February 24, 2012 by agooddaytoyou
I’ve been developing a new project at work today, and playing with some minimal design.
First a caveat: I am not a trained designer – I didn’t go to design school – so some of what I’m about to go into may be obvious or worse wrong by design standards. But I’m not a big believer in design standards anyway – I’ll get into that another time. Everything I know about design I learned (or made up) by submerging myself in it. So with that out of the way let me try to explore a design concept.
I’ve been staring at black circles for a day now and I’ve been really enjoying them. They defy other design elements, in a way – because not can work with them. Often a filled circle ends up sitting on top of a design, as a button, call out or logo. This is what they’ve been doing on my monitor. Sitting onto of the screen, blocking out the light.
Modern LCD monitors and TVs are actually made up of little ribbons – thin-film transistors (TFT). These ribbons are used to colour the pixels (three per pixels, for (r)ed, (g)reen, and (b)lue. [Note: this is all from memory and so may be wrong by today’s standards, but at one point was true]. The back of the screen is evenly lit, so if you imagine the ribbons weren’t there – you’d be looking at a white screen. An electric current is passed through the ribbons and they twist either letting light through or stay blocking it – if all of them TWIST you are looking at white, if only blue is twisted, you get red+green – which is yellow. If all are untwisted – black.
Staring at these passive black circles – blocking the light – surrounded by white, the edges start to shimmer. This is a trick of the eye. If you stare at a colour long enough the cones in your eye which ‘catch’ that colour get tired and stop responding as well, when you shift your vision to something else these cones, now no longer responding as well leave a shadow of the shape or colour in your vision – this is called an afterimage. Staring at a black circle – the edges of the circle will begin to GLOW – brighter than the surrounding areas even, creating the impression of a great light emanating from within the shape – with the circle eclipsing this thing. This is because your eye is never at rest – you can’t really stare at something – and the tiny movements creating a large afterimage around the circle.
So I’m looking at these glowing black orbs – they don’t just glow white – there is a spectrum of light around them. And I want to recreate them.
I don’t want to draw a glowing circle (that’s easy enough) – I want to give you the impression of a glowing circle. Essentially – creating something greater than the sum of its parts.
The first version of this involved using a colour spectrum in a radial gradient around the circle. I wanted that rainbow sensation but I didn’t want it to look like a cartoon. It had to be subtle – almost not there. I wanted the gradient to glow brighter than its surroundings – but with the surroundings already white this was difficult. In fact I originally had these on just off-white/grey and I kind of preferred them that way, I think – but this site has a white background and I didn’t want the bruises to be ‘boxed’, as it were, by the image container.
So I removed colours and dimmed the gradient until it was gone. The only way I could really see it now was by squishing down in my chair and looking UP at the screen – an issue with TFT screens is their limited viewing angles – the ribbons only really work front on and while effort has gone in to giving them the screens a wider viewing angle little had gone into giving them a higher viewing angle – so the colours shift and distort across the vertical axis.
I wanted the gradient to be felt rather than seen – if that sounds wanky then you’re starting tin understand the consideration that goes into making something look unconsidered – minimalism. Eventually I couldn’t see the gradient at all – which was just about where I wanted it – and I changed it from white to an orange colour, just to see if it was still there – BAM there it was – suddenly the rainbows were back.
It looked like a bruise. You know how bruises – deep bruises – do that thing where they’re yellow in the middle, then red then purple and blue? Sometimes green on the edges. Amazing colours.
I duplicated it (unsatisfied now with just one colour, because it all started looking good) pulled the opacity right back again until now these too were almost gone.
Now the colours seemed to live on their own – look undesigned. The circles are now only in the way – they aren’t even part of this. They’re in front of it – I want to pick at them and see behind.
I set out with an idea in mind – and even though the execution was quite different to what I’d originally thought it would be – I feel like I’ve achieved the goal. Likewise with writing this – I think I set out to explain minimalism but got sidetracked along the way – so maybe I didn’t explain it very well – but maybe you get the idea anyway.