Working Pictures: “Blown Away Guy”

Great pictures work because they are designed to work. They don’t just happen by luck or by accident. In this Working Pictures series, elements and decisions of picture design are closely examined to better understand how images are made to “work.” 

Case in Point: Maxell’s “Blown Away Guy”


“In the 1980s, Maxell became an icon of pop culture when it produced advertisements popularly known as “Blown Away Guy” for its line of audio cassettes. The original campaign began as a trade ad in 1978 and was made into TV spots in 1979 which ran throughout the 1980s. Steve Steigman was the photographer.

The ads depict a man sitting low in a (Le Corbusier) high armed chair (on the right side of the screen) in front of, and facing, a Bang & Olufsen stereo (the left side of the screen). His hair and necktie, along with the lampshade to the man’s right and the martini glass on the low table to the man’s left, are being blown back by the tremendous sound from speakers in front of him — supposedly due to the audio accuracy of Maxell’s product. He is shown desperately clinging to the armrests but defiantly looking ahead at the source of the music through sunglasses, though calmly catching his drink before it slides off the end table. The impact of the advertising campaign on popular culture still resonates today: “Blown Away Guy” was recently parodied on the popularanimated television show “Family Guy.” -Wikipedia


Wisely chosen concepts wedded to artful images make for memorable and effective pictures. The communication success of an image is the result of the decisions made regarding these factors. 

1. Concepts
-This is a quiet picture which illustrates loud music.  
The picture has no loud colors (no colors at all!) and no loud patterns. The picture is not wild and it doesn’t scream, yet it depicts the blasting of rock and roll.  The image exhibits great restraint, not relying on cartoon sound lines or musical notes to show the music. As the designer, Milton Glaser wrote, “Just enough is more.”

-Some pictures use visual analogies. In this picture, it looks like the effect of sound on this man is equated with the way wind effects someone riding motorcycle. Actually, this dude looks like he’s riding a chopper.


2. Composition
-The image is designed to move us from left to right, with the sound. 
The picture’s format is a long horizontal shape, making the idea work. Notice how empty the middle of the picture is, nothing is on the walls or the floor to slow down our eye as it zips from left to right. Remember, we naturally read from left to right, making this composition the perfect choice. Also, because the picture has no height, we don’t look up and down; just left to right.

-This picture uses diagonals to great effect.
Diagonals deliver the punch line, and they play off the rest of the composition. Notice that the tie, lampshade, martini and even the prepulsion of the martini’s olive all share the same diagonal, while the man’s thigh, the drink’s splash and the lamp’s chain share another. The many straight lines and boxy shapes contrast the diagonal discord. Even the type on the original advertisement makes boxy or horizontal shapes.


3. Value
-Value (dark vs. light in a picture) is as important as size when it comes to things being seen.
The tiny drink and it’s even tinier olive are made more obvious by using contrasting values; the light glass and olive are in front of a dark chair.  

These are just a few of the elements that make this picture work. Other “Working Pictures” entries will explore more successful pictures and their reasons for being so.

Further Observation
Does “Blown Away Guy’s” composition remind you of another picture?


And what if she listened to such loud music?



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