Monday, November 5, 2012

Beauty VS Function (Part 2) - Tongtach

Typography plays a big roll as a fundamental in the world of communication. From one letter that can expresses subjectivity feeling; to formal static message; to words that convey readability and show poetry harmony. In other words, typography contains a lot of information by itself. If one letter could deliver that much information, what’s going to happened if a huge among of them stay and work together? Does typography will lose its beauty, readability or can’t express feeling anymore? This leads us to the next challenge in the world of communication, information design.

Since the world in the present day is full of endless message and information, so we can’t deny that designing information is the necessary field. It’s a challenge for designers who are taking care of information design. Because they have to have a clear understanding of the message first, which might be the information that doesn’t relate to their field or hard to understand. Then you have to manipulate it to be as easy to understand as possible while doesn’t lose its original meaning or purpose. From this reason, information design is the next step for how typography balances its beauty and function in the design world.

Edward Tufte could be the very first one who notices that we have to do something with this boring massive text of information. As one of the pioneer in information design world, his works are focusing on data visualization and translate it into simpler format such as charts, graphs, or diagrams.[1] Tufte’s chart doesn’t only simplified the mass among of information, but also gives life to it. For example of this chart about history of pop/rock music, it shows the flow of information of music history, while giving sense of movement. As music is a moving subject especially pop/rock culture, it should be fun and lively presented instead of static information format.[2] 

Of course some information should be presented in formal format. For example, the chart of Napoleon’s army in the Russian Campaign of 1812, by adjusting some tiny elements like positioning group of text and old style type choice, gives the feeling like this data come out from the 1812 war document. While giving an interesting visual, the chart function as an information design that easy to follow.[3]

From the examples by Edward Tufte, information is not just a line of text or data that wait for you to go to understand it. It has character and identity, so it’s our job as a designer to emphasize their identity, while keeping the core of its meaning and purpose clear. Tufte’s designs are successful because he has a clear understanding about the message and he can deliver it in an effective way. Although understand the message is important, but there’s endless way to execute it, the other thing that you have to understand is your audience. Tufte’s strength is not only he in charges the information, but also as an instructor, he understands his target and delivers it efficiently.

            Edward Tufte could be the master of physical information designer, but information could be conceptual as well. I don’t see who’s better than the current president of the Rhode Island School of Design, John Maeda. Like David Carson, at first Maeda didn’t have background in art or design field. He studied in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, where earned him priceless experience in different perspective. Maeda gained PhD in Design Science from the University of Tsukuba in Japan later, which now he has the ability of logical computation and art and design.[4] By this reason, it makes Maeda different from Carson. While Carson uses his own understanding and inborn artistic skill to create his works without art and design at all, Maeda has a deep understanding on both rational and conceptual thinking.

Maeda always inspire by the concept of infinity. As his works usually imply a hint of this concept. And digital could be the closest medium that can bring him to the idea.[5] For example of his work that shows his conceptual thinking, computer engineering, and abstract expression is, “CD Crash.” It’s an installation of PowerMac G3 that continue the loop of eject CD action (infinity concept) for three months. This work is an example that Maeda has a strong relation with technology in both conceptual and be able to present it in an art form.[6]

Back to typography and data visualization, his work for celebrate thirty years of Shiedo Advertising Films is a good example to show how he deals with information by his own method. The work contains three types of data: visual, audio, and film titles. By arranging all the information together and present in an abstract way, the work gives a sense of the film company. The sound wave align on the bottom, the square that pack of film visual, and the flow of film titles show the fundamental elements of film industry. The massive among of very tiny text and visual could show that the company has a lot of works during the thirty years in film industry. Besides the stunning visual and deep conceptual thinking, this work has the feeling of computer coding generated and sense of infinity, which is Maeda’s signature.[7]

In conclusion, in term of information design, function should leads beauty. Since understanding is more important than artistic satisfaction, but information won’t function without beauty. So it comes to balance it, but how we know this is the perfect balance? Where is the line that tells us? I don’t think the perfect design exist, as long as we, human is a subjective being. There’s no way to design something that everyone love. The best way to compromise this issue I found so far is the design that “most” of people love. I believe that’s the good design. I believe that’s the balance between function and beauty.


1.Digitalnature, Information Design: Edward Tufte. (accessed 5 Nov. 2012).
2.Edward Tufte, Popular Music: The Classic Graphic by Reebee Garofalo. (accessed 5 Nov. 2012).
3.Edward Tufte, Poster: Napoleon’s March. (accessed 5 Nov. 2012).
4.Holly Willis, Biography: John Maeda. (accessed 5 Nov. 2012).
5.John Maeda, Creative Code: Space (New York: Themes & Hudson Inc., 2004), 17-18.
6.John Maeda, Creative Code: Resume (New York: Themes & Hudson Inc., 2004), 7.
7.John Maeda, Maeda@Media: Static (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2000), 162-165.

1 comment:

  1. It is amazing to me how much typography plays a role in visual design as well as communicating the message. In any medium that uses typography as a visual asset, there could be a great design (or as you put it, a design that most people love) but if there is not good use of typography then the overall "greatness" can be pulled away from its distraction. I like the work for Shiseido, because it uses typography to create a fluid visual that displays the mood/practice of the film company. Great post!