Project Two | Form and Composition


For the second project of Communication Design class, we were asked to use black squares to create compositions that illustrate the following words:

  • Tension vs. Playful
  • Compact vs. Boundless
  • Rhythmic vs. Erratic

Part I : Sketching Thumbnails

I started with sketching thumbnails for each of the six words. Below are my sketches for the word pairs.


My understanding of “Tension” is that the figures would incite a sense of nervousness, or a sense of oppression. I thought of squares off-balance, or about to tip over or fall down. In my sketches, I used the corners of the squares to create a sense of imbalance, especially for the sketch in the bottom of the picture below. For the rest of my sketches, I also used “contrast” (very large squares vs. small squares) to create a sense of oppression.


My understanding of being playful is being active, energetic, fun, and even fluid. I immediately thought of using squares of different sizes, rotating the squares, and arranging the squares in irregular patterns. Continuation is a key concept that I used here to create a sense of movement and to make my figures more lively. But after viewing others’ drawings on “Playful” , I felt that my sketches were not playful, active enough. Drawing inspirations from “Boundless” , I redesigned my figure for digital iteration.


“Compact” did not work well initially as the word was a little abstract for me to illustrate using squares. I simply drew the black square such that they were tightly together. I think the concept I conveyed in the sketches was not very strong but a bit shallow. That was the reason why I did not chose this word pair for digital iterations.


The word “Boundless” immediately made me think of using squares bleeding off the page so that the viewers could imagine the bound of the squares. I also draw my inspirations from the infinity sign, spirals, and waves to create a sense of continuation. For my sketch on the top-left corner, I meant to present small squares floating freely in a boundless region. But in the first critique session, my classmates pointed out that my sketch would be better at illustrating this idea if it would be a 3-D cube. I also felt that perhaps having more small squares of varied sizes and patterns would better convey a sense of anti-gravity. (I used this idea to redesign my “Playful” sketch later.)


This group of compositions were mainly regular but lively patterns. In my two sketches on the first row I meant to illustrate raindrops, where the squares gradually increased in size (like raindrops) or the the space between two squares gradually increased (like objects falling down). I wanted to illustrate the ideas of waves and radiation in the sketch on the bottom. But this sketch is a little similar to the sketches on the top, so I chose to improve on the sketch on the top-left for digital iterations.


“Erratic” was the hardest to draw and illustrate. My understanding of erratic is being irregular in pattern and unexpected but I found it hard to create sketches that had no patterns. I also sketched one figure illustrating the erratics from the geological perspective (which did not look very good). After viewing the sketches of my classmates during the critique, I redesigned my sketches for the digital iterations later to create a figure that is “erratic” and has “no pattern”.

Part II: Digital Iterations

After the first round of critique and feedback on January 25, we picked two word pairs of our interest and two pieces for each word to work on digital iterations using Adobe Illustrator. During this process, I improved and even redesigned some of my physical iterations.

Here are the two word pairs I chose and their digital iterations:

Tension vs. Playful

I did not do many changes to “Tension”. The sketch on the right was an improvement from one of my previous sketches, and this sketch also expressed the idea of falling squares.

I redesigned my playful sketches. In the sketch on the left, the squares gradually decrease in size from left to right; the squares on the left of the page are arranged in order but as we move to the right the squares gradually break free from their orderly arrangements. The decreasing size and the loss of order create a sense of boundlessness and anti-gravity.I felt this figure conveyed a stronger message of being playful, relaxing, active that my previous sketches. The sketch on the right looks like a character I used to see in video games, and this is also where the “playfulness” comes from.

Digital Iterations

Rhythmic vs. Erratic

After receiving feedback from my classmate, I added more “raindrops” of varying sizes to further highlight the rhythm of the squares (the sketch of the left). The sketch on the right was also an improvement from my previous sketch. I added more squares of the same pattern to show the rhythm.

For “Erratic”, the sketch on the right was a redesign after I drew some inspirations from the sketches by my classmates. I wanted to create squares that have “no pattern” but have an equilibrium simultaneously. The squares comprise two straight lines but the squares are not aligned with one another so that the size and angle of any square are, in a sense, unexpected.

Part III : Final Product and Reflections

I chose one composition for each word. I used black and red squares for “Rhythmic vs. Erratic”, and used black squares only for “Tension vs. Playful”.

Choice of Color:

When choosing color, I immediately thought of both Playful and Erratic because I felt that these two compositions would convey stronger concepts with color. However, they are in different pairs. So I had to decide between Tension and Rhythmic. For Tension, I thought of coloring the two smaller squares. However, after trying a few colors on these two squares, I found the sense of tension seemed to be diminished by the color. In addition, I found it hard to color the squares of Playful without breaking the feel of anti-gravity among the squares.

Eventually, I decided to try using color for the Rhythmic vs. Erratic pair as color could probably help to strengthen the concepts, especially for Erratic. I like using color for Erratic because having some colored squares among black squares would augment the erratic nature of the squares. For the Rhythmic composition, I could also show the rhythms of both color and the pattern of the squares. Therefore, the improvement and benefit of using color on Rhythmic vs. Tension outweighted those of the other pair.

Tension (left) vs. Playful (right)

Tension vs. Playful

I slightly modified the “playful” sketch such that the squares on the left are more orderly arranged.

Reflection: I felt that the negative space at the bottom of the page could have been filled up to make the composition more balanced.

Rhythmic (left) vs. Erratic (right)

Rhythmic vs. Erratic

I used red (HEX: #F20C00) for this pair of compositions. I found this color matches the black very well especially for Erratic as red squares emphasized the irregularity in the pattern. I also modified the Erratic such that the two lines intersect at the center of the page, and this turned out to create a better equilibrium.

Reflection: The downside of my Rhythmic composition is that adding the color seems to break the equilibrium and the rhythm. For further improvement, I would probably use color more carefully (e.g. the patterns follow the same order of color) such that the rhythm would not be disturbed.

Figure Ground

Thumbnail Sketches | Digital Iterations | Reflections

I did not understand the requirements for and the concepts of Figure Ground very properly during my sketches. I tried to0 hard to create a figure using negative space but ignored the fact that the black squares had to be a figure. Below are my (failed) sketches and digital iterations…

Thumbnail Sketches
Digital Iterations (Figure Groun)

After the critique, I realized my misunderstanding of Figure Ground, and gave up my thumbnail sketches. Below is the final product that I made. The black squares were designed in such a way that they look like the roman pillars and the negative space (white space) looked like vases.

Final Deliverable


However, in the critique session on February 1, I realized that the patterns I created did not look like that they were designed using squares. I also felt that the two small squares at the bottom looked odd and the negative space did not look like vases. For future improvement, I would redesigned the larger black squares at the bottom such that there is no odd white space at the bottom and the negative space looks like vases.