A Return to Basics

The thing I most like about graphic design – besides the fact that it’s just cool – is that it’s really all about mastery of the basics.

Lupton and Phillips seem to note this even with the title of their text: “Graphic Design: The New Basics.” The sections on hierarchy, layers, transparency, modularity, grids and patterns confirm this. I have dealt extensively with all these elements in my short career – and I am by no means an expert designer. Yet my boss, a designer with 40+ years experience, bases his work on the same principles. (The one that most comes to mind is the grid. He uses a grid format, with story packages in modules, every day – but he can do things within that grid I can’t – and, yet, the finished product is always immediately identifiable as our particular newspaper. So, I can really see how the grid can “encourage the designer to vary the scale and placement of elements without relying wholly on arbitrary or whimsical judgments” (175).)

While all the principles mentioned above are important, hierarchy stands out to me as the most important. Hierarchy goes far beyond the aesthetic, and often the consumer of a designer’s material may not realize the designer has chosen what the reader’s eye will see and when. Thus, hierarchy imbues design work with a serious sense of responsibility. (That’s not to say those other elements don’t; it’s just that they all are subservient to where they are placed in the hierarchy of a piece.)

Take, for example, rollover ads. Blogger Stephen Baker notes in this entry that such ads can be pretty unethical. He’s right; these are the ads that expand into the space where you just clicked, and suddenly you’re heading to a site you never wanted to see and downloading cookies you never wanted contact with. This morning, I visited the Peoria Journal Star’s Web site and was confronted with one of these rollover ads. (It’s already been removed or I’d post a link. The paper’s site is pjstar.com.) While I understand that the rollover ad might be effective, the Web page designer at least has a responsibility to not let such an ad take up residence right on the front page, at the top, where most people will certainly be clicking on the headlines listed in the space the ad will expand into. (In this particular case, the designer’s ethical duty may include working with an ad representative or even the advertising client to find an alternative solution.)

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