Text as a visual element

Basic concepts in the introduction to Project 2

Visual communications basically combine text and images, with the possible addition of blocks of colour or shapes, and in the case of film, animation or interactivity also sounds and moving images.

The written word or text is very often fundamental especially in publishing and information design.

Text implies typography, hence the use and choice of typefaces and their arrangement.

Typography conveys a message both through the words themselves and through their visual presentation (choice of typeface, its scale and arrangement).

I did some research in the ways the rich wealth of typefaces may be classified and although different systems exist I find particularly useful and easy the understand the classification adopted by Mary Bonneville in her blog article 17 Basic Kinds of Fonts (2015) at http://bonfx.com/types-of-fonts, which I shall use in my next exercise.

I have also looked up other sources on the web:

For all fonts imaginable: https://www.fontsquirrel.com/ 




The Online Journal of Art and Design (at: http://www.adjournal.net/) has a very interesting article, The Effects of Font Type Choosing on Visual Perception and Visual Communication, by İsmail Hakkı Nakilcioğlu (Online Journal of Art and Design, volume 1, issue 3, 2013).

Exercise 1 – Identifying visual communications – Part TWO

This post is continued from the latest one.


I’m not totally sure where to draw the line between an authorial visual communication and fine art, also because several artists work in both fields and the difference may be blurred or nuanced. In any case I assume that, as for the other areas of visual communication, work has to be commissioned and have a purpose.

My first example is a DVD cover for the final season of Penny Dreadful, a British-American horror drama television series

The complete third season of the Showtime fantasy horror series PENNY DREADFUL, Ethan (Josh Hartnett), Vanessa (Eva Green) and Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) as they confront their inner demons as

At: https://it.pinterest.com/overstock/

A cover by Peter Blake for a compilation album of Stop the Clocks (2006) by the English rock band Oasis

At: http://is3.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/Music2/v4/c5/90/39/c590395f-965a-623f-632c-975f651a0bf9/source/1200x630bf.jpg


An example of interactive art, What made me? , a public installation designed by Dorota  Grabkowska and Kuba Kolec for the Birmingham Made Me Design Expo (15-22 June 2012) at the Mailbox, Birmingham.

WHAT MADE ME Interactive Public Installation on Behance... - a grouped images picture - Pin Them All:

At: https://www.behance.net/gallery/4419469/WHAT-MADE-ME-Interactive-Public-Installation

The following is a delightful interactive Japanese children’s book by Megumi Kajiwara and Tathuhiko Nijima, Motion Silhouette,  that includes pop-up silhouettes in-between pages.

At: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2014/07/motion-silhouette-an-interactive-shadow-picture-book/

This example has a commercial purpose: whenever a customer picks up a hanger, an image of a model wearing the piece of clothing pops up on the wall

At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLlwLjQWYu4&app=desktop


Protesters in Rio de Janeiro hold a ‘die-in’ across the centre of the road in the bustling city of Brazil

At: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3338255/Pope-s-shoes-spotted-Paris-protest-climate-change-conference-prepares-open-conditions-high-security.html#ixzz4WDyZW2Cw


At: http://themetapicture.com/an-original-way-to-protest/

Just some funny protest signs - Imgur:

At: imgur.com/gallery/mB960

In what ways do these images make reference to broader ideas of visual culture?

The first thing I notice looking back at the images I have collected in this and the former post is that in all of them except one (the Oasis cover) text and graphics or sounds (like for the children’s Japanese book) accompany and integrate the image information, provide context and make it more understandable. So it appears that more often than not visual communication is in fact a hybrid combination of images and texts. In some instances text and graphics provide a clue and without them the image would be difficult to understand or could be misinterpreted. On the other side text and graphics would be meaningless, uninteresting or unclear if disconnected from the corresponding images. In any case images and texts become more powerful when they are used together. Messages are a mixture of both and if images provide for immediacy, texts clarify their meanings.

