Original ideas are always unexpected and unconventional. They take courage and determination, a will to go beyond the established patterns, to embark on a journey of uncertain exploration. They are the result of a process of curious questioning combined with the ability to dismantle preconceived limits and boundaries. With extreme and engaging simplicity, this is what designer Dídac Ballester achieves through his series of playful paper masks: to challenge the conventions of typography and capture the essence of creative analysis.
“Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are the prelude to serious ideas.” Charles and Ray Eames were masters of playfulness. They never took themselves or their work too seriously, conscious as they were that the key to innovative ideas was to never take design outcomes for granted. In a similar approach to graphic design, Ballester’s project strips the seriousness out of the rules and principles that traditionally define the art of arranging type. Here the act of playing is used as a design tool. It is a synonym for process, for investigation, for end product.
These typographic masks are the result of a graphic exercise based on restrictions, a concept that generally defines the practice of the Spanish designer. Each piece is configured by only four elements: eyes (represented by a fixed pair of circles that never change throughout the whole series), hair, nose and mouth. Printed black onto white paper, the design not only experiments with the shape of letters, numbers and symbols, but also with negative space, with balance and counterbalance, and with composition. In this way, the self-imposed constraints of the project end up building a strong and recognisable outcome.
The abstract representation of the faces points to a rudimentary quality. On a first look, the flat image might remind us of those early messages that we used to send in the pre-smartphone era. However, these masks are more than mere emoticons. They are striking and dynamic objects, with an obvious personality of their own. The clever arrangement of typographic elements provides these facial depictions with actual countenances and an unexpected depth, as if each of them was a character in a story. A story that is left for the user to create. By interacting with the masks and putting them on, the design loses the original flatness and is brought to life.
Thus, the user becomes part of the design process, but also is transformed into a reader. These faces, intentionally or not, carry a message, they are readable and include an intrinsic and subtle component of concrete poetry, conveying meaning through the typographical effect. From a different perspective, but similarly to Eugen Gomringer’s poem “Wind”, where each letter is an inextricable unit in the whole visual composition, in Ballester’s masks each symbol is given a precise position and function within the overall structure, working both as a single element and as a group. Even the white space surrounding the distinctive black type holds a relevant role in the final pattern. If one of the elements were to be removed or replaced from it, the meaning of the mask would completely change. That’s the beauty of it. Simplicity, in the end, is never as simple as it seems. We learnt that from Dieter Rams, when he summarised it brilliantly in his tenth commandment: “good design is as little design as possible.”
When talking about the project, Dídac Ballester never fails to mention the fact that the typographic masks are not a finished exercise, but an experiment that is in itself a work in progress. He defines it as a journey of playful design investigation, an expedition involving evolution, change and movement. Or in one word: experience. The project initially originates as a series of twelve masks distributed in sets of four. However, the idea is for it to go beyond being a group of printed paper toys and generate an active involvement from the user, who in the future will be able to create the masks online from given modules and print the result at home. A sort of DIY design experiment. A game of disguise, of language, of contradiction. A game of typographic playfulness.
cada letra funciona como una unidad inseparable de la composición visual, en las máscaras de Ballester cada símbolo recibe una posición y función exactas en el conjunto global de la estructura, trabajando como elemento individual y también como grupo. Aquí, el espacio en blanco que rodea a los carácteres impresos también juega un papel sustancial en el resultado final. Si se quitara o reemplazara uno de los componentes, el significado de la máscara cambiaría por completo. En ese punto radica, precisamente, su belleza. La simplicidad nunca es tan simple como parece. Ya lo dijo con maestría Dieter Rams en su décimo mandamiento: “good design is as little design as possible.”
Según Dídac Ballester, estas máscaras tipográficas no son un ejercicio finalizado, sino más bien un experimento en constante evolución. El diseñador lo define como una investigación creativa, una expedición que es suma de cambios, transformaciones y movimientos. En resumen: una experiencia. El proyecto se origina como una serie de doce máscaras distribuidas en kits de cuatro piezas. Pero no acaba ahí. El concepto va más allá del simple grupo de juguetes impresos y busca generar una interacción activa por parte del usuario, quien en un futuro y a partir de módulos básicos, podrá crear las máscaras online e imprimir el resultado en su casa. Una especie de experimento de diseño DIY. Un juego de disfraces, de lenguaje y de contradicción. Un juego de agudeza tipográfica.