P2 — Process Documentation
When I first saw the prompt and concept for P2, I was fascinated. I knew that attempting to convey the meaning of different words with just mere squares would be a challenge, but it was one I was excited to explore. From initial sketches, to first drafts on Illustrator, to endless repeated iterations, each step of the design process was an enlightening one that expanded my design toolbox. Here’s how the process played out.
Word 1: Order
Conveying order with squares is tricky because squares are inherently orderly shapes. Thus, it’s easy to get lazy and portray the squares in a linear, rigid fashion. This is something I wanted to avoid, so in most of my sketches, I attempted to convey feelings of movement. I still played around with more organized ideas, such as my sketches with the bricks and the podium shape, but I found that I didn’t like them as much as my bottom two ideas, which both had more of a lively feeling. I especially liked the bottom-most one (with the parallel, tilted, ordered squares), so that’s what I tried to build off of.
My first attempts at order were two direct translations of my sketches. For the left version, it was tricky aligning the squares — when they’re slanted the way they are, they seem to form a slight optical illusion that gives them the appearance of angling upwards. However, using pathfinder tools, I ensured that the squares were properly aligned. After receiving feedback from Suzanne and Rachel, I realized that perhaps it would be interesting to combine my two concepts: having the tilted squares, but with them gradually increasing in size order. And so, I set about combining them to see what it might look like:
I liked my second iteration much more because order was now conveyed in two different ways: the squares were still in parallel, but they grew in ascending order as well. However, upon further observation, I noticed that my piece still required a final tweak. I didn’t like how the bottom of the squares were not perfectly aligned, because that detracted from the sense of order my piece sought to convey. One iteration later, I reached my final version:
Bingo! With the bottoms of the squares all perfectly in line, order was now portrayed in three separate, distinct ways. During the final crit, I also received a comment that unveiled a hidden image I didn’t notice at first: “it looks like a set of steps!” I was pleasantly surprised, and that simple remark taught me a lot; just four, simple squares can convey an incredible amount of different feelings and ideas. That is the power of design: the interpretation of meaning truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Word 2: Tension
When I stopped to think about what tension meant to me, I immediately thought of the concept of internal tension. Things that are out of place, not in line, or simply askew tend to be very internally frustrating, and in my mind, that was a unique take on tension. So, for my preliminary sketches, I tried to portray this idea. My top two sketches both show one square slightly out of place amongst other orderly squares; in the top left, one square is skewed while the others remain parallel, while in the upper right, the spacing between two of the squares is just slightly off. For the sake of experimenting, I also played around with other ideas of tension, too. I had a square wedged in between two cliff faces (I felt this was too stiff and symmetrical), a tower of blocks ready to topple over (I liked this concept, but it was a bit too centered and plain), and three squares converging off-center (this was an interesting concept, but I just didn’t like it as much as the others). I chose to continue exploring the first two.
I started off with these two ideas translated to Illustrator. I had to add an additional column on the left version to make the spacing work, but I liked it more than my original concept because the tilted square was no longer centered. On the right, I had the third square slightly closer to the fourth, but the spacing difference was actually a little too subtle and hard to notice. I made the necessary adjustments and tried again.
For Iteration 2, I shifted the slanted square slightly out of place so that it was no longer centered in its own little grid. On the right, I made the spacing even more ill-defined, leaving just a sliver of space between squares #3 and #4. I liked both of these concepts, but I felt that there was more room to explore the left option, so I chose to stick with that one. When I asked Rachel to come over and check on it, she suggested I make the skewed-ness of the tilted square even more egregious by having it physically touching another square. I gave it a shot, and I loved the final result!
This was my final draft of tension. Rachel was right; the fact that the upper corner of the slanted square is just barely touching the square above it is incredibly aggravating and tense. In addition, I chose to leave a small slice of white space between the upper right corner of the slanted square and the square to the right in order to have some differences in the spacing. I felt that irregularity would be a good way to convey tension, so I tried my best to make the slanted square feel as out of place as possible. During the crit, my piece got the reaction I was hoping for: “very tense!”
Word 3: Congestion
Congestion was a tricky one for me to plan out. The first thought that came to mind for me was traffic lanes; being from California, I have a lot of familiarity with the chaos of Los Angeles traffic, so I wanted to see if I could emulate that. My first attempt (upper left) tried to convey the feeling of cars filling up both sides of a road, but I didn’t like how stationary and rigid it felt. My next thought for congestion was the crowdedness of the streets of Taiwan. I wanted to play around with the street directions a bit, so I rotated the bordering squares so that my streets could be diagonal and slanted. I then include some alleyways to make it feel more like a street scene. My final sketch (bottom right) was simply an additional experiment with bordering squares; interestingly enough, this was the piece I ended up sculpting into my final version!
Suzanne gave me a very interesting piece of feedback on my bottom right sketch. She liked my idea of having multiple misshapen squares surrounded by larger, bordering squares, but she felt that the white spaces I had left between the large squares and on the left side actually conveyed the opposite feeling of congestion; rather, they felt like escape routes or alleyways. After taking this thought to heart, I decided to enclose the small squares completely, so it seemed like they were trapped in a small room with no way out. But upon further examination, I decided there was still too much white space. My friend leaned over and gave me an invaluable suggestion: “you know, the white room doesn’t have to be in the shape of a perfect rectangle…”
She was right! I had been unintentionally confining myself to clearly defined shapes and structures, but it was time for me to explore different outcomes with the squares I used to create the white space. I started constricting, squeezing, shifting, and readjusting, and I eventually started to notice that my piece felt almost like a video game stage! This was an idea I wanted to build off of. However, something didn’t feel quite right about it; I could tell I was missing a sense of balance. So, I continued to cultivate my video game world.
