The first part of this task involves finding a few examples of the 6 types of communication talked about in this section.
The first example below is an advert for the fast food chain Burger King. Apart from their logo, the only other text on the ad is a small line reading ‘It Just Tastes Better’.
The ad relies on the fact that consumers already know something about Burger King, as no information about their products is supplied. More importantly, it assumes that viewers will recognise the partly-disguised figure of Ronald McDonald – McDonalds’ longtime mascot.
The message here is clear – Burger King tastes better than McDonalds, and if Ronald himself is choosing to eat there, then maybe you should too!
It’s interesting to note, that both brands use red and yellow as their main brand colours (with the addition of blue accents fro BK). Red is a powerful and memorable colour, while adding yellow to it gives it a softer, cheery feel.
The second example of an advertisement is for the condom brand, durex. I picked this one as it is very similar to the first – very little text, a heavy reliance on imagery, and an assumption that viewers know what the brand is.
Condoms have a dual purpose of minimising the risks of disease and pregnancy, and this ad focuses on the latter.
The advert is aimed at the US market, and most consumers would recognise the baby car seat, as well as the price tags. The message here clearly is that babies are expensive, while condoms can prevent babies and are relatively cheap.
The advert makes use of a mainly blue and green colour scheme. These are both on the cool spectrum, evoking images of nature, grass, and skies, and giving a sense of cleanliness and freshness. Being next to each other on the colour wheel means that the combination is harmonious and calm, giving off a sense of control and knowledge, rather than excitement. Moreover, the blue used in the background could be described as ‘baby blue’, this tying the whoe thing together.
The final example I am looking at is one of Brexit propaganda. The ‘Brexit Bus’ displayed a giant declaration regarding the NHS, and this messages was also displayed on other Brexit campaign visuals.
In the UK, it is a well known fact that the NHS is unsustainable and does not receive enough funding. A message like this one plays on the public’s fears and evokes strong emotions around being able to play a part in bringing back much needed funds to our health service.
As previously mentioned, red is a powerful and iconic colour. In this case it could also signify danger, as well as the obvious link with blood.
This whole message is propaganda because it is inciting the public to vote leave with the belief that it will save the country £350 million a week. In reality, the message does not say what we are giving the EU the money for, nor does it actually say it would be re-directed into the NHS if we does leave the EU, that is just an implication that most people would make, and easily deniable at a later date. Moreover, the £350 million a week is a purposeful misinterpretation of the statistics, as Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot CBE, pointed out in a 2016 letter.
The second category of visual communication messages is those that deliver information in some way.
The first example is an informational video about how to use a fire extinguisher. It uses the ‘whiteboard’ video format, which has become a very popular way of presenting information.
Whiteboard animations offer a simple way for the viewer to absorb information. They don’t have to think too much about the faces and mannerisms that a human being would present.
There is a lot of red and yellow in this video, which is to be expected. Fire is often depicted as being red, while most fire extinguishers are also red – both to convey the danger behind fire as well as making them stand out.
I have chosen a set of instructions from an Ikea bookcase as my next example of informative visual messages.
Most IKEA manual have little-to-no text, with everything being explained through line drawings. Images rise above language, location, age, race, and gender. These instructions can be used in every IKEA market globally, because any healthy-sighted person can (attempt to) understand these images.
Some of the earliest forms of communication were visual – cave paintings, petroglyphs, pictograms and ideograms – and is still a clear, simple way for the viewer to absorb and understand information. This also brings to mind the difference between a map, written directions, and spoken directions. Someone could give you very clear instructions via speech, or even text, but if you’ve never been somewhere before, seeing it drawn out is a much easier way to understand the instructions. This is evident from SatNavs. The voice tells you where to go, but sometimes, it’s still not really clear until you looks at the route shown on the screen.
3. Identity Design
There are countless examples of brand identities evoking particular responses from the viewer. A few personal examples of my own include the responses towards seeing the Pepsi and Coca-Cola logos when I’m in a restaurant or bar.
I really dislike Pepsi, so when I see that it’s what a place is selling, I feel a sense of disgust and disappointment, because I love Coca-Cola. When I know I’m getting Coke, I can almost feel the taste of it on my tongue.
