- Visual communications are purpose-driven.
- Visual communications can be loosely grouped into several categories:
- Persuasive design
- Informative design
- Identity design
- Authorial content
- Interactive design
- Alternative messaging
Exercise 1 – Identifying visual communications
Examples of persuasive design
Hillary Clinton for Democratic President of the USA
The Hillary Clinton-endorsed video ad “Mirrors” [accessed 29/07/17] hoped to persuade people to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential race by evoking fear about the impact on young girls and women of politically empowering a misogynist like Trump. The video juxtaposes soundbites and interview extracts of Trump insulting women’s physical appearance and admitting to not respecting women with images of young, innocent-looking girls of different ages and ethnic backgrounds presumably grappling with an uncertain self-/body-image as they gaze into the mirror. This is powerful messaging that plays off the viewer’s fears and emotions (particularly those of parents).
This video ad for Heineken [accessed 29/07/17] went viral quickly, juxtaposing outtakes from interviews with men and women with radically opposed identity politics or views about a certain, provocative subject (feminism; transgender identity, for example) and then pairing them up in a large room and “inviting” them to work together to assemble a piece of furniture. Once the unlikely duo has worked through the challenge of assembling a bar, the viewer senses they’ve also worked through some tensions or initial reservations. The suggestion is that by being forced to work on something together, they’re being forced to challenge their own limited thinking about the Other. Task accomplished, they’re offered the opportunity to sit down over a cold beer, presupposing that if they accept, they’ll have to find something to talk about for as long as it takes them to consume the beer. What we see over the course of this (long) ad is people opening up to each other and changing their perceptions. Over a Heineken. The ad is a definite response to the divisive politics of our time, asking folks to change their thinking about each other, but also to think of Heineken as the kind of company that cares about social and political issues, and wants to make the world a more tolerant place. The hashtag #openyourworld is an added interactive element, encouraging people to share the ad and create their own content on a similar theme.
Crest Toothpaste (as seen on PersuadetheLizard – accessed 29/07/17)
This series of print ads are clever because they are visually simple, they link toothpaste into the culture of mobile devices and emojis (not an easy feat) and they give the viewer credit for being intelligent enough to figure out what’s going on.
As noted on PersuadeTheLizard, these ads play off the way a smile (emoji) informs and vastly changes our understanding of a received message. It’s also a nod the brand’s understanding of the world today, its ability to be light-hearted, and the continued importance/relevance of the power of a smile.
Examples of information design
Air France’s Safety Video
Instead of enlisting their in-flight staff to stand in the isles waving their arms and winning the attention of absolutely nobody on board the flight, Air France came up with a pretty good concept for communicating in-flight safety information: make a cute, very tongue-in-cheek video that plays off every (flattering) stereotype of French women (beautiful, sexy accents when speaking English, sailor stripes, national colours, red lipstick, coy and flirty) at the same time as communicating the essential rules and safety procedures.
“How the World Reads” Infographic
Viewable here and featured on a variety of sites and blogs, this web-based infographic sponsored by FeelGood Contact Lenses offers a visually-engaging look at how the world reads. This includes information about what we read, how our brains process meaning, which countries read most, which books have been banned and why, etc. etc.
Effective as a promotional tool, it’s a great way for a contact lenses company to ingratiate and expose themselves to a diverse audience, communicating company values of literacy and education while reminding us not to take our vision for granted.
When I was teaching English to small French kids, Origami was a great activity: fun and creative with a cute, tangible result, it also afforded an opportunity to practice basic vocabulary and follow instructions that were accompanied by gestures and modeling.
The hardest part was learning the Origami exercises myself, and I often struggled to follow the diagrams. Origami is a great example of how someone who doesn’t have that artistic practice as a basic cultural reference point can really struggle to follow the step-by-step, visual diagrams that accompany most origami projects.
Thanks to the proliferation of almost everything on the Internet, video tutorials like the one featured below may not be “produced” by experts in visual communications, but they (more or less effectively) employ a visual method to overcome potential cultural and/or language barriers and communicate information about how to complete a given task (in the YouTube clip below, an Origami Santa Claus).
Examples of identity design
Feist’s 2017 album, Pleasure
Dominant use of the colour fuschia pink, following the album’s release and across different social media platforms, proved an effective way to draw attention to Feist’s latest body of work after a prolonged absence from the music scene. The pink stands out visually and creates a mood/expectation (of fun, femininity, and celebration) around the album.
I saw Feist in concert in July; most of the merchandise drew from the fuchsia floral motif on the album cover and even Feist herself was dressed in a similarly-hued taffeta-looking ball gown. Photos online suggest many of her live performances and shows since the launch of Pleasure have featured this same dress. The link between the colour pink and the theme of pleasure itself seems clear.
Mab Graves, Pop Surrealist Artist
Mab Graves is a painter, illustrator whose (artistic body of) blurs the boundary between work and life. Her art resembles her life and her life resembles her art. Her work and social media feed (particularly her Instagram) feature the repetition of a variety of themes including pink (anything), ultra-girly paraphernalia including Barbies, and cupcakes, Americana, Hotwheels, dinosaurs, illness and medicine, her nephew (and her role as his Auntie), self-portraiture, cats and cat-like creatures, “Retro Space” and many others.
Somehow, the artist brings it all together online to create a visual identity/personal brand that feels authentic and totally seamless.
