thank you for this; I am generally so amazed by any kind of Japanese (graphic or otherwise) design and it's wonderful to see you explain exactly why it works so well. What's so amazing is that the design is so organic in a way in terms of flow but also very controlled (much like a japanese garden, which uses many elements controlled in harmony).

Commander Höek said...

Nice!
Btw, any idea when Life Sucks will be completed and released?

Roberto Severino said...

Neat and organized as opposed to cluttered and messy. Great stuff, John. Clutter seems to be the norm these days, but even 60 years ago, I'm pretty sure you could still find some really cluttered stuff, including cartoons and even the animation in them. Gene Deitch Tom and Jerrys and some of the UPA cartoons come to mind.

SquidJiggerLips said...

Great post!

Ger Apeldoorn said...

What I found out, in writing as well as design as well as a couple of other things, I guess: it pays to be obvious. In fact, it is better to be obvious in form about new stuff than use a well-known idea and muck it up in form. What it means in comedy dialogue, is that it's better to shape a new joke as a joke (use funny words, put them at the end of a sentence, make the sentence short) and built it up in a dialogue, than use an old joke and sort of refer to it rather than actually say it and skirt up to it sideways in your dialogue. Thanks for helping me realize that.

Pablo said...

When i was a child I could not understand why I liked both those toys, now i can see, they have a lot of ideas in your design, colour, shape, the people who made them really know what they do. They are really great.

Saskia said...

very helpful post, thank you :)

Niki said...

Can you make more artistic posts like this? They make me feel guilty every moment that I'm not studying.