Another element worth of notice is that in many cases context or additional cultural and social knowledge are paramount to make sense of visual communications like these. For instance I could not understand why the protesters in Rio de Janeiro are lying on the floor if I knew nothing of current global climate issues, and I suppose that in the last image the man is protesting for fathers’ rights after divorce because I read about the Fathers 4 Justice movement in the press. So as Creative Arts Today (page 109) says, ‘a visual communication draws on a shared visual culture and reflects if back’.

Visual communication also takes place in a variety of forms and through different media: in my examples posters, photographs, videos, magazines, the Internet were used. In many cases visual messages are part of everyday life, like the ads for Ray Ban and Bic which can be seen walking on the street or on a building wall. In others the environment might be a gallery or a shop. In fact today we are so much used to change from and to different media and forms of communication that it seems totally natural to us to do so – we live in a constantly communicating world as fish in the sea – and it may be difficult to remain aware of the influence that the nature of the medium has on the messages we send, receive and pass on to others, in other words to remain aware that, as McLuhan teaches, ‘the medium is the message’.

Exercise 1 – Identifying visual communications – Part ONE

Exercise 1 of the first project asks to find examples of visual communications differentiated by purpose. The purpose areas identified are six, as I mentioned in my latest post.


Some examples in advertising:


At: http://theultralinx.com/2016/01/23-excellent-examples-of-creative-advertising/

I think this is a fun and effective example of a Ray Ban ad at a harshly sunlit bus stop, there seems to be no better place for it!

Another smart and humorous advertisement, this time for Bic

Related image

At: http://cargocollective.com/BrianOles/BIC-Pens

In the two examples below persuasive visual communication is used in social campagning:

Against plastic pollution

At: http://www.upworthy.com/what-goes-in-the-ocean-goes-in-you?g=2&c=gp1

Against smoke

At: www.luerzersarchive.com/en/magazine/print-detail/mccann-healthcare-worldwide-japan-inc-46499.html


In this case information are delivered together with advertising

At: https://www.behance.net/gallery/4174119/Packaging-Yogurt-Nespresso

Visual instructions on how to indicate movement in animation

Preston Blair

At: http://animationresources.org/instructiohttp://www.animationresources.org/pics/pbanimation27.jpgn-preston-blairs-advanced-animation/


Logo, brand and corporate identity of Enel, Italy’s largest power company

At: https://pinthemall.net/pin/56af5737f2389/

A very young furniture company in Mexico City, which started online and recently went also bricks and mortar

At: https://youtu.be/rrabzAf74ng


Examples for the other three purpose areas will follow in the next post.

Designing messages to a purpose

Purposes of messages in visual communications (Creative Arts Today, pages 112-115):


Aims: to convince, entice or direct the viewer for commercial, political or social ends. Can be used also to positive ends for example in social campagning, or can be used as propaganda.

Used in: advertising, marketing, packaging.

Relies on: understanding human behaviour or psychology to trigger desires, fears, emotions, social aspirations.


Aims: to deliver information or content.

Used in: books, newspapers, leaflets, road signs, safety information, instructional diagrams.

Identity design

Like some persuasive design, it aims at creating emotive responses or associations with brand identity, logo or other visual identity.

Authorial content

Generates new and engaging content through comics, graphic novels, animations, other media.

Aims: to entertain, satirise or educate.

Interactive design

Used in new media like games design, web design

Users may: get visual feedback, contribute content, feel a part of something

All contains some element of interactivity.

Alternative messages

Used as a subcultural and grassroots tool for protest, creating identities or alternative ways of communicating.

Often used in do-it-yourself and self-produced forms by global protesters, pressure groups and cultural movements.

Research point

At the moment I am not able to access the Oxford Art Online resources since OCA subscriber terms are being reconfigured under the new UCA’s account, so I have to gain information from my own research on- and offline.

Creative Arts Today suggests to start researching in the following areas :

communication theory – design – book illustration – Marshall McLuhan – visual culture – commercial art

For my personal research I could concentrate investigation in areas I’m already involved with: communication and design in the fields of contemporary textiles and jewellery. I already own several publications in both of them and shall select which ones are the most useful in relation to this course.

