In its simplest terms, a frame encloses a visual image. They’re used to separate, organise, contain, combine, and distinguish visual element – often by heightening visibility and immediacy of those elements. Frames appear in numerous forms and can serve as many functions, so let’s explore frames as a fundamental feature of visual communication.
In terms of composition, frames can be simple and understated, or decorative and conspicuous. They generally contain certain design elements, either by subtly integrating visual content, or setting content apart within a composition.
Framing on Screen and Paper
Some people don’t really understand the value of framing as a design principle until they study photography or film. One of the best cinematic examples of framing is the 1941 classic, Citizen Kane. The opening sequence keeps the light source in the same place across various frames. The regular use of low angles and keeping all element in focus helped frame characters in relation to their eye lines, demonstrating suspicious and competing glances at one another. There are also several examples where windows and doorframes act as literal framing devices for characters.
Incredible that a film almost 80 years old can still teach filmmakers so much about the craft, but Citizen Kane’s use of framing and composition can show designers a thing or two as well. Within design – particularly print – frames can be considered as the margin of a book or magazine page layout, demonstrating the border between active and passive design elements.
Margins generally block in active elements such as the typographic text photographic images, while being used to display passive elements such as page numbers, captions, headers, and footers. Margins that are narrow make images or text appear larger while pronounced margins visually emphasise elements by using a frame to create immediacy.
Aside from margins and borders that demarcate where images end and surrounding background begin; frames can also be used to divide, crop, fragment, or distort design elements. Furthermore, the visual representation of frames is not limited to compositional elements such as line, shape, colour, texture, or tone; it can also be realised with type and letterform.
A Framework for Organisation
Cropping is done by framing elements within a composition, altering the size, shape, and proportions of an image while potentially impacting on that image’s content and meaning. We see this particularly with social media avatars such as Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, which crops profile images into circles. Cropping in on certain elements on details can alter the focus of the image, giving it new identity and visual presence.
In the online world, frames are a ubiquitous element of websites and interfaces, taking on a variety of appearances and functions. Frames are the literal and physical border surrounding a screen or interface and often contains a hierarchy of information including controls, icons, and other forms of navigational tools.
Frames can be functional and strengthen the viewer’s understanding of information, or frames can simply be decorative elements of a composition. Either way, the use of frames helps viewers distinguish figure from background by providing points of focus and context for the final design.
Frames in the Art World
When we think of frames in art galleries, we often visualise large, elaborately hand-craved borders that are usually as beautiful or detailed as the works they frame. Many art historians and theorists have analysed the impact frames have on artworks and audiences. For example, in 2006 philosophy professor Lambert Wiesing noted that visible frames help viewers understand that a picture is not real, even if the image depicts an object, person, or scene realistically.
This notion has been tested and broken throughout art’s history. From Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Readymades’, which applied the context of gallery space to elevate the artistic merits of everyday objects, to the evolution of street art, which needed neither galleries nor frames to demonstrate art’s place in the world. We’ve all things have some aesthetic value if viewed correctly and this often relies on context, particularly the space in which art is displayed.
Frames within art often act as a hard border, separating viewers from the work and adding a sense of importance to whatever is being framed. However, the relationship between art and frames has become more fluid over time as the two separate elements being blurring into one another and the significance of each fluxes with context.
As philosopher Jacques Derrida noted, “These questions of wood, of matter, of the frame, of the limit between inside and outside, must, somewhere in the margins, be constituted together. Between the outside and the inside, between the external and the internal edge-line, the framer and the framed, the figure and the ground, form and content, signifier and signified, and so on for any two-faced opposition. Neither simply outside nor simply inside.”
Frame Building in PowerPoint
While there isn’t a specific command or button to simply add a border to a slide, there are some easy ways you can frame a slide or an object. The simplest way to create a border is by using the outline of a shape. However, if you’re using a background image, simply reduce the size of the image so its slightly smaller than the slide, now you’ve got a simple white frame than can easily be changed by changing the slide’s colour.
To add a frame using shape outline, hit the ‘Insert’ tab followed by the ‘Shapes’ button. Pick any shape from the choice of rectangles and then create a rectangle that fills the whole slide. If you don’t get the positioning right, you can always grab the shape’s handles and drag to resize.
Now you’ll need to eliminate the background colour from your rectangle by hitting the ‘Format’ tab, then ‘Shape Fill’ and clicking ‘No Fill’ from the drop-down menu. By default, your rectangle will have a thin frame, so you can increase its thickness by clicking ‘Shape Outline’ in the ‘Format’ tab and hitting ‘Weight’ from the drop-down menu. From here you can adjust the frames thickness to your preference or choose from ‘More Lines’ for other border options.
Another way to easily incorporate frames into your PowerPoint slideshow is through the ‘Photo Album’ feature, which you can find under the ‘Insert’ tab. This feature allows you to build a ready-made photo album simply by uploading images.
After you’ve clicked ‘New Photo Album’ from the drop-down menu, you’ll get a pop-up box like the one below.
From here, you simply inset images by clicking ‘File/Disk…’ button and uploading the images you would like to display.
Photo Album then offers you features such as the album layout and what frame shape you would like for you images. Choices include ‘Rectangle’, ‘Rounded Rectangle’, ‘Simple Frame’, ‘Compound Frame’, and more. While this is a quicker may to frame and display images, you’re very limited in how much you can customise your frame colour and style.
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