Black on white, in motion… Krzysztof Lenk
lack letters, words, text lines, paragraphs and type pages suitably set on the white sheet of paper – the world of type. It is only a well-trained typographer’s eye who can see the black characters vibrating in the white space of a page and who realizes that it is the white that determines the shape of the black, just as a well-trained musician’s ear knowingly registers the silence in between sounds. Our eyes follow the text from left to right and from top to bottom within one page. You need to turn the page in order to start the process anew. It’s the system of a book, which seems so familiar and obvious to us. The sense of sight leads us through the text. On the face of it, contact with text seems much less complex than it really is. Text, as encoded in a language, is a description of the world. Authors enclose their multisensory experience in words. When they describe a physical action, it is situated in place and time, and when they talk about a metaphysical phenomenon, it resides in the context of other similar events. It is up to us – the readers – as we receive the text, to recreate the picture of The Ackerman Steppe, to hear its silence and see the rising Morning Star in our imagination*. For thousands of years, images and texts have been immobilized on the materials they are recorded upon. The clay tablets of Babylon; Egyptian paper reed; stone tables of Greece and Rome; vellum of the medieval manuscripts; paper from China – they are just various carriers for static texts and the accompanying illustrations. The need for breaking this ‘freeze’ has been as old as our civilization. The problem is that a text, composed of letters that build the words and sentences grouped into paragraphs, is a complicated set of meaningful material and syntactic information. The information must be respected and efficiently communicated by a dynamic presentation, and the addition of further sensory values. At the end of the ‘80s, it was a Subaru car commercial, produced by an advertising agency, that led the way to a new era in communication. On the black background of the tv screen, there appeared white, kinetic text, running across the screen from right to left, allowing us enough time to read the messages. It came as a revelation that not all the lines moved at the same pace. The varied rate of movement created the deep illusion of three-dimensional
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It is only a well-trained typographer’s eye who can see the black characters vibrating in the white space of a page and who realizes that it is the white that determines the shape of the black, just as a well-trained musician’s ear knowingly registers the silence in between sounds.
depth behind the screen window. Text had started moving. No more was it a moving camera passing over immobile text, it had become a matter of animated words and sentences wandering in space. For us, the designers dealing with typography, it came as a sensational discovery: the properly stimulated brain could create the acute illusion of movement in space. And the afterthought followed: it was so simple – standing on the curb of a busy one-way street – we perceive the speed of cars moving right next to us differently than the speed of those moving on the opposite side of the road. The new method of dynamic text projection simply referred to our everyday experience. There was nothing new about experiments with kinetic text. The industry of motion pictures – cinematography – had been dealing with it for a long time. For the text to move on the screen, you needed to pass a camera over the immobile text or else to move the text in front of an immobile camera. Designers of film or tv credits used many tricks in order to animate text on the screen. Title text was placed on a long narrow strip of paper afixed to a cylinder turning in front of the camera at the speed the text should appear on the screen. Moving the text horizontally was a more complicated process. In the technique of analogue photo recording, combining two directions of motion on the screen was virtually impossible. It was only the numerical image recording in the computer memory, made of a string of zeros and ones, that released the image from its setting. Then you could place
a camera in front of a monitor, where a computer screened images and texts according to an arranged program. Thus, were created the first computer credits, designed by Cyprian Kościelniak and assistant programmers for films by Andrzej Wajda and his Zespół Filmowy “X” film studio, in the early 80’s. The 1980’s was the time of fascination with text passing across the screen in commercial tv and film credits. The new Adobe Director was the first program for managing text and images on the Macintosh computer screen, and for synchronizing moving pictures and sound. Texts in my typography class started “moving”, too. And again, a revelation: compared to students who began their typography training by typesetting simple print texts, the students, who began their typography education working with text animation on the screen, showed a much better sense of dynamism and typographic space in flat compositions printed on paper. Something had clicked in their heads. Moving from the strict discipline of analogue records to numerical operations has been a revolutionary change in communication processes. Its merit compares to moving from manual copying of incunabula to book multiplication by printing. Just as the invention of print was closely connected with demand for knowledge during the Renaissance and Reformation, the numerical record released an avalanche of new media, and unlimited demand for content it could bear.
