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Blog

Design Like You Can Hear the Page

May 24 2018

“Music is the ultimate teacher.” ― Wassily Kandinsky

The day I got the assignment, I ran to the art store and bought brushes, ink, and a grindstone. I set the tools on my desk, which became the stage. I was the conductor, interpreting the text like a musical score. I had been asked to create a newspaper for kyu, the design collective of which IDEO is a member, and I was ready to perform.

Video by Dirk Ahlgrim

My desire to explore the world using rhythm and sound on one hand and ink and paper on the other started when I was young. I was very quiet as a child. Instead of playing with friends, I created my own playground in a sketchbook. I listened to stories on a cassette player as I drew.

Music Calligraphy 2

Image by Dirk Ahlgrim

My mom, a violinist who played in an orchestra, taught me how each sound communicates a different feeling. Together, the instruments create a pleasing harmony.

I chose to play the cello, as its sounds comforted me. When I felt sad, I could play and the sadness was transformed into something beautiful. When I felt alone, the cello's mid-tones communicating with and supporting the other instruments made me feel less isolated.

I went to high school in New Zealand and focused on photography, art, and music. Playing in orchestra, string quartet, chamber orchestra, and musical show orchestra required rigorous practice, and I discovered that it was only with disciplined repetition that the ear could learn to hear the subtle distinctions between an almost perfect note and an imperfect one, between good enough harmonizing and exquisite music. Constant practice not only created perfect harmony, it also trained the soul.

Music Calligraphy 3

Like music, calligraphy embodies many feelings. That was my father’s gift to me. He guided my hand, drawing with me. At first, I stood in his shadow, but I gained confidence over time. The calligraphic technique I now use involves moving very fast, every stroke following right after the one before, never taking time to look back.

The companies that make up kyu share a belief that creative collaboration will yield new solutions. To visualize the collective, I drew the first dot directly with the brush and then started to draw circles. Dots and lines, the basis of musical notation, helped me orchestrate the story visually. Rough strokes conveyed complexity and sometimes chaos, while the diffusion of ink into paper illustrated the calm conclusion of a journey. When the magazine reached a crescendo, the dots began to jump around wildly. The combination of ink and water unified sense and sense, and the story of the newspaper came to its happy end.

Music Calligraphy 5

Image by Dirk Ahlgrim

Just as each calligraphic mark and each musical instrument is unique, so too is each company in the kyu collective. Independent, but also located within the same “circle.” Sometimes the music of a page is the message.

  • Sophy Lee

    Senior Communication Designer, IDEO Cambridge
    Sophy brings together her skills in graphic design, art direction, conceptual thinking, and craft. Her notebooks are full of tangible, personal exploration—pen-and-ink illustration, watercolors, and photography. Ultimately, her poetic investigations find their way into refined typography and visual communications of all kinds.