Inthis essay I will explore to what extent is the future of design based in thepast, I will explore how Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Constructivistmovement has influenced contemporary practitioner Paula Scher spcecifiallyreferencing to the history of the movement and its theories. I have chosenScher’s ‘Shakespear in the Park’ (Fig.
1), for The Public Theatre advertisementsin 2012 as my contemporary artefact because of the nostalgic aesthetic achievedthrough the use of contrast in scale and direction of type that has been usedin this striking piece of advertisement. Simularly the use of these visualelements have been used before within the work of Russian Contructivistdesigners, specifically in Rodchenko’s ‘Books’ poster advertisement for the Lengiz Publishing House in 1924where there are extreme directions and dynamic scales of type being usedcontrastingly. I am intrigued into how influential has the RussianConstructivist movement been within Paula Scher’s ‘Shakespeare in the Park’advertisement, particularly referencing the use of the grid in design as wellas challenging the previous rules of type being on a central axis andsymmetrical, and instead becoming more expressive visually.
Therefore, theprimary themes that I shall be addressing are ‘how significant is the use ofthe grid within design for advertisement?’ and ‘to what extent have the RussianConstructivist movement’s theories been influential in contemporary design?’Scher’s’Shakespear in the Park’ (Fig 1) was a part of advertisement posters designedto promote The Public Theatre’s theatrical program that stages Shakespearianproductions at Central Park, New York. Initially there is a sense of nostalgiavisually in the poster that is reminicent of Russian Constructivist aestheticsin Rodchenko’s work (Fig 2) which can be identified through the use of structureand organisation from the grid primarily, as well as the concept of lines anddirection as a common theme throughout his work that has been adapted intoScher’s design. When comparing the work of Scher and Rodchenko they have bothdeveloped this concept of direction and lines alongside the grid in order toreflect the modern industrial world post World War 1 where there was a fall ofold regimes and a new driving force of fast communication, transport and theindustrial age that was being reinforced and suggested through the use of thesebold angels and direction, mimicing the sense of the new reigimes post WorldWar 1; as decribed by Rogers-Lafferty (1991, pp.3) there was an “absence ofclearly defined boundaries”.
Paula Scher’s ‘Shakespear in the Park’ designclearly displays evidence of using the grid which can be identified through thestructured layout of the content of the poster, with conflicting directions ofthe type alongside large scale titles and a vivid image in the main portion ofthe negative space it demands the viewer to engage with the content in thehierachy it has been visually implied by, ensuring the most valuable content isbolder and larger whereas more general information is kept smaller but stillrequiers viewers to engage with through having it at diagonal angles. This isused to communicate the information of the event in the advertisement in aclear and formatted manor using the grid with other constructivist ideologiesof dynamacy, geometric forms and lines to construct a piece of advertisementdesign that is practical, modern and fits appropriately with society.Istrongly find the use of the grid within the design to be significantlyeffective in achieving a bold and striking aesthetic that implies a strongsense of communication and urgency through the variety of directions used ofthe type, the scale of the information and the choice of colour palette.
Whencomparing Scher’s design to Rodchenko’s ‘Books’ outcome there is an immediatevisual connection between the two, specifically seen through the primary designatributes of the grid and conflicting directions and scale of the type, thiscan be linked directly back to the design values of Russian Constructivism. Themovement of Russian Constructivism was the outcome of Russian Avant-Gardedeveloping from 1913 until the 1940s with a comitment to abstraction andmodernity, aspects of the movement revolved around geometry and minimalismthrough their forms. This is implied specifically within Scher’s poster whererectangular forms are used minimally in order to achieve an orderly style ofart, by breaking down design to the most primary forms possible it evokes astronger sense of controll and structure that was not applied as significantlywithin avant-garde art. The movement also acted as a driving force in thepost-World War 1 society where concise information and news were in high demandfor the people who seeked a sense of peace and control which they lacked atthis time, this can be seen greatly within Rodchenko’s poster design where boldstructures and clear content is being confidently expressed through the scaleof the type as well as a bold structure and layout using the grid – the use ofContructivist ideologies were able to fulfill the gratification desired. Ibelieve that the use of the grid developed in Russian Constructivism aidssignificantly in the success of design, it opposes the idea of beingconstrainted and unengaging and encourages simplicity and uniformity within designwhich was not apparent as clearly previoiusly to the movement. It enables ahierachy of content through precise layouts in order to communicate to theaudience, this is apparent in Scher’s poster where the use of strong diagonaltype along with opposing forms and an illustration has been clearly presentedwithin the negative space centrally in order to directly engage with the eyesof the audience. Simularly, in Rodchenkos design the bold use of large typeincreasing in size, the diagonal lines of the implied speech bubble and theillustration achieves the same level of success in directly stating the contentwithin the negative space, and through the layout of the grid and type scalethere is an implied hierachy of information indicated. The use of contrasts ofscale, type and direction distinguished in both sources provides a distinctionvisually, through this distinction messages are implied of their value, forexample Rodchenko has used increasingly large type at a diagonal layout whichsuggests urgency and the volume of which the word is being said at.
