Abstract Design: Some Project-Related Concerns

I am having a design-related issue with my project that overlaps with a lot of what we were discussing yesterday during class, so I thought I would try blogging about it. My problem has to do with how to present a set of images in a way that dynamically shows the differing relations between the representations in those images. While my design concerns largely have to do with information architecture and how I am going to stage my analyses of the images for viewers, crafting the aesthetic experience of my gallery is also important for how I want users to engage with it.

What I am running up against is how to convey abstract concepts through design. (Ashley, I really appreciated your post directing our attention to Maria Ebner’s use of “images as metaphors” because of how it speaks to this issue). My project brings Victorian illustrations and advertisements depicting female bodies together in varying visual configurations as a way of demonstrating how the shifting contours of these representations interact to form ideological spectrums. The abstract concept I am trying to figure out how to render through design is a spectrum. This concept is helpful to me because along a spectrum, the elements shift in prominence and blend in relation to each other, which is how I see different forms of female embodiment operating across the Victorian period. In my project brief, I proposed using a sliding image reel (see the image gallery of this website for what I have in mind) to render the concept of an ideological spectrum because “the sliding action across items in the reel mimics the blending that occurs within a spectrum and registers the changing prominence of forms across the period of a spectrum.” However, on the level of information architecture, I’m not sure whether a sliding image reel is really the clearest/most engaging way to relay my idea.

I can’t think of how else to convey a spectrum using images, but I worry that I am stuck on this because it is an aesthetic template I am already familiar with from web design. Along the lines of what Ben was suggesting in class, it is possible that that design aesthetic is affecting my thinking in a way that prevents me from conceiving another (perhaps more effective) approach.

4 thoughts on “Abstract Design: Some Project-Related Concerns

  1. Mikayla Zagoria-Moffet

    I see the issue in terms of abstract thought and how to convey that with the images. I wonder, if you are working on some kind of image reel, if you could have the images “framed” with certain colors. For example, if you had a reel of images that went across the screen horizontally and had the nice, consistent design element of a grey shadow box around each image and those ‘shades of grey’ transitioned with your images, to denote the idea of spectrum? I think the variation could help viewers to better internalize the idea you’re getting across and could be a consistent design element that helps to connect otherwise potentially disparate images. (I have no idea whether or not this would be something you even remotely have in mind– but I think it might be an element that could potentially help with your design issue?)

  2. Luke Waltzer (he/him)

    This is a really great question you pose, and Mikayla’s response offers a nice, practical way to think about solving it .

    As Ethington’s site shows us, there is however a risk of alienating a viewer (a “reader”) if one too abstractly encodes a theoretical approach to a subject matter in its aesthetic presentation. It’s not an easy balance to strike, and maybe one of the limitations of the models and strategies that we provided you all with yesterday is that most design theory assumes that the message of the artifact you’re building is less complex than the types of arguments that are going to be at the heart of your dissertation or the scholarship your classmates produce.

    So, perhaps one approach is to try to clarify/specify your language a bit about exactly what you’re trying to encode.

    You write:

    My project brings Victorian illustrations and advertisements depicting female bodies together in varying visual configurations as a way of demonstrating how the shifting contours of these representations interact to form ideological spectrums.

    What are these contours? What can you tell us about the ideological spectrums that are formed? You’re honed in on the notion of a “spectrum,” but are there other metaphors for the ways of looking that your research is uncovering?

  3. Julie Fuller (she/her) Post author

    Many thanks for the feedback! Mikayla, your suggestion of another way to design the spectrum using color-coded frames and Luke, your question about other conceptual metaphors available to me, has led to an overhaul of my project! I am now thinking more clearly about how to encode my research methodology and convey it through the information architecture of my design. Huzza! New proposal to come…

  4. Ashley Williard

    I wonder if there might be a way to use Prezi (or something like it) to show these relationships both up close and from a distance. From what you write, it seems like it would be useful to be able to see the “spectrum” as a whole (the colored frames Mikayla mentions) but also to be able to zoom in to focus on one image or one zone/grouping/hue on the spectrum. This might also open things up beyond the one line of images to show more dynamic relationships, as Luke seems to be asking. This being said, I don’t know that Prezi is the best for such a project, but perhaps others know?

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