EA Series: Blending Form and Function

| February 20, 2012 | 0 Comments


. . . is the primary role of every designer.

Have you ever heard the term “seamless” design on an EA tape and wondered what they meant? I’ll tell you. It means that there is a constant flow of events that lead from one to the next without any awkward breaks along the way. It’s one of the things that designers strive for and many struggle with.

In simple terms, function is the mechanics of making things happen and form is the “style.” So, you want to take all those ugly nuts and bolts and do something interesting with them, or disguise them so your audience won’t see them. We touched on this a little in the “transition” article, but I think it deserves a little more attention.

Once you’ve mapped out your show, made your count sheet and/or whatever other preparations you do,  (YOU ALL DO THOSE THINGS, RIGHT?) you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen at every moment of the show. The staging process is where you decide how you’re going to move through the program to make those events happen. LEADING THE VIEWER’S EYE is a critical consideration in the success of that process. With subtle (or not–so–subtle) clues you can tell your audience where to look next and create a comfortable flow through your program. If you neglect that aspect, you could inadvertently create a choppy, confusing and uncomfortable experience for the audience.

Let’s talk about some common mistakes:

1. You successfully draw focus to a soloist who then comes to the front of the floor and changes equipment. The audience doesn’t want to see the equipment change happen, but the use of the soloist gives the viewer no other option. A better option might be to use another performer(s) to introduce the new equipment. Make sure that the soloist visually guides us to the entrance of the new equipment, making for an easy flow of from one element to the next.

2. You’re featuring 8 rifles while setting up a big flag impact by bringing 12 bright red silks onto the floor. The viewer’s eye could be distracted by the flags due to their number, size and color. Some things to consider: 1. Make sure the flags are staged behind the rifles. 2. Minimize the visibility of the silks. 3. Stagger the flag entrances to reduce the impact of their motion. Or, instead of trying to hide the flags, draw attention by staging one flag in the rifle feature. You can gain from offering a coordinated moment by integrating 2 pieces of equipment. The single flag will give visual weight to the rifle feature and minimize the distraction of the other flags. You create a bridge from one event to the next, making them flow more comfortably.

3. As you introduce one set of flags from the back, you take the other set of flags off in the front of the floor. The eye will naturally follow the flags coming to the front, making the shift of emphasis to the back jarring and awkward. Instead, think about taking the first group off to the back and create a moment where the two groups interact with each other. In doing so your audience right where it need to go and eliminate that abrupt change of focus.

These are just a few examples to illustrate the concept. There are countless ways things can go wrong as well as options for fixing them. The thing I hope you take from this is how to create connections from one idea to the next. That’s what makes for seamless design.

Here are a few rules to remember about creating emphasis:

  • The fastest moving element on the floor will draw attention.
  • Keep in mind that horizontal (side–to–side) motion will APPEAR faster than vertical (front–to–back) motion.
  • The largest mass on the floor will draw attention.
  • The brightest color will draw attention.
  • Things that move toward the viewer will draw more attention than things moving away.
  • Compression of space will draw attention.
  • Isolation of an element can be used to create emphasis, but this is a little trickier.

Sounds easy, but here’s where it gets complicated. In a typical guard show there are usually several of these concepts working on the floor at the same time. Your job, as the designer, is to know which will draw the viewers eye so you can direct them where YOU want them to look. You need to trust your eyes and make an honest judgement. Don’t talk yourself into something that doesn’t work because you don’t know how to fix it. Ask someone else to look at it and give their impression. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Your audience will appreciate your efforts to create a program that flows with logic, clarity and creativity.


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Category: Adjudication, Choreography, Design, Drill & Staging, Ensemble Analysis, General, Joe Paul: Ensemble Analysis, Performance, Professional Development, Regular Blog Features

About the Author (Author Profile)

Joe Paul has had a long and varied engagement with the “marching arts” as a designer, instructor, director and judge. He was both a performing member and instructor for Avatar Winter Guard from Southern California and The Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps from Rosemont, IL. More recently he has taught a number of high school color guards, as well as Allusion Winter Guard from Thousand Oaks, CA. He has been a judge for the SCSBOA, WBA, WGASC, UWGA, WTCGA & CIPA. He is currently the drill writer for Valencia High School in Valencia, Ca, staging designer for the Chino High School Winter Guards and tour manager for The Cavaliers.

Joe holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Art from California State University, Northridge and lives and works in Los Angeles as a freelance graphic designer.

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