The successof these graphics lie in the use of the grid format in which designers are ableto structurely and uniformly incorperate the elements of the design in anaesthetic that is clear and engaging for the audience.Thegrid system provides a dynamic and innovative format for design, and it termachieves a visually engaging outcome secondary. Primarily, when designers suchas Rodchenko and Scher use this system it provides a logical order from left toright in which the audience is able to read the information in a naturalprocess, not formalist. Due to the coheasive effectiveness of the grid duringRussian Constructivism it has been incorperated within modern design for webdesign, magazines and art, this is used so commonly and subcontiously becauseof the level of effectiveness achieved in enabling the information to begathered and understood efficiently. Frommy critical evaluation so far, the impact of Russian Constructivism has been akey movement in impacting the decades to come because of the abolishment oftraditional concerns of design being primarily about composition and focusingon how it is constructed instead. Applied in the fields of art, graphic designand architecture, there was now a desire for technical analysis andpracticality over aesthetics which is a concept developed into mass productionof contemporary design. An example of these philosophies still in practice isNeville Brody’s brand campaign for Nike (1988) where there are distinguishablefeatures influenced by designers prior like Rodchenko.
There is noticably a significantvolume of negative space, dynamic forms of type, sans-serifs and the gridlayout to compose the design – all idelogies in constructivism. The use of direction in particular is a dynamicvisual element that is engaging aesthetically and further suggests the movementof ‘bouncing’ which happens to be one of the key words used in the design, thisplay on words provides a layer of entertainement. The variety of scale of thetype further suggests the energy in the movement of bouncing, the variety ofdirections aids in denoting this sense of movement. Furthermore, the directionsof the type being very linear and dynamic adds to the implication of energy aswell as directly linking visually back to Russian Constructivist ideologies oflinear and geometric forms, dynamism and a vast amount of negative space, thesesame aesthetic atributes have been identified in Rodchenko’s ‘Books’ design andScher’s ‘Shakespear in the Park’ where these simular approaches to dynamicdesign and geometric forms within the grid system is prominent.
Itcould be argued that constructivism has been less influential in contemporarydesign when compared to the movement of the Bauhaus, established in 1919 byMarcel Gropius. The two movements share very simular philosophies adapted byconstructivist designers, priarily at its core the Bauhaus wanted to expressthe non-acceptance of traditional rules and values of design by creating aschool where student designers could work together. The Bauhaus also encouragedthe ideologies of the grid, adapting design into life and the encouragement iftypography, this transformed typography and design across Europe and America throughthis celebration of digital design, modern technology and art within everydaylife. These ideologies have been developed and modified throughout the decadesof movements including Russian Constructivism where it can be identified thatthe movement has taken influnces from the Bauhaus, with their phiosophies beingvery simular. I believe that the Russian Constructivist theories aresignificant in influencing contemporary design and the movements in between, howevertheir ideas have not been constructed from new theories and practices but moreso adapted from previous ideologies from the Bauhaus in particular. To anextent I believe that constructivism has played a significant role alone in thecontribution on contemporary design, but it should be acknowledged that thetheories constructed in the Bauhaus have been a significant source of influenceon constructivism and how it has developed contemporary design; there has beena greater extent of influence on contemporary design in terms of both movementsrather than constructivism alone.