I’m not particularly familiar with this wood furniture company, but an online search for an example of business identity design brought up their website, which puts the work and spirit of the brand (handcrafted expertise, design excellence, natural, untreated materials, family-run, down-home values) front and center through the use of large photographs featuring hands working on, holding or touching natural-looking, well-designed objects or furniture (emphasizing the relationship between people and the product); a clean, light-filled, neutral-colored workshop (emphasizing the notion of manual processes, craftsmanship, quality, and natural materials); and even a (similarly-colored) dog, to bring home that emphasis on relationships and “good people doing good work.”
Man’s best friend and current, Scandinavian-inspired aesthetic design trends aside, the site actually is as beautiful and pared-down as the work it wants to sell, and the story it tells perfectly aligned with the large, clean-looking photos, minimalist logo, typeface and overall design.
Examples of authorial content
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (an autobiographical graphic novel)
Vahram Muratyan’s graphic blog-cum-book Paris vs. New York
As shown above, graphic artist Muratyan’s Paris vs. New York features pared-down graphics juxtaposing comparable scenes from Paris and New York.
India Dania/Mythic Sister
This university acquaintance of mine has made expert use of social media to define a unique personal brand around ritual movement, healing arts, sisterhood, spirituality, the Great Outdoors, feminine sensual/sexual self-expression, and dance therapy. Authorial content included on both her website and Instagram include short (solo and in-class) video choreographies, and the pairing of text and emojis with illustrative photographs taken using her iPhone. Her primary goal seems to produce content that entertains (but also educates and invites/attracts women to attend her dance classes, retreats and various rituals/ceremonies) and promotes a particular brand of expressive self-empowerment.
Examples of interactive design
Random Studio is an “experience design” studio that aims to create dialog between brands and their customers. I like the clean, easy-to-navigate feel of their website combined with the playful fisheye camera (shown above) that visitors to their website can play with and manipulate by clicking the mouse (and thus visit or otherwise “experience” their workspace).
Lara Croft (the video game)
Although they don’t come to mind as I don’t use video games (or any gaming technology or apps, for that matter) I used the Bridgeman Education resource to create a slideshow of Lara Croft images that give a sense of her character, whose decisions, successes and failures are of course determined by the gamer behind the console.
Instagram (and hashtags)
I’ve cited Instagram several times in this exercise and, as someone who doesn’t get a ton of pleasure or satisfaction out of social media, as I’ve experienced it, what I like about Instagram is how it provides a super user-friendly, image/video-based (and, now, micro-blogging) platform for individuals and groups, and facilitates easy connections and community-building through hashtags.
Examples of alternative messaging
Miranda July’s Joanie 4 Jackie
Originally an underground “mix-tape chainletter” project to give voice, support and a
minimum of exposure to women filmmakers, Joanie 4 Jackie (previously the Miss Moviola Chainletter Tape) is now (thanks no doubt to July’s success as an artist, filmmaker, writer, etc) archived in its entirety as a website (link above).
The pamphlet that July sent out at the time was a form of visual communication that communicated lots of things: almost zero production budget; the “artisanal” and subversive nature of the project; that any and all women were welcome to contribute and, in so doing, support each other in realizing their work and ideas.
The films themselves are another form of visual communication, with subject matter and style as vast and varied as the women who submitted their work.
#Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter is a “national, chapter-based organization” (http://blacklivesmatter.com/about/) and movement responding, in particular, to the violence and racism by American police against black men and women, but also relating to the much vaster topic of racism in America against African-Americans.
The movement operates first and most accessibly as a hashtag for any related content (thereby inviting anyone to engage in dialogue and join the movement), but also comprises a complete and informative website, a series of artworks and events, protests, and invites anybody to create or contribute to content/events, providing their contributions are aligned with the clearly-stated “guiding principles.”
The movement has garnered international attention.
Summary reflection: In what ways do these images make reference to broader ideas of visual culture?
I think these images speak most of all to how bombarded we are by images today. Basically, the Internet and social media strive to make the communication of (often interested) ideas as easy as possible, and visual “languages” or “coding” may successfully bring marginal communities together in virtual or online spaces where language alone or geographical or cultural factors would have previously made that communication impossible or highly unlikely. While cultural and a variety of other contextual factors contribute to how someone “reads” or understands (a) visual communication, the seeming accessibility of virtually all content (or at least its documentation) via the internet means the visual language is becoming increasingly global.
For example, the “experimental design” company, Random Studio, mentioned above, market their services to an international audience. If their designs are successful, they will influence future “experimental” designs internationally. Monroe Workshop, for me, is a prime example of what privileged folk are increasingly seeking in a globalized economy: a turn toward quality and simplicity, toward supporting small business and hardworking “craftsmen”. But craftsmanship has only recently made a comeback in the Western world. Young entrepreneurial hipsters with a knack for self-promotion are becoming breadmakers and shoemakers and barbers now, and creating beautiful marketing and websites and holistic aesthetics to accompany their brands, but there were many decades where these “trades” were not highly-esteemed in (Western) society. Of course, in other parts of the world, local craftsmanship was always an essential part of the community fabric. While I have mostly promoted Instagram as a great interactive social media tool, my feelings about it aren’t uncomplicated: While India Dania, featured above, exposes her body and sexuality via Instagram as a way of expressing her desire and power and essential nature, there is, I think, a danger side.
As we focus more and more on the power of images, (particularly young) women–who have historically and often been objectified by mass media–are increasingly becoming the authors of their own objectification. Endless selfie streams are evidence of too much time being focused on one thing: curating one’s self-image in the attempt of attracting an audience. These are indeed purpose-driven visual communications: the purpose is to attract the sexual attention of men and women, and thus be sexualized–without knowing what the long-term consequences of that might be.
One thing is sure: we are becoming more and more expert and advanced in our ability to design and communicate ideas across a range of platforms, combining media to make reaching an audience as easy as possible.