As a social value, transparency suggests clarity and
directness. The idea of "transparent government"
promoter processes that are open and understandable
to the public, not hidden behind closed doors. Yet in
design, transparency is often used not for the purposes
of clarity, but to create dense, layered imagery built from
veils of color and texture.
Any surface in the physical world is more or less
transparent or opaque: a piece of wood has 100 percent
opacity, while a room full of air has nearly zero. Image-
editing software allows designers to adjust the opacity
of any still or movinng picture. Software lets you see
through wood, or make air into a solid wall.
Transparency becomes an active design element
when its value is somewhere between zero and 100
percent. In this chapter, we assume that a "transparent"
image or surface is, generally, opaque to some
degree. Indeed, you will discover that a surface built
out of completely opaque elements can function in a
transparent way.
Transparency and layers are related phenomena.
A transparent square of color appears merely pale or fa-
ded until it passes over another shape or surface,
allowing a second image to show through itself. A viewer
thus perceives the transparency of one plane in relation
to a second one. What is in front, and what is behind?
What dominates, and what recedes?
Video and animation programs allow transparency
to change over time. A fade is created by making a
clip gradually become transparent. Dissolves occur
when one clip fades out (becoming transparent) while a
second clip fades in (becoming opaque)
Transparency is facinating and seductive
principle. How can it be used to build meaningful
images? Transparency can serve to emphasize values
of directness and clarity through adjustments and
juxtapositions that maintain the wholeness or legibility
of elements. Transparency also can serve to build
complexity by allowing layers to mix and merge
together. Transparency can be used thematically to
combine or contrast ideas, linking levels of content.
When used in a conscious and deliberate way.
transparency contributes to the meaning and visual
intrigue of a work of design.