Blog Entry 4 – How Katherine McCoy broke the Grid October 25, 2011Posted by Kaleena Tucker in : unit 7 , trackback
In the book, Making & Breaking the Grid, by Timothy Samara, designer Katherine McCoy’s unconventional grid usage is discussed in a section titled, “New Discourses in Form.” (Click below to open. Then, click again to zoom)
This example is a great extension of this unit’s readings because McCoy uses both a classic underlying grid structure and unconventional techniques in much of her work. In this week’s readings about Experimental Grid & Layout Structure, it says “Grids are the underlying bone structure of a layout and serve as a tool to help a designer achieve balance as he or she fleshes out a design.” In the example here from Making & Breaking the Grid, it speaks about how McCoy’s employment at Unimark International is responsible for her foundation in the minimal Swiss International Style (known for it’s grid-based typographic methods). But, as Professor Henry’s Design Grid Study Guide noted, “… the greatest danger in using a grid is to succumb to its regularity…grids don’t make dull layouts-designers do.” McCoy’s layouts are anything but dull, as her influences have led her to take advantage of the unconventional methods that often lead to interesting design.
In the following excerpt, you can see how the writings of architects Robert Venturi & Denise Scott-Brown influenced McCoy to begin to experiment a bit with nontraditional approaches of combining text and image:
“… Learning from Las Vegas, helped establish a radical new regard for the vernacular: rather than dismiss garish, naiive and popular visual expressions like drive-ins and gambling strips, designers could incorporate these idiosyncratic forms as a way of resonating on a more personal level with their audiences.”  “…others began to explore game show iconography, historic type forms, and coding systems as sources for image and type interaction that would create a graphic counterpart to the ideas Venturi and Scott-Brown were propagating (in Learning from Las Vegas).” 
In addition to these explorations, political and social concerns began to give voice to race, gender, and class; influencing a different look than the widely accepted corporate international (grid) style. McCoy and others at Cranbrook (the art and design academy where she taught) embraced this new “ugly” way of designing that many Modernists rejected.
“Many designers from that establishment viewed the work at Cranbrook through a filter that categorized it as either simply ugly or as morally wrong, a repudiation of the progress for which Modernism had struggled.” 
This led McCoy to being one of the first to experiment with a new way of approaching grid work.
“During the period between 1971 and 1984, the word deconstruction was coined as a description of what these experiments were trying to accomplish: to break apart preconceived structures or to use those structures as a starting point to find new ways of making verbal and visual connections between images and language.” 
These many influences began to take shape in her work, and is a great example how to create dynamic layouts using an underlying grid structure.
“McCoy’s work, for example, started with grid-based structures and began to shift elements out of the primary structure… other approaches involved introducing extra space between words and lines of type within running text to focus attention on the grammar. Looking at these distinctions and then rebuilding exaggerated configurations of type and image based on the findings became the hallmark of work produced at Cranbrook…” 
McKoy, and other Cranbrook artists wouldn’t have been able to break the grid, without first having a sound understanding of its fundamental structure. And there’s no doubt that much can be learned from her, as she was one of the first to experiment with deconstruction and unconventional approaches. The way that she shifted elements out of alignment and used grammar as an indication of where to create attention, is an interesting approach, and one that I think could be helpful while exploring compelling possibilities within grid-based design.
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5] Timothy Samara. Making and Breaking the Grid. 2004 Rockport Publishers.