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Frame from “Goldfinger”
Computers, with their increasing operation speed and memory capacity, had opened a field for advanced experiments with content visualization. The leaders and inspirators of this research were Dan Boyarski at the Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Muriel Cooper at the MIT Media Laboratory in Boston. In the 1990’s, their students created projects that broadened our visual awareness and opened new vistas for designers. Not only texts, but even complex statistical data and advanced models of various processes, would appear fluently and could be processed in the virtual space of a monitor.
Now, that we are able to show nearly everything on the screen, there arises an irresistible question – what can’t we show? Screen frame is the limit. We need to sit at the monitor and look into it. Behind the screen window, there is a deep virtual stage – images and texts placed in computer memory – where the actors of the play appear. A bigger monitor will make a bigger stage, but should it be better? The illusion of an object’s materiality is determined by definition and bit density of the picture. We are talking about aesthesis and human senses, the information channels used to communicate with the material world we live in. Five human senses
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We need to sit at the monitor and look into it. Behind the screen window, there is a deep virtual stage – images and texts placed in computer memory – where the actors of the play appear.
5 constitute our interface. When we sit in front of computer, we use only one of the channels constantly – the vision channel. It is actively supported by two more – hearing and touch channels. There is a difficult barrier between the virtually unlimited operation means of a modern computer and our sensual awareness – imitating the virtual action on the computer screen. Why don’t we leave this place then and move the projection beyond the computer frame, so that we could also stir the other senses of a recipient? That’s the real challenge undertaken by Jan Kubasiewicz in his Institute of Dynamic Media in Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. His students experiment with various forms of communication, realizing that the final effect is strengthened when it evokes multiple sensory experiences in the recipient’s awareness. Back in the mid 1960’s, this was attempted by Robert Brownjohn in the credits for James Bond film called “Goldfinger”. The text titles were projected onto the naked, gold-painted body of the model as she was moving in dark space. A film camera recorded the action. The surprising motion of the titles was supported by well-arranged, stereophonic sound. The effect was terrific, but technical difficulties and the high cost of production had closed this road to designers for long time. Not until recently, have we had at our disposal efficient projection tools like portable high-speed and high-definition projectors, and, above all high-speed computers. Thus, we may try to break the traditional linear reception of text, by means of dynamic projection enriched with sounds, music or even scent. Traditional book pages are turning into a typographic theatre, full of magic and surprise. Dynamic text in space is a totally new form of communication, with a long list of questions to be answered by creators in the course of their experiments. They need to investigate, above all, what our cognition is able to follow and absorb. In other words – we need to know both the limits of our perceptions and how to broaden them. It is a real challenge for the creators of multisensory communication. The questions about the new language, and its range and limitations, that Ewa Satalecka raises in her activities, fit into the stream of the latest experiments created in several centres in the world. That’s why her projects are interesting and the results so enthusiastically received. We are now at the outset of a long path through the new world of multisensory communication. It’s great that Ewa Satalecka places Polish typographers at the word’s forefront.
Krzysztof Lenk - was a professor at RISD from 1982–2010. In those 28 years, although Lenk was teaching different aspects of design, he was famous for his Typography and Information Design classes. Before he left Poland, professor Lenk was known for designing editorial layouts for magazines – including the weekly, ‘Perspektywy,’ and the popular science monthly, ‘Problemy.’ After coming to Providence in 1982, he began to research information design, which lead him to found a studio with Paul Kahn called Dynamic Diagrams. The slogan of the studio was ‘consultant in visible language.’ Lenk specialized in isometric diagrams. “This form of mapping information seems to be created for planning and presenting interactive structures of computer software – and especially web pages. We start to use this mapping form in most of our projects,” wrote Krzysztof Lenk in the Polish design quarterly, 2+3D. Having attracted such notable clients as IBM, Netscape and Samsung Electronics, the work of Dynamic Diagrams was featured in various books and magazines – and the team was invited to present lectures and workshops around the world. In his introduction to Richard Wurman’s book, Information Architects, Peter Bradford, writes: “… he [Krzysztof Lenk] provided the first clear diagram I have seen of electronic content.” Lenk was able to impart his knowledge and experience to his students. Jacek Mrowczyk, introduction to the catalogue for exhibition To Show. To Explain. To Guide./ Pokazać. Wyjaśnić. Prowadzić., The Castle Cieszyn, 2010
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