2015 might well have been the year of the rainbow—never have I seen so much color, whether mismatched, bright and riso, neon, or pastel (see our recent look at the past year’s design trends). In a way it’s unsurprising. Color can be an easy way to stand out from the visually crowded world we live in. Plus, it is now, as it’s always been, an essential tool for a designer to convey a mood or a message. And because we don’t mix our inks together by hand anymore, color changes are faster and easier to achieve than ever (yet despite all that, we still spend loads of time and energy adjusting the saturation of an InDesign color picker).
This is part of the reason I’m so intrigued by Kristine H. Kawakubo’s portfolio. The Taiwanese-born, London-based editorial designer has a sense of color I would describe as deliciously demure. Her work is austere, strikingly typographic, and predominately black-and-white. Most of her projects would be perfectly at home in the Design Archives alongside Dadaist manifestos and old-school, photocopied punk zines.
Kawakubo’s favored medium is the contemporary zine—a format that combines the spirit of a ’70s fanzine with the sleek, visual clarity of an art catalogue. Case in point: her sprawling FN Zine, which is dedicated to contemporary photography. She favors a black-and-white palette not as a color statement, but in order to create a sense of rhythmic cohesion.
“I’m not against bright colors,” explains Kawakubo. “But if there’s no need for a vivid palette—which I often find is the case—then I would rather balance editorial design in terms of the concept, forms, content, storylines. This let’s the project speak for itself.”
We could all learn a lot from this approach, especially right now, before super bright colors go from a conscientious design choice to a regrettable trend. Instead of conveying a message through color, Kawakubo uses black and white to create rhythm. The scale and boldness of a typeface, the paper’s texture, the folds, and the size of the page become the overarching factors.
“Sometimes I consider ‘black and white’ as a series of layers, a way to create visual structure, and I don’t think of it as a color option,” she says. When beginning a new editorial project, she thinks mainly about structure: rhythm takes precedence, and a thick black font becomes the pulsating beat of a publication.
And when Kawakubo does use the occasional dash of red or blue, they’re all the more expressive and mood altering, a potent disruption to editorial pace and an evocative visualization of the text.