On communication theory


Communication Theory  is an interesting collective ‘book’ on the subject that I found on Wikibooks, where it is said that it has been featured ‘because it contains substantial content, it is well-formatted, and the Wikibooks community has decided to feature it on the main page or in other places’. According to the website ‘It is an introduction to communication theory — the theory of how humans share, encode, and decode what they know, what they need, and what they expect from each other’. It is of course in the making as it can be edited as new contents or Chapters are amended or added to. It is possible to save a copy offline for example in GoodReader.

At the moment I found some Chapters particularly interesting.

Propaganda and the Public: Walter Lippmann, Harold D. Lasswell, Edward Bernays, and Jacques Ellul (Chapter 2)

This Chapter explains how much communication research was focused on the influence of propaganda in the time of World War One and Two, and how governments were interested in the use of communication to create behavioral changes in people. This explains also the great development of research in the area during the twentieth century.

Other important points are made in Chapter 3, Uses and Gratifications: Herzog, Katz, and friends

The uses and gratifications approach wishes to explain ‘the great appeal of certain media contents … Why do people use media and what do they use them for?’. So this type of approach is interested in the audience response more than in the producers of the message: ‘it regards audiences as active media users as opposed to passive receivers of information. In contrast to traditional media effects theories which focus on “what media do to people” and assume audiences are homogeneous, uses and gratifications approach is more concerned with “what people do with media”. So I’m immediately reminded of the ‘role of the reader’ dealt with in Part 2 of this course and of the active interpretation of the viewer of artworks as examined in Part 1.

The Media Dependency Theory is considered in this book as an extension of the previous approach, the main difference being that ‘media dependency looks at audience goals as the origin of the dependency while the uses and gratifications approach emphasizes audience needs’.

‘The Uses and Gratifications Theory has been widely used, and also is better suited, for studies of Internet use. In the Internet environment, users are even more actively engaged communication participants, compared to other traditional media … The theory also suggests that people consciously choose the medium that could satisfy their needs and that audiences are able to recognize their reasons for making media choices … there exists competition not only between the Internet and other traditional media, but among each options in the Internet itself as well.’

Chapter 4 concentrates on The Frankfurt School: Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, and on the culture industry seen as an instrument of social control. The concept of culture industry in critical theory was born in the 1940s and since then it has considered the role of mass communications in relation to ideologies.

Chapter 6 examines the importance of Semiotics and Myth according to Roland Barthes and how Barthes applied linguistic rules (De Saussure) to cultural codes, from fashion to advertisements.

Another interesting area of research is that connected to the Network Society and the information age theme in the 21st century (Chapter 10: Network Society: Manuel Castells). It is a vast and still ill defined field with more that thirty ‘labels’ used for referring to contemporary society, among those ‘information society, global village, digital society, wired society, post-industrial society, and network society. Some of the terms describe the same phenomena, while others do not’. And connected to these are the terms New Economy, information economy or network economy which are ‘related to new information technologies.’ And it is said that’to understand the information economy, one should first understand the characteristics of new information technologies, and then study the paradigm shift into the network society.’

In consideration of the fundamental themes of this course, time and place, it might be particularly useful to study the work of Manuel Castells, ‘one of the most influential theorists over the past thirty years since his wide array of works has provided a unique and critical framework for examining contemporary society’.

Castells puts forward ‘that the network society is organized around two new forms of time and space: timeless time and the space of flows’: ‘new biological reproductive technologies blur life cycle patterns in conditions of parenting by either slowing down or speeding up the life cycle …Space of flow infers that physical distances are closer among organizations in the society, and information can be easily transmitted from one point to another point by new communication technologies. This means the annihilation of logical concept of space.

In this connection these are the texts that might be particularly relevant:

Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. New York: Blackwell.

Castells, M. (1997). The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Castells, M. (2000). End of Millennium. Oxford: Blackwell.

On Design


Brief notes from the above article on design as a process:


Design is the thought process comprising the creation of an entity.


“Design is the thought …”

It is “first thought,” or that type of thought we call insight. It is the mental synapse that instantly sees the potential connection between problem and possibility; that sees the capacity for order in the midst of chaos, or for improvement amid inefficiency.

