The juxtaposition of two or more objects draws our attention and creates interest. Light and dark, warm and cold, sharp and soft. Something to dwell on. Contrasting elements create a difference, an interruption in our visual experience. That point of difference, that interruption, prompts a puzzle to be solved. Why is it there? What is the result of that visual effect?
This problem solving happens so quickly that we barely notice it. Especially in a digitised distracted world we live in. In a split second we conclude whether the effect is to our taste, or not. A split second made easy by existing cognitive structures helping us understand how things work.
These structures are called schemas.
Schemas help us organise knowledge. As we take in new information, we connect it to other things we know, believe, or have experienced. And those connections form a structure in the brain. This new information is as much visual, recognising contrast for example, as it is behavioural and cultural, sensing body language and tone of voice for example.
Schemas are important in design because they enable profound simplicity. As we tap into the existing schemas of ones cultural experience and societal position we can communicate on a less obvious level. Allowing the person to “work it out” and add an element of problem solving to the scenario, engages the onlooker.
Using schemas and weaving them into the creative process enables the experience to become a much more interesting one. Allowing the audience to pull pieces together, solve tiny problems and feel connected to the result.
Schemas are fundamental in comparison as well as contrast. Used in storytelling, for example: when the scriptwriter for Jaws was trying to sell the idea they said “it’s like the film Alien but with a giant shark.” Boom, Hollywood knew exactly what was being pitched and the film was scooped up faster than you could say “You're gonna need a bigger boat.”
Do we all seek contrast in an aesthetic?
Maybe we don’t seek it but we do notice it.
What if the outcome doesn’t want to be, or need to be impactful. What if we are designing for a soft and comfortable space. What if we are creating to accommodate, to calm, to create a soft energy rather than shock, surprise and be the centre of attention.
This is where intention becomes essential. Knowing the preferred outcome of any content, design or offer has to be fundamental in your creative process.
What is the big why driving the idea?
What is the sprit that encapsulates this creativity?
How do you want to make people feel when they interact with your offer?
It takes time and energy to weave these details into design. Some food for thought for your next creative endeavour.
High contrast image. Kim Youdan. Japan 2017