Monday, June 24, 2019

principles and elements of design...

I'm intrigued by the subject of design enough to make design a regular part of my box making classes for adults. The principles and elements of design are taught in art school, but rarely considered by amateur woodworkers who come from other professions, like medicine, engineering, and teaching.

I'm posting on this subject, because design was at the heart of our A+ Schools training last week.

The principles and elements of design really touch on all areas of human life, and deserve to be taught from an early age, particularly if we want students to be able to self-assess their work or offer constructive (and non-hurtful) criticism to their peers.

The elements of design are usually taught as follows:
  • Points, lines, planes, shapes and focal point. 
  • Scale. 
  • Texture. 
  • Value. 
  • Color. 
  • Space. 
I find it useful to think of the elements of design as being design tools. The word "elements" is abstract and not as useful.

The principles of design are usually taught as follows:
  • Unity. 
  • Harmony. 
  • Contrast. 
  • Proportion. 
  • Rhythm. 
  • Balance. 
  • Visual Illusion. 
I find it useful to think of the principles of design as being goals, as the term "principles" is not as useful to me or my adult students as the word "goals." The elements are the tools you use to reach your design goals. There are additional design goals having to do with function and purpose that are not outlined in the principles.

One of the basic principles of Educational Sloyd is to go from the concrete to the abstract, so in order to get my adult students of grasp the principles and elements of design, I start them out with concrete examples of various boxes I've made and invite them to choose a box that they like and that they are willing to describe to their fellow students, particularly why they chose it. I make sure that they know that their comments either positive or negative are welcome.

That concrete experience then allows for the exploration of the principles and elements of design to not remain a set of abstract concepts. The additional purpose in the exercise is to invite my students to explore their own design tools and design goals before we launch into the full blown class. Two weeks ago my 14 students made a total of 79 boxes in five days. Some had never made a box before in their lives.

One of the most interesting principles of design is that of visual illusion, or as I've renamed it in honor of Jerome Bruner, "Effective surprise." In visual illusion, an oil painter might create a pathway through the woods, across a small creek, through a meadow to grandmother's house with grandmother's rocker on the front porch. We know that it's only a painting and is flat and not the real path to grandmother's house, but it effectively and affectively carries one to a remembrance of grandmother's house.

In effective surprise, applying to 3D constructions like a box, surprise built through the arrangement of texture, color, scale, points, lines, planes and their use in fulfilling other design goals, brings one to a heightened sense of engagement with the object. It can be both effective and affective, touching both the mind and the emotions.

The principles and elements of design are made more useful to the artist through practice and continued observation. And they are as useful if you are designing a lesson plan as they are in making a box.

The box shown in the photo illustrates the use of line (and focal point), rhythm, texture and color as design tools, and the use of balance, unity, imbalance, harmony, and contrast as design goals. As one of the favorite boxes I've made, I'm glad to have kept it as an example. It is made of spalted hickory  and walnut. The principles and elements of design lead to a deliberative process useful in all aspects of education.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

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