Design is also intuition, that form of subconscious thought that leads us to a deeper sense of knowing, often in the apparent absence of rational confirmation. Intuition is akin to an elongated insight that tells us we are on to something. It is the hunch that often underlies our efforts to perform rational analysis.

Design also involves reason, that fully conscious form of thought that assesses the problem and analyzes the possibilities for solution. It is the analytical process that relies on method and mathematics to assess, refine, and verify its various hypotheses.

And finally, design is the synthesis of all three of these aspects of thought (insight, intuition, and reason) that forms the complete, and verifiable, conceptualization of possibility.

design involves the utilization and synthesis of all three aspects of thought: insight, intuition, and reason.


“Design is the thought process …”

As presented in this definition, design is the activity of creation, as opposed to the product of creation. It is a sequence, or set, of thought-filled events and procedures that lead to the creation of that which is being designed.


“Design is the thought process comprising …”

That is, it includes, or contains, every thought and action required to create that which is being designed. The whole of design comprises all the individual parts of that thought process leading up to, involved with, and even following the creation of the entity being designed.

Depending on the type of entity being designed, this process can include the following:
– the identification of a set of needs,
– the initial conceptualization of a way to meet those needs,
– the further development of that initial concept,
– the engineering and analysis required to make sure it works,
– the prototyping of its preliminary form,
– the construction of its final form,
– the implementation of various quality control procedures,
– selling its value to the consumer,
– its delivery to the consumer,
– providing for after-service,
– and obtaining feedback regarding its utility and value


“Design is the thought process comprising the creation …”

This comprehensive “thought/action” process is directed toward, and culminates in, creation. That is, it leads to the tangible realization of a mature completion of the “image of possibility” that originally served to initiate the process.

Without this realization the original “image of possibility” becomes an unfulfilled dream, or a frustration, and in time can vanish altogether.


“Design is the thought process comprising the creation of an entity.”
An entity, that is, the product of the design process, can be

      – physical, such as an object that occupies space (e.g., the house we live in, a car, or a piece of art),
      – temporal, such as an event that occurs in time (e.g., a musical concert, a political rally, or a birthday party),
      – conceptual, such as an idea (e.g., the theory of relativity, the concept of cybernetics, or even the definition of design), or
      – relational, such as a relationship that describes, or specifies, the interaction between entities (e.g., the procedures for operating a computer, or even the friendship between two people).

Each of these entities can be designed.’

Also worth a check:




On Book illustration


On McLuhan


I found online the Pdf of Marshall McLuhan’s pioneering book in media theory, Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man, I have downloaded it to my GoodReader and shall read it shortly.

McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media – The Extensions of Man. [online] At: http://robynbacken.com/text/nw_research.pdf (Accessed and downloaded 12/01/17)

On Visual culture / visual communication

I have downloaded four books on this subject:

Mirzoeff, N. (ed.) (1998) The Visual Culture Reader. [online] At:https://analepsis.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/104915217-mirzoeff-nicholas-ed-the-visual-culture-reader.pdf (Accessed and downloaded 17/01/2017)

Rose, G. (2001) Visual Methodologies. [online] At: https://teddykw2.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/visual-methodologies.pdf (Accessed and downloaded 12/01/17)

Smith, K., Moriarty S., Barbatsis, G., Kenney, K. (ed.) (2005) Handbook of Visual Communication. [online] At: https://www.academia.edu/9370225/Handbook_Of_Visual_Communication._Theory_Methods_And_Media (Accessed and downloaded 17/01/17)

Sturken, M., Cartwright, L. (2009) Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. [online] At: http://belintellectuals.eu/media/library/Sturken_Marita_and_Cartwright_Lisa_Practices_of_looking.pdf (Accessed and downloaded 25/01/17)

First notes for a definition of a visual culture, taken on reading Mirzoeff’s First Chapter What is visual culture?

Visual culture deals with ‘visual events in which information, meaning or pleasure is sought by the consumer in an interface with visual technology’ and visual technology is ‘any form of apparatus designed either to be looked at or to enhance natural vision, from oil painting to television and the Internet.’ —-> definition of visual culture, what makes me think is the term consumer which perhaps is a bit diminutive: are we just consumers?

