14 February 2013

Critique: Protein biosynthesis

This poster was made by Michael Barton, and was originally posted here. It’s used with his permission, and you can click to enlarge:

Michael wrote about this poster:

I never enjoyed making posters that look the same as a 100 others. Something that reflects your personality is much better.

This poster is successful in looking different, and it does so by looking like something we all recognize: comics. Michael made it with a program called Comic Life.

This poster is a good example of the power of pastiche.

I remember Genevieve Gorder using this technique on Trading Spaces. She would pick some found object that was in the house already; dishes, decorations, object d’art, or what have you. If you had some sort of object that you liked, you know that the styles, and particularly the colours, just worked together. This took a lot of guesswork out of designing a room. You would design by matching instead of starting from scratch.

We’ve recently had another example of the power of using found objects here on the blog: a poster on passenger pigeons that was inspired by nineteenth century advertising. Like Michael’s poster, it was successful in part because it evoked a format that people are already familiar with.

Looking at Michael’s comic inspired theme,  there are a few things that work very well. He uses a typeface that looks like comic lettering (all caps, imitates hand lettering), but it is not Comic Sans. He’s got round word balloons, with pointers calling out the relevant data. The blue boxes are reminiscent of narration panels. The black lines around each panel are utterly right, because they are so characteristic of comics. (And I say this as someone who normally hates boxes on posters.)

My suggestion for improvement would be to reduce the number of overlapping elements. If you look at comic panels, the word balloons generally attach to the edges of panels, not overlap them.

The large number of overlapping lines makes the poster much more visually complicated than it needs to be.

Similarly, I would have toned down on the number of angles the boxes take. Column one is split by a quite severe angle, about 45°, rising to the right. Column two is divided by shallower angles, closer to horizontal, but rising in both directions. And most, but not all, of the blue header boxes rise to the right at yet a different angle. In many classic comics, the energy of the art overshadows that the layout of comic panels is often based on simple, non-overlapping rectangles (Jack Kirby here):

That said, artists didn’t always follow their straight edges so closely (Kirby again):

But even in this crazy layout, notice that the word balloons never overlap the panel edges.

The one inexcusable error is the letters touching the balloon in the “4. Methods” section of the center column. A comic letterer that made that mistake would not be asked back to do another issue.

If you are going for “found object” design, the lesson is simple: you have to commit to using the qualities of that design. The more you do so, the more successful your design will be.

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