Thursday, October 23, 2008

Design Guy, Episode 34, Visual Momentum (Continuance)

Download Episode 34

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

In our continuing series on Unity, we've been discussing the Gestalt Principles, and to remind once again, this is all about perception, and even closer to home, it's all about our goals in composition, that is, it's about how we perceive a unified whole, and how that whole is actually greater than the sum of its parts.

Today, we'll look at the next rule in Gestalt, which is called Continuation. Another name we could give to Continuation is "Visual Momentum." Now, we all know what momentum is in physics. But in the visual realm, there's a tendency for our eyes, once directed, to continue moving in a certain direction. So, definitions describe continuation as this tendency for us to continue looking in a given direction, until we see something of importance, a dominant element in our composition.

But continuation more often has to do with how our eyes follow through, even through intervening objects as we track along a certain visual path. A simpler way to describe this is to say that our eyes will follow along a line, or a path, or curve, and perceive it as a continuous line, even if it crosses another line or object. So, for example, a lower case "t" looks like just two lines, rather than four lines that happen to be meeting in the middle. A lower case "t," or the letter "x" then, provide us examples where two lines, or two strokes, are crossing each other. In other words, we percieve them as following through, or as a "continuation" right through each other. They cross each other. At least that's how it looks to our minds, even though, strictly speaking, we could just as accurately define such a form as four lines connecting at a central point.

In design, we see this concept of continuation in a number of ways. Sometimes it's in the way elements are composed, we suggest a direction that our eye wants to follow, such as in a progression of shapes. In photography, our eyes naturally want to wend their way down paths such as roads and rivers, or perspective lines, like railroad tracks, or across a telephone wire til we reach two sparrows perched on the other end. In typography, we have an obvious and built-in sense of continuation, because, in effect, we're lining up a long string of letterforms for our eyes to move across, as a path. And, on the other hand, in the case of long, narrow columns of newspaper type, we're cued to read, not so much from right to left, but from top to bottom. And, of course, the narrower the column, the more we suggest speed. And this is why typographers avoid those big, dense, margin-less blocks of type, with over-long measures. It just feels like a brick wall, it feels inert, the opposite of something that would offer our eyes visual momentum or continuation.

But in the final analysis, continuation is simply about directing our viewer's attention. Maybe we want to guide their eyes by taking advantage of those perspective lines and send their eyeballs wandering down the path, or maybe we'll use an imaginary line suggested by some kind of pointing device, like an arrow, or the good, old fashioned pointed finger.

So, make mental note as you see ads or posters or other compositions to ask yourself, where's the continuation? What path or progression, what set of perspective lines or curves are being employed to create that sense of visual momentum that gets our eyes going in the intended direction?

Well, that's it for today. Let me remind you that a full transcript of this show may be found at, music is by And as election fever mounts, I'll ask you to cast your vote at podcast alley, or simply leave a comment at iTunes. Well, thanks again for listening, and I hope you'll join us next time.

1 comment:

Stephen Silver said...

I am having trouble listening to any of your shows. all the links seem to be broken.