Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's All An Illusion

Optical illusions have been fascinating scientists for centuries. Illusions are things that our mind creates out of what we see, despite what the true facts are. For example, the classic afterimage illusion. Joseph Albers describes this illusion in his book Interaction with Color. He tells us to look at a color, red, for 30 seconds, then look at a white piece of paper. We will see the color’s complement, green. The main scientific theory behind this is that the eyes contain nerves that sense the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow. When we stare at the red dot, the red-sensing nerves become fatigued, so that when we shift to the white paper we see a combination of the leftover nerves, yellow and blue, creating green. This and other illusions can be very useful in design. They can be used to create volume, like in the floor tiles of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which make a pattern of 3-dimensional boxes out of strategic placement of lines, or to create optical interest, like the cafĂ© wall illusion, where parallel horizontal lines are made to seem diagonal by staggered black squares. Certain areas of design, such as interior design, depend on optical illusions to create space and openness. Fashion design has also used optical illusions, the most recent example being Givenchy’s spring 2010 show, where black and white patterned leggings and tops created an illusion of movement, almost appearing to move themselves down the runway. They have also been used in many ad campaigns and other media. It is in these kinds of examples that design elements coincide with science through optical illusions.
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