Design Exercise: Minimal Cuts

Here is a great beginning design exercise for you to try. When I teach an introduction to two-dimensional design class this is one of the first assignments I give. I usually start with the Synergy exercise I presented in this blog back in February of 2015 and then a couple of days later I give this exercise, which I call Minimal Cuts.

Both the Synergy and Minimal Cuts exercises train you to see and “read” visual images. Both exercises depend on your ability to understand the conceptual and formal design elements that underpin visual imagery. I suggest you refer to our book “Design: A Beginner’s Handbook” for further guidance and that you look at the Synergy exercise before beginning work.

The best way to start is to lay out a large assortment of photographs you’ve found in magazines (or online). Don’t intellectualize at this stage, but rather, randomly look through the images to see if any of them attract you. Now, ask yourself what is it the image is telling you? Are you noticing a narrative unfolding? Perhaps you’re becoming aware of the formal aspects of the image, such as shape or line relationships.

The next step is for you to make a minimal number of cuts in the photograph and then reassemble the pieces to emphasize the primary elements you’ve discovered. You’ll want to use all the pieces, no throwing away parts that you’ve cut out. Pay attention to composition, in particular balance and negative space.

Complete this project by using rubber cement to glue the photographs to poster board or paper. Please share you work with us on our Facebook page.

Here are a few examples to get you started. They represent just a fraction of what is possible. (If you are reading this through email and have trouble with the images loading please click here.)

example of a design exercise based on a lion's roar

The jagged cuts serve as a graphic rendering of the lion’s roar.

An example of a design exercise called minimal cuts

Two cuts have been made. One severs the arch, suggesting a collapsing structure. The second cut removes the figure, which then tumbles from the rock gap

An example of a design exercise called minimal cuts

A single cut removes the surfer from the wave. The cut-out is then placed to suggest that the surfer has wiped-out.

An example of a design exercise called minimal cuts

The previous images played with the narrative content of the photograph. This solution is centered on the formal aspect of the image. Three cuts were made and the pieces were overlapped. The result emphasizes the narrow verticality of the central building.

An example of a design exercise called minimal cuts

Four cuts were made to the original photograph and then the pieces were overlapped to create a distorted image. This use falls under the category of “social commentary.”

An example of a design exercise called minimal cuts

This last example is a variation of the assignment. The cuts are elaborate rather than minimal. In addition, the cut-out pieces of the photograph were discarded.

The following examples of student work do not include the unaltered photograph. See if you can figure out what the student is saying with the cuts they’ve made.

student examples of a design exercise called minimal cuts

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