The aim of this assignment is to create compositions that illustrate the following words:

playful + serious

noisy + quiet

dangerous + safe

I began by creating thumbnail sketches of different ideas I had to depict each word. I tried to go through this process as quickly as possible, because I found that coming up with new ideas works best for me when I have a shorter time frame. This prevented me from thinking too deeply about my initial compositions. I visualised my ideas by imagining that each square was a little creature with no facial reactions. I was mainly trying to figure out how to convey emotion through the interaction of squares. It was later on in the assignment that I also began taking into account the squares’ interaction with space and how that can alter the emotion that is conveyed through the composition.

Initial Sketches
Refined Initial Sketches
Refined Initial Sketches (cont’d)

After receiving feedback on my compositions, we narrowed down the word pairings I would iterate on to be: serious and playful, and noisy and quiet. The composition for “serious” in the digital iteration takes on the properties of a grid. I felt that the grid gave the composition a strong sense of order and formality. I decided to emphasise on the emotions of the word also by creating a clear comparison with the composition of playful. Contrasted with the straight vertical and horizontal structure of serious, I chose to create a more round and curved composition for playful. It allows for a strong distinction between the two compositions.

The approach I took for noisy and quiet was similar as well. I tried to create my compositions in a way that each one would complement the other. As such, I chose to leave quiet as a singular small square, while noisy was an “explosion” and increase and crowding of black squares of varying sizes. I decided to leave a corner of noisy white, however, to further emphasise the words and to create a more composed composition.

Digital Iterations of word pairings Serious, Playful and Noisy, Quiet

After receiving feedback on my first digital iterations, I learned to be more precise and careful with how my black squares are interacting with the borders, and empty space. In the composition for playful, for example, some corners and edges were awkward to the eye as they were cropped at awkward places. For the composition of noisy, I needed to create more density, compactness, and noise. I did so by adding more squares, of varying sizes; concentrating them mostly on the top right corner of the canvas. The feedback for the composition of quiet was to perhaps shrink the size of the single black square more to further emphasise the quietness.

Refined Digital Iterations

In the iterations right above, I took the feedback given and polished the composition of playful and noisy. I also began the process of incorporating colour into my word pairing. I chose quiet and noisy for the colour composition and decided to test a pastel blue out as I thought that it was a colour that represented a feeling of calmness and would resonate well with quiet. I also decided to move the small square to the left instead of keeping it on the right where it originally was, to better communicate the cut out space that exists in the noisy composition.

Figure ground thumbnail sketches
Digital Iterations of Figure Ground

Creating the composition for figure ground was definitely the most challenging for me. I first did thumbnail sketches of possible ideas, then decided to continue brainstorming through digital iterations instead. After playing around with a few different ideas, I got feedback on the two compositions shown right above. I learned that I needed to test more ideas out by varying square size and axis.


The feedback I received for my second digital iterations of the word pairings was to enhance the fun feeling in the playful composition. Ji suggested that I test out different radial axis, and think about how I can make it more fun.

Final Iterations of Serious, Playful, and Noisy, Quiet Compositions

In my final composition of playful, I added more curves and bends in varying sizes to create rhythm, symmetry, and cohesiveness so that the composition as a whole was balanced. I also decided to change the colour in the noisy/quiet compositions to a green, as I felt that when added to the noisy composition, it was the colour that best fit both the words in the pairing.

Final Iteration of Figure Ground

During critique, the feedback I received was to add colour to more of the black squares in the noisy composition. The composition for figure ground can also be improved by possibly varying square size more to allow for more white to come through.

This project taught me a lot about perception and the importance of the refinement process in design. I really enjoyed applying the concepts we learned in class about Gestalt’s principles into my work, and being able to understand them deeper and better through creating my own work. I learned a lot about spatial interaction between objects. It was overall a challenging but fun experience learning about how something can be conveyed by something as simple as a square. I also really enjoyed viewing the many different compositions that my peers came up with. I will definitely carry the knowledge I’ve learned about composition into future projects.




This course @ CMU introduces non-majors to the field of Communication Design by focusing on the foundations of visual communication that are relevant to a variety of disciplines. This publication includes process documentation of student work over the course of the semester.

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Great article. Very informative! Which is lacking on most articles about this sort of thing.

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