Another example is from my youth and is that of supermarkets. When I was a pre-teen, Tesco launched its value range, which carried a red, white and blue colour scheme.
This packaging immediately screamed ‘cheap’, and anyone who bought these products was deemed to be poor (yes, my family did shop at Tesco and buy things from this value range).
In contrast, the ‘rich’ people, as I deemed them to be, shopped in the fabulous and expensive Waitrose, with it’s fancy orange and black branding. Waitrose at the time only sold their own brand products, so if I ever caught site of a Waitrose product, or saw a Waitrose carrier bag, in anyone’s house, I was always in awe.
Even today, I deem Waitrose as the ‘fancy’ place to shop, and rarely go in there, while I do actually shop in Tesco. Although I don’t buy a lot of their value range, I do for some items, and it definitely doesn’t bring up the same strong, negative response I get when looking at the old 90s branding.
4. Authorial Content
I’m not 100% clear on what this category really is, but my understanding is that it is visual messages given through more artistic mediums, and the artist/author is in control of the message.
An example I found would be John Holcroft’s illustration ‘Feed Your Ego Some Likes’. Click here to see the work.
Holcroft does do illustrations for clients, but states “My self promotional work gives me a chance to experiment with my style and poke fun at various aspects of modern life and politics.” and this piece is one of his un-comissioned works. It is a statement about social media – Facebook, to be specific, and is suggesting the ego is a hungry animal that can be fed with Facebook likes. According to Facebook’s Q2 2019 results, over 2.4 billion people use Facebook at least once a month. Considering there are only 7.7 billion people on the planet, and many of them don’t have the internet, it’s safe to say that Facebook is a fairly universal concept.
In this illustration, there is no text, and only the Facebook logo is shown. Holcroft has used the ‘like’ thumbs up symbol here, and many, many people, would understand what these two things represent. The ‘likes’ are being poured into a cat/dog bowl, with the word ‘ego’ on it. Again, in the developed world, we would recognise this as being the name of the pet whose bowl this is.
Holcroft has used the Facebook colours of blue and white, but has chosen to make the background and bowl red. We have already discussed some of the colour’s psychological traits, but let’s look at some more…
On the positive side, red represents energy, action, passion, desire, and power. One the negative side, it represents danger, anger, aggression and fear.
Red is attention-grabbing, and stands out. It is used in traffic lights and stop signs to alert you of danger. Holcroft’s use of it in this illustration could be a combination of the good and bad traits of red, just as Facebook itself has it’s good and bad points.
A second work that I think shows authorial content is the piece of street art by Italian artist Nemos called Cagacemnto. It is spray and brush painted onto a wall in Milan, and depicts a naked, strangely shaped man eating trees and excreting a pile of houses.
‘Caga’ is an Italian profanity which means shit, or to shit, and ‘cemento’ means cement. The name of this work literally means to ‘shit cement’, and Nemos himself says:
I lived in Milan in Italy for a while and because I come from a small city surrounded by countryside this big city seemed like a desert of cement to me, the skyline was barely visible!
Every huge metropolis seems like a stain of oil that looks still but is slowly expanding and gulping everything down!
I felt the necessity to show and tell the story of the expanding city that feeds on nature and expels cement waste!
There are few colours here, the classic green and brown for the trees, and the grey, concrete houses. There are no words o the actual wall, but even without the explanation, it is obvious to me that this is a bold statement about the over-development happening in many cities around the world.
5. Interactive Design
While looking for examples of interactive design, I came across The Interactive Design Association (IxDA), and their annual Interaction Awards.
For my first example, I am using one of the 2015 entries – the Eventbrite Seat Designer. Eventbrite is a company that allows anyone to sell tickets for an events. They produced the seat designer as a way to sell tickets for specific seats/spots at the event and allows organisers and customers to get a visual representation of what the seating is going to look like.
Another example of interactive design is the new trend in augmented reality (AR). The most famous recent example being the Pokemon Go game for smart phones. It uses GPS to find, catch, battle, and train virtual creatures, called Pokémon, which appear as if they are in the player’s real-world location.
Another trend is in visual scheduling tools. These are usually web based and/or mobile apps, and allow organisation of teams, tasks, appointments and more, which can be displayed visually, not just as lines of text on a calendar.
