Elements of Design

Presentation to the brazilian edition

This book revisits the work of a teacher, but those seeking this book as a manual with clear and precise rules might consider this method – developed in the last century, to the teaching and practice of the structures of visual relationships – excessively subjective. What is presented here are exercises to develop an “intuitive understanding of form and space”, and that requires a laborious process, which includes experimentation, variants creation, analysis and the exercise of criticism. With them, shaping gradually becomes more conscious and efficient in a dialogue between form and the look (analysis) and finally between the look and the shape (design). Such learning requires a large investment of time. This time, however, is increasingly scarce in the formation of the Brazilian designer today, in favor of marketing or social analyzes of project contexts. Therein lies the relevance of launching “Elements of Design.

For any discussion, the acquisition of vocabulary is key. To see, it is also necessary to describe, talk about what you see. Some design elements can be explicit – points, lines, planes, space, color, value, texture – but many others are hidden. And this book is about how to perceive, identify and articulate the visual language through the clash with the form. Hence the introduction of concepts such as the axes (one directional dimension of an object); the gesture (the general shift towards a form or space); the balance (a dynamic composition does not necessarily symmetrical) that proposes movement or rhythm; the tension (vibration between the lived relations) by opposition, by hierarchies (domination or subordination); and space, beyond the object itself, positive but also negative. The Rowena Reed method brings us the missing link between what Kandinsky wrote in his book “Point, Line, Plane” and the recent period of emphasis on the semantics of the product.

The question of the applicability or validity of the method may come up during the reading of the text. That seems to be a constant search of the design area. But it will soon become apparent that this book is appropriate because it proposes to rebalance the equilibrium of the old dispute between the role of operational functions, and aesthetic aspects in the direction of the project. By the time the design becomes popular through concepts such as Strategic Design, Design Thinking and Service Design, which focus on planning and analytical phases of the project or work with a certain dematerialization, we get back to the conception as the design core to think like designers.

Ms. Rowena, realizing the new area that was appearing during 20th century, knew each design involved a new conjecture, and could not always use the same solution for new design problems. And this is one of the groundworks of the Foundations of Design. A set of proposition that does not turn into ready answers to any design situation, but that structures reasoning and instrumentalizes a look. Therefore the emphasis on the “pattern of abstract visual relationships.” There are some passages in the book that present associations in dance and music to illustrate some relationships, as if there was something even more universal among the arts. Designers are understood here as composers – choreographers, set designers, arrangers, artists, architects, etc. – each area with its own elements and “no elements” (emptiness, static and silence), to be organized in time and space.

This book also portrays an interesting time in the United States. The relationship of dependence between the industrial and cultural contexts of a country is evident. In a period of great industrial expansion, the demand was met creating a school, both with regard to the teaching reflection, and the physical creation of a space in this case Pratt Institute, where Ms. Rowena taught.

The context of the time is also present in several passages through the choices of materials and processes. It is important to notice that there are today, and there will still be many other tools and technologies that can be used to expand the possibilities of study and research of form. Not only new materials like plastic foam instead of salt blocks or tools like 3D printers, but also the registration and study resources of three-dimensional image as digital photography or eye tracking.

Finally, another important aspect of this publication in Brazil, is the recognition given to the work of a teacher or, more specifically, a teacher-researcher. It may seem that in the days when Ms. Rowena taught was easier to develop any method, because it was the beginning of a field. But at any time there will be new circumstances that will become a prelude to a new era. So in any educational institution there should be room for research, understood as an investment in alternatives for a future innovative teaching.

And that makes us think: what kind of designers does Brazil need? This is a difficult and very dangerous question because it may lead to a determination from the content (design) to the context (market). Considering that the country seems to opt for an over-taxed and bureaucratic innovation ecology, it i advisable that designers also seek alternatives to meet demand, moving towards a more autonomous and critical proposition, if possible, or at least particular to design.

Director of Arts & Design department at PUC-Rio



Original Edition:



Published By


Project Editor