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AgencyLIKE: Optical Illusions with David

david agencylike


This week’s AgencyLIKE is from David and he’s chosen to talk about Optical Illusions and their use in design. Optical Illusions probably aren’t something that you’ve given much thought to since being a child when they were weird and cool, and a great way to distract your science teacher for the first half of the lesson. For David they’re something of a fascination, especially when they’re incorporated into design.

David, can you explain briefly what an Optical Illusion actually is?

Optical illusions are when you put a bunch of colours, patterns and dimensions together in a way that confuses your brain and forces it to generate an image. Put simply, your brain is trying to show you something that you’re not actually seeing. When our brains are faced with loads of information, they try to cut corners and condense the information into something that’s more digestible. So if it makes more sense for your brain to see something, it’ll tell you that is what you’re seeing even if in reality, that image isn’t there. Humans are lazy: we like to simplify things, except here what you end up with is something pretty cool.


graffiti face animorphosis

Is it a face, or just a group of shapes?

What types of optical illusion are there?

One of my favourites is animorphosis. This is when an image only really comes to life from one specific angle. The space is three-dimensional so usually they’re positioned so that you can walk around them, but you’ll only see the image that the artist wants you to see when you reach a certain position. They can be two-dimensional as well though, and have been used in portraits to create a sense of depth or distortion as well as in street art. One of my favourite street art collectives is Boa Mistura. They’re in Madrid and have turned urban spaces into calm, quiet areas.



The word “REMANSO” (meaning “quiet area”) can only be seen from this angle.

You know a lot about animorphosis, why would you say that this was your favourite?

Absolutely, I’m crazy about animorphosis. It’s so clever how an artist can achieve something amazing, but in a really subtle way. Animorphosis optical illusions aren’t simple and they make you think about what you’re looking at, then when you realise it, it’s like a big reveal. It’s actually how cinema started out, so that’s something that makes it even more cool. Cinema is just a collection of stills all put together to simulate motion – you’re not actually seeing someone running, but really what it is, is a collection of images put into a sequence that when they’re played altogether produces the illusion of movement.


How are optical illusions used in design?

Artists and designers play with distance, perception, colour, movement, all different aspects that comprise an image or design. They’ll put it all together to create this illusion effect, and if it’s used really cleverly it can relate to and promote a brand or product. It’s also famously used by architects to make buildings stand out amongst others.


optical illusions in architecture

The horizontal lines on the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg appear to be at an angle, but are actually straight.

Do you have any favourite examples of Optical Illusions used in design?

One that I love is by SONOS, the sound system brand. It was developed by Bruce Mau Design, who used movement illusion in one of their logos that made it look like the name was pulsing – kind of like when you turn music up really loud and you can see the speakers vibrating. Because this type of illusion matches their product, it works amazingly well and is super unique (scroll up and down quickly to get the soundwave effect).


SONOS movement logo

This SONOS logo gives the impression of movement, simulating soundwaves.


We’re all in agreement here that Optical Illusions are a great example of what happens when you combine genius with creativity, so we hope that you’ve enjoyed listening to David’s thoughts on them.



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