By adding the sliver of white space, I was able to improve the balance of my piece while also making it feel like a small pathway. I also added a black square in the white box on the right side that was just slightly too big to fit into the path, further adding to the congested feeling of the piece. If we interpret the small black square as the main hero in our video game, the congestion is clear: the hero will never be able to squeeze through the pathway, let along make it past the large, black squares blocking his path later on as well. The white room is tight, constricted, and blocked, creating an atmosphere of compactness and congestion.
I really appreciated the feedback I got on this piece during the final critique. Most of it emphasized my usage of negative space, but I also got some delightful comments about what different people saw in my design; one person felt the white pathway looked like an “octopus tentacle,” and another person even viewed my piece as a “motherboard” on a computer chip! Neat perspectives all around!
Word 4: Playfulness
Playfulness was likely one of my favorite words to explore! As soon as I saw the word, I immediately knew I wanted to do something whimsical and fun. My first thought was a bouncing ball or spring, so I tried to build my preliminary ideas off of that concept. My first four sketches were all variations of the same idea: a series of squares tumbling down either a hill, or a flight of squares. Each of my different sketches played with a different idea in terms of square structure, layout, positioning, and cropping.
When I showed my first ideas to Suzanne and Rachel, they provided me with some fantastic suggestions and recommendations that ended up greatly influencing my final piece. Suzanne felt like I could try experimenting with the squares tumbling upwards, and Rachel suggested I capitalize on the curvature of the squares. I tried to include both in my next few iterations!
These were my first two versions of playfulness. I determined that I liked having a corner of the big square peeking out on the hill, and I tried flipping the squares so that there was one version going downhill, and one version going up. I wasn’t entirely sure which one I liked more, but I did like how the downhill version had a bit of cropping to make it feel like it was continuing to tumble downhill. Funnily enough, it was actually a complete accident that helped me transition to my next iteration…
I was trying to flip my downhill version to go uphill, but I accidentally “rotated” the squares instead of “mirroring” them. It was a mistake, but when I looked at the outcome, I was intrigued; it now looked like the squares were floating uphill rather than tumbling! Would it be possible to explore this concept further? Did I even need the hill there anymore?
I decided to remove the hill and have the the squares look like they were sailing up towards the sky. It felt appropriate to add a little loop-de-loop in order to have the squares appear even more whimsical and playful, so I played around with the curvature to make the loop appear somewhat natural. Suzanne came over and applauded the way the loop curved, so I made sure to retain that portion of the piece. However, Rachel pointed out that the two ends of the curve were nearly coplanar, which bothered her slightly. So, for my final iteration, I made the necessary adjustments so that the squares angled slightly more upwards.
It was a great suggestion! By having the bottoms of the curves non-coplanar, the swirl now really looked like it was sailing up towards the sky. I am very grateful for Suzanne and Rachel’s feedback on this piece, as they helped me transform an idea I was already very comfortable with into an even more playful one!
One of the comments during the final crit actually gave me a suggestion to further improve this piece: they felt that if I included even more squares, I would have a more fluid composition. That’s a very insightful remark, and one I would love to explore in the future!
Word 5: Comfort
Comfort was a challenging word for me to approach because there were just SO many ways to convey it. My thought process for this term was twofold: I could either attempt to depict comfort by showing something very safe and snug, or I could try to create a meditative design that put the viewer at ease and in a state of perpetual zen. Both seemed very comforting to me, so I experimented with both concepts. My top right sketch showed a square tucked safely away between two couch-shaped objects, portraying a very cozy and comforting scene. My other designs focused on patterns that appeared comforting; I really liked the concept of a gradient, so I tried to work around that. My bottom two sketches were plays on the idea of raindrops falling down a window pane, as that tends to be a scene of comfort for many. I chose to work with those two for my next few iterations, but this was undeniably one of my most frustrating pieces to produce.
I started off by directly translating my concept to Illustrator. When Suzanne looked at my first draft, she suggested I try placing the raindrops at a slight angle to make them feel more natural, so that’s what I did for the version on the right. However, something still felt off; the way the squares looked felt jagged, rough, and not really all that comforting. When Rachel observed my piece, she felt the same way; the general outline of the bottom of the raindrops wasn’t very soothing. She suggested I try reshaping the direction of the raindrops, or even just pivot my approach entirely.
The change in approach worked! I decided to mainly scrap the raindrop idea and go back to my gradient approach. Instead of having squares with various sizes, I made the transition from larger to smaller squares much more apparent and clear. In addition, instead of having a jagged outline for the bottom of my piece, I made it a smooth, clean diagonal. I liked this version so much more; the squares were aligned, they was a clear hierarchy of size, and the clean gradient made for a very relaxing, comforting sight.
I was really happy reading the comments on this piece during the critique. Some of the comments I received discussed how “soothing and relaxing” my gradient looked, and I especially liked the remark about how it felt like there was a giant “surface behind this window.” In a way, my raindrop idea still shone through, even after I modified my design. I took a creative approach to comfort, and it paid off!
This was, without a doubt, one of my favorite projects I have ever engaged in. The amount of thought, effort, iterating, and revision that went into the process made all of the comments during the final crit so rewarding to hear. More importantly, the suggestions and feedback I received from Suzanne, Rachel, and the rest of my peers was insightful, constructive, and ultimately invaluable towards the completion and success of my project.
Learning how to convey meaning through simple shapes and objects was a challenging endeavor, but one that I know helped broaden my design repertoire immensely. With new creative ideas stored in my mind, I am beyond excited to take on the next project. Onwards!