Project 1 – Looking for Visual Communications

If graphic design is about anything, it is about culture. (Barnard, cited via Downs in CAT p.109)

Notes: Looking for visual communications

  • Visual communications cover a vast range of practices and disciplines
  • Technology is blurring the boundaries between disciplines; practitioners can mix and match a range of media, tools and approaches, and are often highly skilled in multiple domaines.

    Visual communications is something you do rather than something you are; it’s a service-based activity used by other sectors for specific tasks. (CAT p.107)

  • Visual communications are part of a complex system of signs, symbols, references and (power) hierarchies that comprise a(ny) visual culture: for example punk identity (pink, green, black (or otherwise unexpected) hair colour; piercings; tattoos; spikes and studs).
  • “Visual communications is a (multi-media, interdisciplinary) service, through which messages are refined, packaged and delivered.” (CAT p. 107)

How does visual communications take place?

  • Essentially, communication is about sending and receiving messages.
  • Anything that disrupts the transmission of a message, including misinterpretation, is “noise.”
  • A message is coded, transmitted across a(ny) channel, and decoded by the viewer/receiver.
  • There is inevitably more than one possible reading of a communications, but today it’s generally accepted that the designer of a communication is responsible for ensuring that its intended meaning is understood.
  • In a visually-saturated world/economy, we expect communications to be clear, accessible and user-friendly.

Contemporary visual culture

Design is an activity which is defined to some degree by the social mileu in which it operates. (Margolin, cited via Downs in CAT, p.109)

  • Associations/reference points are slippery (change over time) and not necessarily cross-cultural. Giving the middle finger (an insulting, dismissive but relatively banal gesture in North America), in Istanbul, Turkey, is considered significantly more aggressive; it would be a mistake to finger someone driving badly and could easily lead to the eruption of a violent situation.

What is mass media?

  • Refers to technology used to send a message to a large audience (ie: printing press; social media platforms; hashtags; broadcast media like radio or TV and streaming platforms like Netflix).

Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message.”


  • Our reading of a message is shaped by the means employed to communicate it.
  • We’re more convinced that something is true/factual if we see it recorded on a spreadsheet or a viably-sourced infographic (the conviction that “numbers don’t lie”, for example) than if we read it on someone’s blog or, say (depending who you are), Trump’s Twitter feed.
  • Similarly, the medium itself conveys specific information: a website, social media presence and, increasingly often, corresponding (mobile device) application, suggests an awareness of technological trends.
  • Not having any of these things (here I’m thinking of a charming bookstore owner in Paris’ Marais who had taped a handwritten sign to his door stating this fact (NO WEBSITE! NO BLOG! NO FACEBOOK! NO PHOTOS!) in all-caps, and with exclamation marks, and in English) is also an effective way of communicating certain feelings about the direction of the world today (and the importance of good, old-fashioned reading) but also a desire to be subversive, a lack of motivation to cater to or facilitate interaction with his well-meaning clientele, an aversion to tourists in his bookshop.

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