Sunday, March 30, 2008

Design Guy, Episode 22, Elements: Value-Added Design

Download Episode 22

Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply.

We're talking about the formal elements of two-dimensional design. And these are the building block elements, the fundamentals at work in our design compositions. So far among these elements we've identified Line and Shape and Color.

And with the last discussion of color fresh in our memories, today we'll consider Value. And Value simply describes the relative lightness or darkness within a composition.

A good way for us to see Value at work is to conjure up in minds an image of a color wheel. In fact, imagine you're in a room with a poster of the color wheel on one of the walls. And it's your garden variety color wheel that we're all familiar with. Sort of a pie chart, with seven wedges that follow the Roy-G-Biv arrangement, each wedge its own color.

Then imagine you've got your hand on a dimmer switch and you can make the room dim, and the color wheel dim,... and then dim them even more until the colors are pretty dark,... and then darker still until everything is black or near-black on that poster.

Then, alternatively, you can bring that dimmer switch up to make the room bright,... and brighter still,... in fact these lightbulbs can get so bright that we can hardly look after a while, everything is just awash in white, including the colors on the chart.

Now this example of playing with a dimmer switch (and I can still hear my Mom telling me to cut it out, by the way) is a study in Value, or how we can play with Value. When we turned up the light, we added white to the colors, and this had the effect of turning blue into light blue, and red into pink. And it's really just like adding white to your paints when you want to turn full strength colors into pastels. Sort of that Martha Stewart or Easter pallette. And this kind of change in value, adding whites, is called TINT. But, when we dimmed those colors, which is like mixing increased amounts of black to your color, we manipulated SHADE. So Tint and Shade are couple of key terms that have to do with Value. And it's all a result of light.

And that's really key, that concept of how light interplays with color, because value describes the effect of a light source as it creates shadows and highlights in our subject.

Now when graphic designers think of Value we're usually thinking in terms of contrast. And that's because designers are obsessed with contrast. Or at least we should be if we're not. And we'll speak more about contrast in a future episode.

But in a nutshell, when adjust value, we adjust our composition. We manipulate how we perceive the elements on the page. We want some to be dominant, perhaps a strong foreground element, a bold book title is made darker in value, perhaps, which would be an adjustment to Shade. Or we want other things to recede, we want them to move away, into the perceptual background, much the way a painter adds whites to distant landscape elements, which is a TINT adjustment, in order to push them back.

Sometimes we're just changing the overall mood. The same palette of hues we've chosen just "feels" different depending on whether we use their darker or lighter equivalents. And this is why interior decorators advise you to hang up a swatch of color so you can observe it over time, as the light in your house changes during the course of a day, and then decide if you like it.

Other times, changes to value creates special effects. The humble gradient blend is perennially-popular for creating a sense of dynamic lighting. Or if we've got a multiplicity of objects, a line of dots ranging from light grey to black, for example, they almost seem to move, like a ball moving across the page. Or maybe we want to establish a pattern of dots and then break it by making just one of them a different value. Suddenly that one dot stands out as unique, drawing the eye.

Well, these are just a few examples of how we can be thinking of value and using it in our compositions.

But that's all we have time for today. If you'd like a transcript of today's program, visit the webpage at Music is by

Well, I thank you again for listening in and I hope to have you back again.

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