In an article entitled “Dialogs on Graphic Design” published by Industrial Design Magazine, Ives wrote that there is a major difference between the terms “graphic art” and “graphic design.” Graphic art, as in painting, deals in private symbols: Graphic design deals primarily with public symbols.
Paintings are individual expressions which may be extremely personal and mysterious. They take time and reflection on the part of the viewer to understand and explore the painter’s point of view. The graphic designer can never be obscure in this sense. The designer must interpret and compose ideas in a public, universal way that will relate to the instincts and cultural ideas, conscious or unconscious, in all of us. The complete article, “Dialogs on Graphic Design” is in the writing section: (Click here)
With the publication of 8 symbols in 1961, Norman Ives made clear his respect and his pride for his work as a designer. It could be taken as a manifesto for all graphic designers. Beyond a clear rendering of the symbols, Ives experiments with applications and amusing asides, such as symbols repeated to create rich patterns. The elegance of the book’s physical properties underlines his statement.
This modest book defines much of his working process as a designer. In a few pages we find clarity, restraint, refinement, symmetry, and visual playfulness. A brief essay by his mentor Josef Albers supported this concept. Translucent papers are a vital part of this book. This translucence appears on the jacket and a number of pages, emphasizing his fascination with layering.
In 1961 this book was selected for AIGA’s 50 Books of the Year Award (Click here to read 8 symbols)
Ives’s larger and broader body of printed matter is a rich reservoir of insights into his process. Some of his earliest assignments were book jacket designs. This genre was a challenge and ideal context for designers to show their wit and visual skills. Clarity and legibility were primary demands.
As artists, it was expected that this information be presented in a visually provocative manner, beyond its literal content. How to make a potential buyer stop and take notice was the goal. Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand offered early examples as brilliant guides and inspiration.
Posters required much the same but on a larger scale. Ives approached these in a sparse and elegant style as he did his symbols, often choosing to use only words. Their bold treatment and placement of type became dynamic forms that activated the page. On occasion, Ives’s striking presentation of words and letter forms came with intentional obscurity, as a means of challenging the viewer to stop and solve a simple puzzle.
Ives wrote that symbols represent the most intense and concentrated activity of the designer. Posters, cover design and advertising can be approached by the designer in the same way they would approach symbol design, but they are more ephemeral and need not be stripped of all complication in order to be successful and memorable. They have one size, one medium and one moment of exposure.
“Ahead of his time, Ives’s imagery predicted scientific pattern recognition and cognition that have practical perceptual benefits in that they enhance memorability. They also help us use a fundamental pattern processing ability, which historically has been important for our survival and evolution.” — R. Roger Remington