‘The disjunctured and fragmented culture that we call postmodernism is best imagined and understood visually, just as the nineteenth century was classically represented in the newspaper and the novel … Western culture has consistently privileged the spoken work as the highest form of intellectual practice and seen visual representations as second-rate illustrations of ideas’ —-> very interesting point, could it be put in connection also with the Platonic notion of images as imperfect copies of reality

‘Western philosophy and science now use a pictorial, rather than textual, model of the world’ as against ‘the notion of the world as a written text that dominated so much intellectual discussion in the wake of such linguistics-based movements as structuralism and poststructuralism’ —-> first line of thinking: visual communication uses a linguistic approach (semiotics) and applies it to images, so in fact texts and images are intrinsically bound also from a theoretic point of view – second line of thinking: literature too has adopted a sort of visual approach, I’m thinking here of one of the basic laws of creative writing: ‘show, don’t tell’

‘The dominant postmodern style is ironic: a knowing pastiche that finds comment and critique to be the only means of innovation’ —-> this idea relates to the concept of appropriation which I shall deal with in my third assignment

‘One of the most striking features of the new visual culture is the visualization of things that are not in themselves visual … Visual culture does not depend on pictures but on this modern tendency to picture or visualize existence … the modern period makes countless reproductions of its imagery … in what Walter Benjamin famously called the ”the age of mechanical reproduction” —-> to be connected with pop culture and pop art

‘rise of photography as the principal means of defining reality in the early nineteenth century —-> will be dealt with in Part 4 of the course

‘visual culture directs our attention away from structured, formal viewing settings like the cinema and art gallery to the centrality of visual experience in everyday life‘ —-> importance of photography and visual documentation of everyday life

‘our attitudes vary according to whether we are going to see a movie, watch television, or attend an art exhibition … most of our visual experience takes place aside from these formally structured moments of looking —-> this reconnects me to Grayson Perry’s cycle of lectures examined at the beginning of Part 1 of the course, and the importance of the environment and context

‘as [single point] perspective‘s claim to be the most accurate representation of reality lost ground, film and photography created a new, direct relationship to reality, to the extent that we accept the ”actuality” of what we see in the image. A photograph necessarily shows us something that was at a certain point actually before the camera’s lens’ —-> another interesting point that demands research: the comparison between the indirectness of traditional perspective painting and the directness of photography (Part 4 of the course)

‘perspective images sought to make the world comprehensible to the powerful figure who stood at the single point from which they were drawn. Photographs offered a potentially more democratic visual map of the world‘ —-> a political point, but thinking as a postmodernist might do, it may be just a change of point of view, from this it does not ensue that the democratic approach is forcefully closer to reality

‘the (post)modern destruction of reality is accomplished in everyday life, not in the studios of the avant-garde’ —-> another political point, may be also connected to the ‘role of the reader’

‘soap operas construct a parallel universe‘ —-> detachment of the visual from reality, the visual creates its own reality according to its own rules in the same way that language is an arbitrary system (De Saussure)

‘the visual … offers a sensual immediacy that cannot be rivalled by print media: the very element that makes visual imagery of all kinds distinct from texts’ —-> further research: what is the role of texts within the contemporary visual culture


On Semiotics

This is the only physical book I have bought so far:

Hall, S. (2012) This Means This,  This Means That: A User’s Guide to Semiotics. London: Laurence King

This is useful also for interpreting art.

On Commercial art


I did not find much so far but I could probably rely for much material on the books on visual culture that I have already quoted.

So all in all it seems that there is a LOT of work to do for Part 3 if I have to go a bit below the surface and not only skim this huge area of research. I shall do the best I can.

First notes on visual communication

Visual communications is for me a new area of study, even if I have occasionally touched upon it from different angles through designing textiles and jewels or trying to solve visual questions of various kinds, such as presentation of work done, exhibiting it properly and so on.

So I’m jotting down some notes before starting to work through Part 3, with a basic list of concepts.

