Layout & Design

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the work of either of the Ted Talk presenters.

Paula Sher reminded me of the genre of drawing and text (design) permeating media of the 70s and 80s, during which time I grew up (and exposed to ‘leftovers’ from the 60s). Perhaps that’s a testament to her reach and impact as a designer. I grew up hating that sort of text and accompanying art. The closest thing I can associate the change in art, text and graphics pre-1960-ish to what followed for at least two decades is what happened to Tom and Jerry.

You remember Tom and Jerry?

The early years are neatly drawn and animated with supporting sound and music appropriate and in sync with the visuals. The franchise eventually changed.

The art is flat, the artist lazy. The sound effects are blaring and annoying. The music is some kind of bastardized skat Jazz. I can’t even watch them.

Nevertheless, Ms. Sher did cast many pearls of wisdom during her presentation. She shared a perspective on the difference between being solemn and being serious with which I could not agree more, having lived it. Passion doesn’t die with youth, but passions devolve into seriousness with repetition and expertise. If we’re lucky, we find new passions without losing what we learned. Her points on being solemn versus serious when it comes to design clearly come from a well-respected and hard-working, accomplished designer, which did earn my respect. I also liked her close, encouraging experimentation and risk of failure. I’m glad I’m the kind of person to volunteer first, to at times try something different, even if I stumble.


David Carson incorporated more humor into his presentation, at times self-effacing but unable to cover his obvious acclaim as a designer in his own right. His first real lesson on how design conveys a message, stenciled versus ‘psycho-killer’  text on a garage door, brought laughs while making a clear point.


His self-effacement climaxed at the 9-minute mark when he says, “I hate the stuff that’s hard to read” while showing a sample of his work that was just that. This, of course, is my personal objection to much of his shown work. Much of it is hard to read, some almost puzzles. This approach, though, did contribute to another lesson, that of provoking a response. Carson told of the effectiveness of some of his work in gaining attention and initiating reactions through disjointedness, making the viewer look twice or pause to think, as evidenced in a surfing ad and a “cigarettes shrink dicks” poster.


Another excellent point Carson makes dealt with how any particular message incorporates into a work as a whole, pointing out layouts from major magazines that inadvertently and to the detriment of both works juxtapose messages with opposing points. He showed examples of an article on 9/11 set against bright and happy ads on opposing pages. It’s important to take a step back and see how any individual message works in context.


Finally, the tutorials presented some basic (at times almost obvious) fundamentals of text, color, position and other elements to consider when creating a visual message. The modules were short and to the point, clear and easily understood.


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