A good example is Asana, which was designed to replace the use of emails for work collaboration. Here is an overview of how to set up a ‘board’:
Monday.com is another visual planning product that lets you do many things, for instance, here’s a client management template:
6. Alternative Messages
This category includes protest signs, publicity stunts, flyers, and disrupting billlboards and other advertisements,
Here’s a clever example of an anti-conservative message posted on the ‘Defaced Tory Signs‘ Twitter feed.
The final ‘visual message’ example I’m posting is a publicity stunt from May 2019. The interior of the Heathrow Express train was decorated with 2000 Hydrangeas to promote the Chelsea Flower Show.
You can watch a video below.
Didn’t make it down to see the Flower Express today? 🌸 Dont worry as you have until end of day tomorrow to see it for yourself. Snap and share using #FlowerExpress and follow @HeathrowExpress for your chance to win tickets to RHS Chelsea Flower show this Saturday 25 May 🌷 pic.twitter.com/DjKAdpyBqD
— Heathrow Express (@HeathrowExpress) May 21, 2019
The flowers followed a purple colour scheme, which is one of the colours used on the RHS website to promote the show. Purple can represent royalty, luxury, extravagance and creativity, all of which describe the Chelsea Flower Show, so it is a very fitting colour scheme.
There is a second question in this exercise which asks “In what ways do these images make reference to broader ideas of visual culture?”
The first hurdle to cross here is coming up with a definition of the term ‘visual culture’. There are many out there, but they are often wordy and not particularly clear, so I’m going to come up with my own.
If we take the words literally, we get the following from dictionary.com
adjective1. of or relating to seeing or sight: a visual image.2. used in seeing: the visual sense.3. optical.4. perceptible by the sense of sight; visible: a visual beauty.5. perceptible by the mind; of the nature of a mental vision: a visual impression captured in a line of verse.
6. Usually visuals.
a. the picture elements, as distinguished from the sound elements, in films, television, etc.
b. photographs, slides, films, charts, or other visual materials, especially as used for illustration or promotion. Compare audio, video.
7. a rough, preliminary sketch of an advertising layout, showing possible arrangements of material. Compare comprehensive(def 5).
8. any item or element depending on the sense of sight.
noun1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.2. that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.3. a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.4. development or improvement of the mind by education or training.5. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.6. Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.7. Biology. a. the cultivation of microorganisms, as bacteria, or of tissues, for scientific study, medicinal use, etc.
b. the product or growth resulting from such cultivation.
8. the act or practice of cultivating the soil; tillage.
9. the raising of plants or animals, especially with a view to their improvement.
10. the product or growth resulting from such cultivation.
verb (used with object), cul·tured, cul·tur·ing.
11. to subject to culture; cultivate.
12. Biology. a. to grow (microorganisms, tissues, etc.) in or on a controlled or defined medium.
b. to introduce (living material) into a culture medium.
From these definitions, I have come up with the following:
Visual culture is the behaviours and beliefs of societies with regards to the visual elements around us.
In this exercise, we have been looking at man-made visuals, as opposed to any natural visual occurrences. I think there is an obvious takeaway from the examples we’ve looked at, which is that interpretation of visual messages and communications are entirely subjective. This can be entire groups/countries/races/sexes/ethnicities etc., or just individually.
An example would be the use colours. Although there are some standard colour psychology theories out there, the perception of a colour can be different depending on the culture. For instance, in China, white is often associated with death, and so a traditionalist bride would never wear a white wedding dress, whereas it’s standard attire in the western world.
On a personal level, I have a negative reaction to the Tesco Value Range packaging based on the experiences of my childhood, but it would mean nothing like that to someone in America where Tesco doesn’t mean anything.
Even the Ikea instructions that appear universal wouldn’t be easy to follow for someone in an obscure tribe who’d never used a screwdriver before.
The conclusion here is that visual communications need to be carefully thought out if we are going to send the message we are intending. The ‘target market’ needs to be fully understood to ensure that messages are appropriate – colours, logos, photos, people shown – all need to be customised to the tastes/understanding of the viewers you are trying to attract, whether you’re a multimillion pound company advertising a product, or whether you’re trying to attract families to your school fair.