01 August 2010

[design] Guiding The Eye: What Comics And Graphic Design Have In Common

An author someone was reading to me once put it in the terms of a military campaign.

You always know where the invader will enter the page (at least in the western, English canon anyway): in the upper left. This is where they make their beachhead. This is where you begin your visual assault to bring them in.

Generally speaking, the battle for design that works is, to some degree, a battle for eyes, and to refine that point, an endeavor to guide the eye to greatest effect - something we call eyeflow. You have a small handful of conceptual tools available to you to guide the viewer's eye that you must use with knowledge and they're based on tried and true shared experience just as the military metaphor above is. After all, how do we know that the reader will start at the upper left in the most likely design paradigm?

Simple. We do it, too. That's how we know.

Tools that the designer have at hand include composition, hierarchy, which in turn have their roots in classic art - the play of light and shadow, the way you can induce the eye to view a design based on contrasts in size, light, dark, color intensity.

So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that when an comic artist writes an article (via Scott McCloud) about how the reader's eye can be invited into the picture, then I should see some parallels between graphic design and cartoon composition.

The pivot on which much of it turns would appear to be that of hierarchy. It's just as one supposes, the visual import of items in a composition from most-important to least-important; the eye will look to the most visually-important thing, typically supported by the less-remarkable. Lines establish conceptual "arrows" that guide to the sight of interest; contrast between light and dark establish landing zones that the eyes go directly to. The contrasts create a sense of hierarchy by forcing the "star of the piece" up front and prominent; the structure of the other elements form visual roads which lead to the focal point.

And, more since there are two focal points in the art used as examples, the secondary directly supports the first.

The article, Primary & Secondary: A Tale of Two Focal Points, by Dresden Codak artist Aaron Diaz, is available (and ought to be read) at http://dresdencodak.tumblr.com/post/833149000/primary-secondary-a-tale-of-two-focal-points. And do bookmark.

As a suggestion of the common human API of the comic artist and the graphic artist, it does quite well, and will open the mind up a little bit to the suggestion of the common heritage that graphic design and comics have.

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