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


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