Design Semantics & Syntactics

I like to edit videos, often with music involved, but before I start anything I always start with an idea of a message I’m wanting to convey. Sometimes simple, sometimes not.

When I start with that foundation only then am I able to move forward in creating. I agree so much with Vignelli in this idea.

I wanted to reflect on what Vignelli was saying.

Semantics, stated by Vignelli himself, is the “search of the meaning of whatever we have to design.” I thought this was a great point for Vignelli to start with and the most resonating point from his book The Vignelli Canon.

To create some thing, and to truly create something good, you must know the meanings behind all aspects of your work.

Down to every frame.

Every single possibility or assumption that the receiver’s eye or mind might interpret.

All possible perspectives.

It all matters. A deep understanding of your subject or a true self analysis of the feeling you are trying to capture.

The emotions that don’t literally make it onto the screen.

You’ll have to understand the small complexities if ever you plan to convey a larger complexity, which is your overarching dominant message.

The very first thing that I do whenever I start a new assignment in any form of design, graphic, product, exhibition or interior is to search for the meaning of it.

– The Vignelli Canon

One last thing I reflected deeply about was Vignelli’s thoughts on design syntactics.

“[Syntactics] are the overall structure, the grid, the typefaces, the text and headlines, the illustrations, etc. The consistency of a design is provided by the appropriate relationship of the various syntactical elements of the project:

– The Vignelli Canon

In his book, Vignelli uses a grid to demonstrate the syntactic consistency in the design of a subway map. Something I had never connected in my mind with a grid. As a consequence I see grids everywhere lately, so beware.

Here is Vignelli’s grid example to show syntactic consistency. Notice how even though the map consists of many squiggly lines that are very contrast to a grid’s straight, rigid lines, the squiggly lines can still adhere to the grid’s consistent design.

Grids are as much a fundamental part of a design the same way quantum structures are the hidden foundations to the world we live in.

Here’s Vignelli‘s subway map example:

I wanted to share a couple images I’ve taken in the past that demonstrate Vignelli’s concept of syntactics in design as well. Can you see the invisible grid helping direct these images?


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