form & composition

about the project

In this project, the goal was to convey a meaning through the placement and relationships of solid black squares. Aiming to describe word pairs such as rigid & fluid, clumsy & graceful, and rhythmic & erratic, I played around with shapes, patterns, and proximity in order to communicate these ideas.

project process

Before I started to sketch, I first mulled over the definitions of each word in order to identify what specifically I wanted to convey through the design. In my first draft sketches for each word , I tried different interpretations of each definition — allowing myself to gather multiple ideas and choose which ones I think worked better later on.

Starting with rigid, I aimed to convey the idea of heaviness & solidity, going along with the definition of not being easily changed or forced out of shape. In most sketches, I only used a few boxes in order to show their weight and importance, because in my mind those structures seemed more stable and harder to move / change. I tried to ground the boxes and keep them parallel to each other or the sides of the frame in order have a sense of ‘gravity’ or cohesiveness. In the top left sketch, I imagined a very brittle item being shattered — a characteristic of something rigid because it wasn’t able to bend and therefore it broke.

Next, I sketched fluid and with these I tried to convey a sense of motion. I immediately thought of flowing water and I was compelled to use curves as well as more / smaller squares. Having more squares allowed me to show motion as if the design was flowing from one area of the frame to another. Varying the size of the squares also allowed for a natural flow (from larger square to smaller ones or vice versa). Our mind’s tendency towards closure really help communicate a path that the squares were traveling on. Playing off the idea of rigid not being able to bend, the bottom left design showed the opposite — a figure changing shape with ease.

With clumsy, the idea of ‘falling’ and ‘awkwardness’ came to mind, so I tried to use medium-sized blocks and place them awkwardly in the frame. Using medium-sized blocks allowed me to show movement because they weren’t as imposing as the larger blocks (like in my rigid sketches) and not too small that they seemed as if they were just floating around. I tried making designs that were very visually dissonant so things looked slightly out of place. In the sketch on the second row to the right, I imagined a tower of building blocks stacked very haphazardly as if they were about to fall over.

For graceful, similar to fluid, I imagined movement and motion. I tried to use the squares to show grace and elegance through squares of the same size as well as patterns. The idea of motion also reminded me of circular patterns so I played around with paths and angles of the squares rotation. By having the squares close in proximity, the notion of continuity and flow were incorporated into the design. Viewer’s eyes automatically connect the dots (or in this case, squares) to complete the shape of the path. In the bottom two sketches, I aimed to show the more elegant side of ‘graceful’ by using a consistent pattern and playing around with proportions.

Regarding the adjective rhythmic, I visually interpreted rhythm as containing patterns or repetition. Therefore, I used multiple squares of the same size in close proximity to show patterns. At first I thought that simple patterns (such as the first two sketches) would be able to convey the idea of rhythm, however, as I sketched I found that I also associated rhythm also with ups and downs similar to heartbeats and music. Going off of that idea, I came up with the last few sketches that used different horizontal or vertical alignment and overlapping to convey that sense.

For erratic, I wanted the relationships between the square to be irregular. I tried going for unpredictability by varying the sizes, placements, and angles of the square in a way that wasn’t based off of any particular pattern. By using many different angles, I wanted to eliminate the feeling of stability that I was going for in some of my designs for other words. I wanted my designs to be unexpected — which is what I was going for in the bottom three designs, however, after re-evaluating them later I realized didn’t really effectively communicate the idea of erratic.

For my initial figure / ground sketches, I didn’t realize that we still had to use square (I don’t know why — for some reason I thought that they were separate assignments), but I still played around with the foreground / background relationships between the white and black figures.

digitizing my sketches

organized by column (left to right): rigid, fluid, clumsy, graceful, rhythmic, erratic, figure / ground

While most of my ideas stayed consistent between my paper sketches & the digital ones, some of my interpretations took a new direction once I started using the software. I realized the crispness of the lines on the computer really made a difference — especially in designs like clumsy and erratic because the imperfect squares helped convey those ideas in my sketches but were lost when I used the software. I decided not to use the rigid & fluid word pair because I was more inspired by the other two & I felt that I was able to communicate the other ideas better.


