I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this image (at right) of a 1918 naval ship with a crazy op art pattern on it! Was this the work of an early Cubist or perhaps a modern day Photoshop job? Nope. It's a real ship painted in a form of "disruptive camouflage" called dazzle. Developed by British painter Norman Wilkinson during WWI, dazzle employs high contrast colors and bold, clashing zigzag lines to confuse the eye and make it difficult to discern the outline of a shape. It's an effect that works like the stripes on a zebra in the wild. When used on war ships, this disruption of line can cause viewers from long distances to miscalculate the proximity, direction, and speed of a vessel.
Although the technique was applied to hundreds of Allied ships during WWI, its success rate was never fully determined. By the early part of WWII, it fell out of use as detection equipment became more advanced and radar was widely adopted. The style continued on throughout the art world, however, during the Cubist, Futurist, and Vorticist movements of the early 20th century, as well as in pop art in the 60s and 70s.
Currently, Dazzle graphics are making a comeback both in art and as camouflage. It's latest adaptation has been used towards interfering with facial recognition software (computer vision) used by companies like FaceBook and Flickr.
And, dazzle can be seen trending right now in fashion from dresses at Anthropologie and Target to Puma sneakers to cell phone skins.
Whether you want to make a bold statement or play with visual perception, dazzle pattern would be fun to experiment with in your next designs. And, it would be cool to come up with a new form of dazzle! I think I can see it being pieced together now...
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