The Art of Squares

For the second assignment of Communication Design, we were asked to create a series of compositions of black solid squares, to express 5 different keywords: Rigid vs. Fluid, Rhythmic vs. Erratic, Figure/Ground.

We started with thumbnail sketches. It is always good for us to start beyond the restrictions of softwares and expansively explore our ideas.

The initial sketches

In the beginning, my ideas of the allocations of squares was limited. It was hard for me to think of delicate ways to express these words, instead of simply putting a gigantic black solid square to represent “RIGID”. But as I did more and more work, I started to explore the deeper meanings of the word. For example, I began to relate words to my feelings: when I thought of graceful I kept imagining the natural process of snowing, the patterns of an ancient rug…So I finished all the sketches in this mindset. And elaborated them to my first digital version.

The first digital version

But as soon as I got the first feedback from Julia, I realized that I was being too literal about the words. Instead of doing compositions that can show people what they’re expressing, I was putting too much attention on what the pattern should be interpreted as. For instance, the word “Graceful” reminds of flowers, so I made the composition on the upper left to symbolize a flower. But actually for people without this context, this one may seem to them to be “Rhythmic”. I suddenly realized that all the time I was thinking too much. I should have focus on the aspect of how people would feel when they have their very first look at the picture. This project is really about the relationship between the squares and spaces and how that expression can pass on to people.

So based on that “discovery”, I decided to rethink about my compositions and worked really hard on the final ones. I started to ask different people frequently for their opinions at the first sight. Also, I started to do subtle changes in copied versions just to compare and make things perfect. Hundreds of small changes would lead to a huge leap.

Refining the final ones

After times and times of trying, the final version was out.

Rigid vs. Fluid

I especially like the Rigid vs. Fluid one.The rigid one gives a rigid feeling no matter you are looking from far away or closely. As you get closer and closer, you see more. It expresses a feeling of a tiny thing being trapped by four huge objects and can go nowhere. The fluid one is my favorite. It seems to be rigid at the first sight but as you look at it for 0.1 second or even less, you can see the fluidity going on there. This piece also works in different distances. As you see it distantly, you see a two dimensional ripple flowing. And as you go closer, you see dozens of individual lines floating in the wind.

Rhythmic vs. Erratic

I did the rhythmic one by a technic called “recursion”. Each square is both a starting point and an ending point of a system of nine squares, and they kept going on. It also gives me a feeling of beats, from black to red, red to black…The erratic one is also special. I started with 36 nicely aligned same-sized squares and just randomly changed their size and color. I think it is really obvious to see what those two compositions are expressing.


For the figure/ground one, I started with one small part of this pattern as you can find above. And as I started trying to do some changes, I found the massiveness of this pattern may give people a stronger sense of what I’m expressing here. But unfortunately I neglected a important point, this composition looks very different from distance. Though on my computer screen it is clearly reversible, but at the critique, many colleagues pointed out they were not able to see that. This taught me a lesson of being careful of what the size of the picture would do, and the necessity of doing test printings.

Overall, I definitely feel this project enhanced my understandings of the spatial relationship between objects and white spaces. Also I start to see a clearer picture of how communication design works. I hope that I could effectively use what I learned and do a better job in the next project.