Abstraction in Graphic Design and İllustration

“…But the abstraction, for me, is this idea of getting rid of everything that’s not essential to making a point. “

Today’s topic is an essential design principle used in both design and illustration fields, called “Abstraction”.The seventeenth-century usage of the word in the Oxford dictionary is: “the further we move (abstract) from the body … the more we become fit to see divine light” (Arnheim 2015, 176).  Meaning that as we get closer to the abstract, in other words to the essence, the more we get rid of concrete thinking.

Is it getting clearer or what? If it doesn’t, as designers or illustrators working in this field for some time, we all hear that certain phrase: “In design, less is more”. Surely we all heard it but what does it really mean? Does it mean that we have to stop creating endless layers and components in our works? Wait for a second! Just because you read this blog while you are working it doesn’t mean that you have to remove all the layers and components on your current works.

Let’s take a deep breath and take a look at the meaning of abstraction in design principles. Which is “The act of purifying or deleting the details of an object”. What would be the best way to simplify this definition? The answer is our “beloved legos” which are the favorite thing on earth for all the children and famous illustrator and graphic designer Christoph Niemann. Let’s suppose that you are asked to make a taxi by using legos. What would you do? You would take a medium-sized yellow and black lego and merge them right? Thought so… And we all know that it’s the best lego taxi anyone can see because it is similar to a taxi better than anything.

In a documentary called Abstract: The Art of Design, Christoph Niemann has explained it all perfectly. Niemann says:  “Every idea requires a very specific amount of information. Sometimes a lot of detail and realism are required, and sometimes just a line and a pixel can do. But every single idea has an important role to play at this scale.”


abstraction indicator

And he continues with his special example: “Let’s say you need to draw a heart that is a symbol of love. Although it contains an arrow and a red square, when you draw a red square and pass an arrow through it, that drawing will mean nothing to anyone. Or, let’s say you tried to draw the heart very realistically, in the form of an organ. A heart made of flesh and blood and spurting blood. It won’t make sense again because no one can reconcile it with love. However, if you draw a heart in the middle between these two, that is, in the, “just what we need”, you will get the symbol of true love.

As an illustrator and designer myself, I try to use the essential principle, of abstraction as much as possible in all my works. Ever since I’ve learned this principle, I realized that as long as I use all of the components that I’ve seen, I got further away from both the brands and my identity as a designer.

I think both a design principle definition and Niemann’s example are clear enough that abstraction is a preferable option and a must in all creativity-based jobs. You should start using it, at least consider using it if you intend to minimalize your life.


Netflix Documentary , Abstract: The Art of Design

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