Skill Level Appropriate for all
- Hi everyone, John McWade. What we'll look at today is a small space ad designed in black, white and gray, and what I want to show you is how manipulating the shades of gray can create a sense of depth in the space, and also draw your eye to one thing or another. This is our copy, it's a promo for an outdoor summer concert series in the mountains. This is our graphic, simple violin, unremarkable, nothing fancy.
We're going to put these elements into a small square space and make it bold. First step is to set the headline. Super bold typeface, upper case. This is the default line spacing which is pretty spread out. We want to compress it very tightly into one dense block, and by tight, I mean negative line spacing. If this were 12 point type, this would be eight and a half point spacing. The face is Block T Heavy, it's square, it's dense, it has these nice irregular edges that go really well with the outdoor mountain pine tree vibe or our event.
We'll add our date and time information. This face is Block T Regular, which you can see is lighter and more condensed. And our violin graphic, we're not going to use it as is, we'll trace it and use only its silhouette, and place it in the space. I call this medium size, typical, average, a little bland, forgettable. More dramatic would be very small or very large. Too big for the space.
Angle it, push it to the right, and now your eye has to move across the page into the violin, this gives us some visual action. Park the text block in the upper left corner. Up there your eye reads it and moves out into the space right to the violin, this is good solid construction, very bold, very black. Everything black is all on the same plane. Often this is all you want or need, it's very strong, although in this case we do have a small collision between the violin and the Y, but watch what happens when we turn the headline gray.
It begins to recede, 60% is back a little. 30%, and the violin is clearly in the foreground. You'd say this design now has depth. 10%, barely there. We can do the same thing with the violin. 60%, just below the surface, 30%, clearly in the background, 10%, just a ghost, a hint, a suggestion.
That's the phenomenon. Let's look at a half dozen variations. Four levels here, black, white, and two grays. The black violin is all the way forward, SUMMER CONCERT SERIES is in the back. What's fun with gray is how easy it is to manipulate the emphasis. In this version, SUMMER CONCERT SERIES in black comes forward, and because the three grays are a lot alike, the overall effect is softer.
In this version the background is darker than the copy but lighter than the violin, SUMMER CONCERT SERIES in white comes forward. And as the background darkens beyond 50%, the design takes on a nighttime mood. This could be sensual, if you're doing jazz, it's probably what you want, white really begins to come forward, the violin appears to be in silhouette or shadow, this is really nice, and it's easy.
We're not rearranging anything, just altering gray values. And it's fun to experiment. Not all work equally well, I will say that to my eye, a light violin appears somewhat unnatural. It's like, where's this light coming from? Nice depth here, but this version wouldn't be my first choice. Another thing I'll tend to avoid is a black field with a white violin, feels unnatural too, the gray type at the bottom shows up equally well against both, but it's a little jarring there on the edge.
Go by your eye and not by the numbers, because there is an optical illusion at work. 50% is the mathematical midpoint between black and white, but it looks darker against white than it does against black, which you can see here. Look at these for a moment, it might help to cover half the screen with your hand. As I move these closer together, the effect remains, until they actually touch. So to review, you can cram a lot of bold elements into a small space if you separate them by depth, created by shades of gray, and that's your design for today, see you next time.