Designing with Chaos. Introduction | WebReference

Designing with Chaos. Introduction

[Dmitry's Design Lab]
Dmitry Kirsanov's monthly column
May 1999
Designing with Chaos
Chaos is not only an important philosophical concept, but a powerful design tool requiring a trained eye and a historical perspective.

One of the most important oppositions that tend to define the origin and impact of a piece of art is the author's pursuit of self-expression versus the limitations imposed by the accepted canon. Depending on the historical circumstances, this canon may be more or less comprehensive, encompassing the entire system of art, only one genre, or even works of one particular author. Not only different canons come and go as centuries pass, but the proportion of what is defined by the current canon and what is left to the author's discretion has repeatedly undergone significant adjustments.

The concept of chaos, or arbitrariness of choice, gets into this picture quite early. At first regarded as something expressively anti-canonical and even anti-human, over time it gains the right of citizenship in all visual arts, and by now it has become part of the current canon itself. During the creative process, it is not easy to draw a distinction between purely random choices and those decisions that are simply too difficult to explain but not random. In this article, however, I will mostly focus on those techniques that intentionally create the impression of randomness as a component of the composition.

We have already touched upon the theme of chaos in the articles on amorphousness and in the concept of architectonics introduced in the treatise on curvilinear shapes. Here, we will start with a historical outline showing how the perception of randomness, regularity, and simplicity changed over the centuries. Next comes a pair of examples showing how the level of regularity in a composition defines our perception patterns. The core of this article is a case study of several chaotic samples with different blends of genuine and artificial chaos, which allows us to list some practical suggestions on the use of random theme in real-world compositions. In conclusion, I answer some of my critics regarding the analysis method I have been using in my articles.


Created: May 15, 1999
Revised: May 15, 1999