I love optical illusions. Nothing gets my attention more than an impossible shape or a scintillating pattern. Optical illusions reveal the limitations or foibles of our brains. What’s a better artistic subject than something that shows us our senses can be tricked.
Most optical illusions are tricks that can be performed by transferring three dimensional shapes to a two dimensional surface. The best example of this is Ascending and Descending created by M.C. Escher. This is a staircase that obviously cannot exist in real life, but it’s difficult at first to see why.
Then there are simpler impossible shapes like the impossible fork.
I love this table illusion. The two table tops are exactly the same shape. But your brain won’t let you see that until you take the shapes out of a three dimensional context.
Another kind of illusion is one of context. We can easily be tricked about the size, color or shape of an object depending on what it is placed next to.
This is the most important illusion to be aware of when designing. A single color can look like two completely different colors depending on what colors are placed next to them. A center line can look off center depending on what’s near it. As designers, we have to take these tricks in to account and try not to let them ruin a good design.
There are a lot of logos that employ the ambiguous illusion. This is when you can flip between two different ways of seeing an image. My favorite example is the Yoga Australia logo.
Of course you don’t want to have this happen accidentally…
Some illusions use motion. The dancer below is twirling clockwise or counterclockwise depending on the way you look at it.
If you stare at the target in the center of these circles without blinking, the magenta circles appear to get swallowed by a green circle.
My favorite kind of illusion is when a still, two dimensional image looks like it’s moving.
If I ever get another tattoo, it will be something like this. Talk about making your skin crawl.