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David Gobber

Designing in Metaphors — An analysis of metaphorical thinking in poster design and its creative potential

Given that decisions in image-making and, more specifically, the creation of poster designs are not purely arbitrary but rather based on various conscious as well as unconscious thought processes, an analysis of these thinking processes should enable us to shed a light on how we design. There are different theories of cognition, which could help us doing just that. Among all of these, the conceptual metaphor theory, which was popularized during the 1980, seems to provide especially promising ideas and a suitable vocabulary to describe and analyze an apparently quite prominent type of thinking in graphic design: so-called metaphorical thinking. In its essence, metaphorical thinking respectively having metaphorical concepts means “understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another”. (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 5.)

This graduation project follows the hypothesis, that in graphic design – or to be more specific: in poster design – a lot of decision-making can be explained by showing that the design itself or parts of it were understood as something else. Many times, this happens unconsciously and is nothing else than our common understanding of poster design. Thinking and experiencing a poster as a window into a different world, would be one of these conventional metaphorical concepts, designing a poster as if you would curate different visual elements of the poster, which is consequently thought of as an exhibition, is another. However, in this MA project, not only a typology of such conventional metaphorical concepts in design was outlined, but also an investigation of the creative potential of purposefully using unconventional metaphorical concepts carried out. In this context, Julia Born’s exhibition “Title of the Show” was analyzed as being based on the metaphorical concept of exhibition as a book, Claudiabasel’s poster designs for the Swiss Architecture Museum are explained as showing a typography that was conceptualized of as a building and many other examples were discussed in order to illustrate the crucial role of these unconventional metaphorical design concepts, when looking at original and creative designs.

The pinnacle of this graduation project is the development of a method that helps to inspire an initial design concept, based on which original graphic design can be developed. The conceptual metaphor theory was boiled down to what can be seen as a pragmatic tool for creative people who are struggling against the paralyzing void of the empty sheet of paper in front of them. The defined sequence of steps, which make up the method, are formulated in a way that avoids the complicated vocabulary of the theory that backs it up and were tested with many creative individuals until it was proven to work. All of this is presented in the practical part as poster designs together with master copies of ready-to-use sheets with the essential steps of the method printed on them and accompanied by a publication that provides in-depth knowledge of the research behind this specific approach to graphic design.

Sources:

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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