What do an apple and a computer have in common? Nothing really. But through the magic of surrealism, any graphic designer can merge unrelated concepts like these into an impactful, even understated, image.
In a moment, we’ll put on our x-ray vision glasses and reveal the surrealist bone structure beneath the skin of Apple’s logo, but before we get into branding, it’s important to understand what surrealism is—beyond the melted clocks and mixed up faces. Surrealism has been affecting art lovers for nearly a century—just imagine the possibilities it can have in your own designs!
Surrealism doesn’t necessarily have to be a Salvador Dali painting (even though Dali is probably who springs to mind when you think of surrealism). When common but unrelated things in surprising juxtapositions create something otherworldly and powerful, that’s surrealism.
In 1924, French writer/poet André Breton published his Manifesto of Surrealism which describes surrealism as bypassing conscious intention and revealing how thought functions. Think of how dreams operate: you’ll be in a place from your past, then all of a sudden a person or thing appears that totally doesn’t fit the situation. Maybe a device which hadn’t been invented yet, or a baby you know who appears as an adult, or vice versa! Surrealists access this dreamlike flow state while awake, and express it through their medium of choice.
Friendly apple, scary computer
You might be thinking there’s nothing surreal about the apple icon, and if so you’d be right. Apple’s logo by itself is just an apple, but the concept of juxtaposing an apple with a computer is approaching the surrealist mindset. Remember, surrealism unites common—but in other respects unrelated—things in surprising juxtapositions. Consider that when Apple started in 1976 the idea of a personal computer intimidated people. But put the image of an apple up front, and poof! A cloud of fun and friendliness surrounds the menacing computer idea!
If Apple can do it, you can too. And just to prove it to you, we’re going to guide you through some inspiring designs where the surrealist approach has enhanced these brands. Come on friends, let’s dive into the unknown!
Companies striving to craft something new and refreshing might want to use a surrealist technique known as the element of surprise. Customers can be caught off guard by a harshly contrasting color palette, melding unusual pairs of images into an impossible composition, typefaces that stretch the limits of how a letterform can bend. These elements can create a unique graphic language and jolt viewers outside of their mundane everyday experiences into your subjective twilight zone.
Surreal web design
Desire was a major watchword for surrealists. The word came up regularly when surrealists conversed about the nature of existence. They felt that to achieve true freedom, desire was to be acknowledged and acted upon. In a surrealist context, desire doesn’t necessarily have to do with sexuality but rather is a genuine expression of the inner self.
The following web designs use surrealism to represent desire in a variety of ways. Viewers are transported to magical places, are freed from the confines of their own making, or have their heads expanded into space. For businesses who help their customers fulfill their innermost desire, represent that with a surrealist design.
Illustration is where surrealism can really shine, considering it was a fine art movement in the first place. Your canvas can take viewers on a journey to otherworldly cities where planets hang in dreamlike proximity or twist figures into unbelievable shapes. If you’re looking to evoke a transcendent experience in your audience or just give them a unique and unforgettable image, bend your mind towards surrealism.
Surreal album covers
Because poetry is a huge part of music, it makes sense for musicians to use the visual poetry of dream imagery for their album covers. For artists and designers, the dream realm is as much a part of life as waking hours are. Ancient Egyptian and Greek architects and doctors used dreams to help them determine where to build or diagnose and treat a patient. Shine a light to the hidden meanings of nature by incorporating elements snatched from dreams into your design.
Surreal book covers
Businesses raising issues of the soul and inner journeys can utilize a staple of surrealism: the eye. This fascinating organ of sight is considered by many to be a gateway to the spirit. In many cultures, the brain’s pineal gland is thought to have spiritual abilities and considered the body’s third eye.
In surrealism, suns and moons can stand for eyes of the universe or one eye can be isolated and can be regarded as either watching the viewer or as a window to be peered through. Are you being watched, or are you watching the watcher? Or perhaps there’s a third possibility!
The surrealist concept of the marvelous is an instant when the veils which obscure reality are lifted, and life’s true nature can be perceived more clearly. The marvelous can be tapped by companies wishing to evoke a perceptive, sublime, supernatural awareness in their customers. When elements fit together in the right way and your customers get that ah-ha moment, you’ve ushered them into the realm of the marvelous!
Designers seeking to emphasize the frailty and wonder of life can use the surrealist technique of dissecting the body. Humans are made of many systems combined, and infinite insights can be gleaned when separating them. The following posters use this technique by depicting a brain outside of a skull, organ-like trees in a sci-fi landscape. By doing so, they create a whole new meaning and draw attention to how specific body functions relate to the human being as a whole.
Enter the world of surrealist design
If you’re considering using the power of surrealism but are still not sure what elements to include, try the following simple exercise.
Sit down with a friend and have them say words describing your brand or business. Without thinking, blurt out the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear each word. For instance, if your friend says the word reliability, triggering you to say whale, find a picture of a whale then cut it out. Eventually, you will be able to accumulate these designs into a collage. This is a form of automatism (bypassing rationality and grabbing elements directly from the unconscious mind), and a great way to find your own surrealist expression.
Now it’s time to light a candle in the darkness of the unconscious. Dive into the ocean of your unique mind and catch the big fish which is your own surrealism design. We’ll see you in dreamland!