Aug 6th 2008
Crop Circle Design – Understanding Communication
"The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why; In short, to draw a new circle."
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Circles (1841)
Graphic Design borrowed the word "logo" from the Greeks. It stems from logos, a word that has been important in philosophy, psychology, and religion. It originally meant "something said" which can be taken many ways but is generally agreed that it means communication.
Which is exactly what graphic design is: communication. Instead of the sound a musician uses or the rhetoric of an orator, graphic design communicates visually.
Design expresses rhythm and harmony like a musician but articulated through pattern and balance. Design employs metaphors visually much the same as a writer does linguistically. Design is essentially communication through visual symbol.
Communication of ideas via the symbol is as old as mankind, as cave paintings teach us. There is a lot of talk about "branding" as the new, big thing in marketing, but farmers have been talking about branding for thousands of years. Visual symbols have been with us at every stage of our development, from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to the Nike swoosh.
These days it is hard to stand in one place and not be able to spot a logo. They help us distinguish one product or service from one another. They help us understand the quality and character of a company or idea. They show us where the restroom is in an unfamiliar building. Some people even get logos tattooed on their skin and shaved into their hair!
Logos are seemingly everywhere.
So when I stumbled across the following image, I naturally saw it as the next step in the evolution of humanity branding everything in sight:
I assumed a marketing firm had cleverly discovered a way to stamp their client's logo in a field. My mind immediately raced to how it could be done. A small design studio, a few days' work, a small bribe for the farmer, and bang: tons of publicity for a relatively small campaign. Genius!
After a quick Google search for "crop circles", my assumptions started to slip away. I looked at image after image of these "formations" as they are called. Having filled countless sketchbooks with page after page of logos, I couldn't help but feel some connection to the strange yet undeniable beauty of the designs.
The consistent geometric precision of the formations are meticulous. The proportions contained within each design hold innumerable references to the Golden Ratio, Pi, the Fibonacci Series, the Platonic Solids, and fractal geometry (i.e. the Mandelbrot set) among other ridiculously complex allusions, including indigenous religious symbolism.
Even with my expensive college degrees and years of experience as an artist (and vandal), it would take a good bit of work to reproduce one of these images perfectly on paper with a compass, ruler, and pencil. To produce one of these designs over 300 square yards in a remote field – let's just say Doc4's clients would be shocked to see the billable hours for that job!
These circles are certainly not a marketing scheme. If they are a prank, it is the most elaborate prank ever conceived. There are too many (over 10,000), too far flung (26 countries), and located where few people would see them (i.e. Wiltshire, England – not exactly primo ad space!).
So who is making these things? M. Night Shyamalan's Signs sums up most people's thoughts.
"…this crop stuff is just about a bunch of nerds who never had a girlfriend their whole lives. They're like thirty now. They make up secret codes and analyze Greek mythology and make secret societies where other guys who never had girlfriends can join in. They do stupid crap like this to feel special. It's a scam. "
Faced with an enigma that is outside mainstream discussion, most choose to accept the default setting that makes life easiest, while reducing exposure to ridicule. Surrounded by worries and work that are immediately important, few of us can take the time to investigate abstruse realms of study.
The truth about the formation of crop circles is shocking: no one knows who is making them or how.
That is, no one has been able to conclusively prove who is making them and no one has been able to reproduce one with the documented characteristics of the 'genuine' formations. Of course, the main suspects are prankster kids that paid attention in geometry, bored farmers with a penchant for symbolism, incredibly precise weather phenomena, aliens, time travelers, or a government conspiracy. Take your pick, but no one can be certain.
What is certain is that they are of a design complexity and precision this artist can only marvel at. And for someone who spends most days trying to communicate with the world through visual symbols, I can only sympathize with the Circle Maker's efforts to tell the world a message, hoax or not.
Maybe the question of crop circles isn't who makes them and how, but why? What is it they are trying to tell us? Maybe you can figure it out? You obviously have some free time if you have read this far.