new ideas after using the software

For clumsy, I found that the original sketches I had made didn’t fully communicate the idea because with my awkward placement of squares, it just seemed like they were floating around — which then conveyed a sense of grace and slow motion. In my critique we discussed the concept of needing to have some of my squares grounded so that there was something to compare the clumsy ones to. In the first few designs I digitized, most if not all of them were tilted in some direction, which made it look like there was a purpose to having them all be angled. I was trying to make all of the squares look clumsy — but in doing so it lessened the feel of clumsiness in the whole design. To change that, I started making some of the squares more orderly in order to draw out the squares that were out of place. Playing around with rows and angles of rotation, I came up with the bottom left design, which I felt conveyed clumsy but only subtly (some of the people I asked didn’t really see it). In that design, I tried to vary the square sizes and angles at which they were tilted, but the clumsiness still wasn’t as obvious as I wanted it to be. I tried using color in some of the squares to see if it would show a lack of elegance by only having color in half of the out of place squares (like in the design with green squares). Adding color to the squares that were out of place definitely emphasized the awkwardness of those boxes and made it more clear as to what the intention of the design was, which is why I ultimately went with the bottom right design. I ended up using squares that were the same size and only rotating the ones that were in color in order to focus attention to those that were clumsy without distracting from the rest.


ideas from sketches
refined versions

When I refined my sketches for graceful, I focused on the flowing movement of squares placed in close proximity of one another. I realized that in my other sketches, the squares were too big and too intrusive for the design to look elegant as a whole. Choosing to focus on capturing curves and movement, I played around with different paths the squares could take. I decided to add another curve in order to add to the flowing feeling. I felt that only one curve didn’t completely capture the essence of grace because the rest of the image just seemed so vast that the line almost looked out of place. I liked having two parallel lines because to me it represented how they were moving together, which reminded me of synchronized figure skaters that are extremely graceful. In the end, I decided on having the two paths overlap a bit because it made it seem as if the two lines were flowing as one entity. I added color to the line in the back in order to keep the shape of squares visible, and so it could act like a shadow / highlight for the curve in the foreground.

A note on choosing the color blue: I wanted to choose a color that stood out but wasn’t too bright or surprising. I felt that this blue was calming and elegant enough to fit with a graceful feel, while bright enough to draw attention to the out of place squares in clumsy.


original sketch ideas
refining the ideas

For rhythmic, I stuck to simple patterns because I felt that that would convey rhythm best. I started with just a few number of squares but quickly realized that having more squares in the design would allow me to create a better pattern. I went from one row of squares to two, and then I tried playing around with color in these designs as well. I felt that the color for these designs was a little over the top and not really adding much value to what I was trying to communicate. I realized that having solely horizontal lines took away any movement there could’ve been in the design, which hindered its ability to be rhythmic because rhythms generally include some sort of moving pattern, like musical rhythms or heartbeats. This is why I ultimately refined the bottom middle design to get the bottom right design (which is my final design). By using different levels, there was rhythm both vertically and horizontally as the squares seem to go left to right & up and down.


original sketch ideas
new ideas

Erratic was one of the more difficult ones for me because I was trying to communicate a sense of randomness and unexpectedness, however, a lot of my designs didn’t feel ‘erratic’ enough. I tried going for unpredictability by varying the sizes, placements, and angles of the square in a way that wasn’t based off of any particular pattern. The issue became that a lot of my designs seemed random at first, but after looking at it for a bit longer, I felt that they weren’t irregular enough to communicate the idea fully. Most of my struggles I think came from how few blocks I used at first. It was hard to capture randomness and unpredictability in with one figure. That’s why as I progressed, I decided to add more squares to create a sense of chaos. Playing around with tilting / rotating the squares, I wanted to show that there was a lot going on at once, but the squares weren’t planned to be in any particular place or orientation. Using a combination of rotated and perpendicular squares helped show randomness because people wouldn’t be expecting them to be one way or the other.

figure / ground

When I was playing around with figure / ground, I stuck to some of the more simple designs. The top left design came to mind at first because I could definitely see black squares but also the white # sign in the middle was very visible. I tried straying away from a plain checkered image, and created shapes using combinations of squares. I ended up choosing to go with the bottom right image because in my head, I could clearly switch the background and foreground. I personally see a black division sign using squares and then a white M and W. Although it’s simple, I believe that it does effectively demonstrate the figure / ground relationship.

final piece

clumsy & graceful
rhythmic & erratic
figure / ground


In the beginning of the project, I had no idea how or where to start. Sketching the different words took me longer than I expected because I realized even though I knew the definitions of each word, I didn’t know how to capture their essence in an image. However, throughout the iterations of going back and changing things / trying new ideas out, I slowly began to see what communicated better (or worse). Trusting my intuition as well as talking to other people to see what they thought really helped my designs because in the end I think they effectively communicated the words they were designed to.

Before critiques, I was apprehensive about my project because I felt that my designs were extremely simple and subpar compared to other people. What I learned was that complexity does not always equate to good communication. People were able to see what I was trying to show even though I only had 5–10 squares in the frame, and I think the simplicity really helped to augment the meaning. For future assignments, I want to challenge myself to think more creatively (I was really inspired by some of the really intricate designs) but I hope to accomplish that without losing the message behind the design.