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Utilizing three-dimensional design

Graphics | May 1, 2009 | By:

Working with 3-D forms to create visual themes.

High quality graphics printed on fabric are frequently incorporated into three-dimensional designs for retail, exhibit, trade show and architectural installations. Successful installations create harmony and a positive and informative brand experience. Three-dimensional design installations utilize shape, color, size and texture. Design elements relate to each other through position, repetition, direction, proportion, gravity and space (solids and voids). While reading the following it is best to get into a spatial mind set.

Design concept

The geometric components of dimensional design include vertex (thepoint where planes meet), edge (where two planes join), and face (which encloses volume). These elements can help to precisely define volumetric forms. For example, a cube has eight vertices, 12 edges and six faces. Design concept creation utilizes the elements of point, line, plane and volume. Conceptual drawings are usually prepared for three views: plan (top view), elevation (front view) and side view.

Form and repetition

Form is all visual elements referred to collectively. Structure governs the way a form is built, or the way a number of forms are put together. It is the overall spatial organization, the skeleton beneath the fabric of shape, color and texture. A shape is visualizing a form from one point of view. The whole form needs to be visualized from all angles to determine complex spatial relationships and visual effects.

Smaller forms, or modules, are repeated to produce a larger form. Super-unit forms are combinations of unit forms used thematically through repetition.

Repetition and gradation of unit forms is a key design tool. Shape is the most essential visual element in unit forms. When utilizing repetition of unit form, repetition of shape is a necessity. Shape provides unity even as other elements, such as size, color and texture, may vary. However, gradation of shape size, if done in a continuum, will provide form relationship. Positional and directional relation in space or forms done in gradation provides theme unity.

A major dominant design element is usually created first to initiate unity, and then all else flows from it. The major dominant provides vitality as it stands out, contrasting against basic harmonious elements. Such contrast must be used in one simple bold manner to avoid diluting the power of contrast.

Basic structures

Basic structures in 3-D design often use the polyhedra, of which platonic solids are of major importance. Platonic solids include the tetrahedron (four faces—think pyramid), the hexahedron (six faces—think cube), the octahedron (eight faces), the dodecahedron (12 faces) and the icosahedron (20 faces).

Platonic solids are characterized by their symmetry of congruent regular polygon faces, with equal number of faces converging at each vertex. And all faces, edges and angles of each solid are congruent. The term platonic solids originated with Greek philosopher Plato, whose tenet was that classical elements are constructed from regular solids. Different regular polygons when combined form an Archimedean solid. The combination of octahedra and tetrahedra, known as the Octet System, can produce tremendous strength while economizing on material cost.

Other prevalent forms include prisms and cylinders that are created to form columns. The sides of a prism are rectangles or parallelograms. The ends of a cylinder are circular.

This basic knowledge of 3-D design principles and elements will benefit all users and manufactures by being able to understand the 3-D lexicon. This understanding and increased knowledge will encourage collaboration between all parties, leading to synergies that possibly would not happen otherwise.

Jim Cotton is a graphic designer and owner/CEO of Better Mousetrap LLC, Long Island City, N.Y.

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