Key concepts from my handbook (pages 106-110)

Visual communications: range of disciplines that use mass media to communicate messages to an audience.

In a communication we can have: typography/text, illustrations, moving images/photographs.

Communication implies a purpose as against or beyond aesthetic reasons.

Visual communication is something you do rather than something you are and it’s a service-based activity. It is a service, through which messages are refined, packaged and delivered.

1 Areas of practice: 

  • Magazines, newspapers, publishing: photographers/illustrators (image-based contents) – copywriters/journalists/authors (texts) – graphic designers (combination of the two)
  • Advertising, marketing, promotion: teams to generate ideas, visualise them and study contexts of use
  • Architects, engineers, planners: graphic designers, illustrators, photographers
  • Moving image: film-makers, animators, graphic designers
  • New media (mobile technology, internet: web and game designers

2 How does visual communication take place?

Communication is about sending and receiving messages through a channel of communication; noise is what disrupts the process. A message is coded, sent through a channel and decoded by the viewer. (Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver’s model of 1949)

Terms: message – channel – coding – sending- receiving- decoding – noise

3 Contemporary visual culture

Culture of design: design as ‘an activity which is defined … by the social milieu’ (Malcolm Barnard, design theorist), hence interdependency between theory of design and theory of society.

Visual culture as network of visual signs, symbols, cultural reference points, hierarchies

Visual communication draws on a shared visual culture and reflects it back, and in the process may reinforce, emphasise or change (shift of meaning) the reference points it drawn on


4 Mass media

Technology (printing, broadcast media, new media) used to send a message to a large audience

‘The medium is the message’ (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964)

Meaning and implications of this sentence: I believe it means that a message is something communicated, so it cannot exist without a sender, a receiver and a channel, the medium used to process the message gives form to and makes the message, if we change the medium the message is changed too so it becomes to all effects another message

Assignment 2 – Reflective Commentary

I have always loved reading and was already familiar to some extent with the notion of creative writing but the concept of reading creatively is fundamentally new to me and this part of the course has been important to put it in focus. After being introduced to the reader-response theory I now see the word ‘creative’, so far a rather general term with a vague meaning, under a different and more precise light. I find particularly stimulating the idea of a living and evolving relationship among authors, texts and readers and of a real exchange and influence in all directions.

Initially, when I started concentrating on this part, I was considering that of the reader a basically passive role and the reader as someone standing on the recipient side, as I said in my beginning post Reasons to read, reasons to write. My perspective has certainly changed. In this respect also the experience of close reading has been very interesting and has activated in me a different kind of response as against what I used to have back in high school when confronted with construing texts in more traditional ways, based on studying authors and context first and only afterwards interpreting their texts as if from a distance. It was study first and analysing later, here the process has been reversed, from what I understand of it.

All this made me also consider how connected all creative activities fundamentally are and how similar the role of the reader of a text is to that of the visitor of an art exhibition or of a member of the public of a film or theatrical performance, and conversely how much writers, visual artists, performers have in common and share.

When I knew lately that the literature Nobel prize had been assigned to Bob Dylan my first thought was: notwithstanding all the debates if this was a right or a wrong choice the fact is that probably fifty years ago nobody would have thought to give this award to a songwriter, and to draw a parallel between Dylan and ancient poets and performers like Homer and Sappho. As such I believe it was a very destabilising, postmodern decision. Speaking in ‘performative’ terms, Dylan’s art songs have been considered ‘speech acts’ that have a real influence on the world.

I had all these thoughts at the back of my mind as I was doing my close reading of Don DeLillo’s extract from White Noise. What I tried to do was to stay as close to the text as I was able as a reader, to ‘crawl’ on it to use one word from the extract, do my utmost to not be intimidated by a celebrated novel by a very influential author, and to look at its words only, forgetting the rest. I also made an effort to remain aware of myself and my circumstances, feelings, environment as a reader and of how these were being mirrored back into my close reading. I start to see that I could reread it perhaps in one year time and possibly write very different things. All in all I could say that if I started this course as a modernist I’m getting postmodernist along the way!

(538 words)