First-year undergraduate architect and design majors know the scenario very well. Given a range of flat polygons of different sizes—a circle and triangle or a rhombus and trapezoid—the young student has to find a way to combine them. Each set must illustrate a different visual category, say rhythm or datum, and must do so in a seamless manner. Of course, these early efforts are rarely graceful, and you wouldn't be wrong in characterizing it as overly simplistic or even outdated.
But the point of this analog 3-D modeling is to train the eye and tickle the creative energies. The tabletop exercises still serve a great function, says Tim Drabandt of Type Machine, the design outfit behind a new multi-platform experiment packed with enough shapes that would blow Tom Haverford’s mind.
Reform is a web and mobile app that uses geometric puzzles to help designers overcome creative blocks by reshaping their thinking. The project was based on Swiss instructor and graphic designer Igildo G. Biesele, who tasked his pupils to create simple abstract compositions using just polygons and lines while working in a tight format. The practice "was intended to demonstrate movement, depth, and positive/negative relationships in a non-representational way," Drabandt tells Co.Design. "I was drawn to the simplicity of the system, and the complexity of the results," he explains.
Drabandt and the Typemachine team endeavored to give Biesele’s system a new sense of purpose. Reform vividly sets the minimalist shapes onto bold, solid-color backdrops. Users can drop in their own background images as well. The design of the shapes pulls elements from geometric sans (and would be right at home patterned across an Urban Outfitters sweatshirt). Each is circumscribed in block units that are spread across three rows. Thin and thick elements can be combined vertically or horizontally, or if no connection is evident, the user can cycle through for more complementary options.
The user can think globally or locally, either aiming to create a holistic composition or narrow in on small combinations. Drabandt says that Reform helps facilitate aha moments and offers up a personal anecdote from his user experience: "I noticed that my eye would create the composition that it wanted to see. What interested me was that many of these weren't representational of an object, person, or place. Rather, they were parts of the composition that began to feel like the start of a new visual idea."
Perhaps here is where Biesele re-enters the picture. The new visual idea Drabandt refers to may possibly result from the graphic principles Biesele had hoped his students would inculcate. But Reform throws a wrench into the mix by automatically generating the pieces to the puzzle, allowing the designer to mix and match with much more fluidity.
How you use Reform is up to you, Drabandt says, and I don’t think he’d mind if you used it, like I did, as a diversionary desktop countdown till the latest episode of Breaking Bad loaded.
Have a go over at the Reform site