Breaking Rules

So I’m reading Art is Work by Milton Glaser. It’s one of those big art books and it’s really excellent in an Understanding Comics kind of way.

Here’s an excerpt that jumped out at me. For one thing, it’s about breaking the rules, which is something I am typically interested in. For another, it’s about posters and one of the things that I routinely produce is called a poster (although not exactly the same kind). Lastly, it turns from a simple list of things to keep in mind — your audience is on the run, be reductive, be clear — into a more complicated meditation on the increasing complexity of modern audiences.

The earliest rule I remember about posters (in my first year of high school fifty years ago) was that they were made for people on the run. Consequently, the ideal poster should be simple in form, reductive in content, and easily understood. By and large, these seemed to be useful if not obvious assumptions. In recent years, however, I’ve found myself modifying these beliefs in a variety of ways—partially from my desire to investigate alternative visual and philosophical possibilities, and also in an attempt to recognize the changes that have occurred in the last half-century regarding the public’s ability to respond to ambiguity and complexity. Film, computers, and television have helped create a visual environment that scarcely resembles the one I knew as a student. In addition designers have become increasingly interested in thinking of design as a tool for philosophical and social inquiry — to some extent replicating the role that painting traditionally assumed. At the moment, such issues as “what is real,” “what is beautiful,” or “what is socially responsible” can engage a designer’s interest as much as the more traditional questions of effective communication.