Nonlinear Design. Introduction | WebReference

Nonlinear Design. Introduction

[Dmitry's Design Lab]
Dmitry Kirsanov's monthly column
February 1999
Nonlinear Design
In the world of forms, linearity and non-linearity present a strong visual opposition, capable of expressing a lot of ideas and implications. Let's learn what defines the character, perception, and possible design uses of curvilinear shapes.

Shapes of objects in design compositions are perhaps their most important aspect. It is almost exclusively by shape, or contour, that we recognize anything on a page; the colors and textures are only seasonings for the meat of forms, sizes, and spatial relationships. So, if your goal is to achieve a professional level in design, you simply cannot spend too much time learning to work with shapes.

Some time ago we explored the use of geometric primitives in design, including straight lines, rectangles, and circles. In another article, we've also touched upon amorphousness as an important opposition to geometry in the world of shapes. However, a shape does not need to be amorphous in order to be perceived as something emphatically organic, complex, even anti-geometric. I'm now referring to non-linear forms, most often represented in computerized design by Bezier curves.

The article starts by reminding you of the main features and capabilities of Bezier curves. After that, we introduce the two important concepts, curvature range and architectonics, used to classify the universe of curves into a number of characteristic types. The most important part of the article is the two-dimensional chart of curve types arranged along the coordinate axes of curvature range and architectonics.

As the concepts discussed here may seem abstract at first, I'll spend the rest of the article illustrating them by examples. First comes a simple example only intended to illustrate two directly opposite curve types and the meanings they may convey. Fonts, being a quintessence of curvilinear shapes, are very instructive in this regard, too; so in the next section we dissect a couple of sample letterforms trying to understand how the curves in their outlines define the visual traits of the font. Finally, I present a number of recent logos created by my Studio to show how the laws just discovered work in practice.


Created: Feb. 12, 1999
Revised: Feb. 12, 1999