Saturday, 14 August 2010

Progressive Visual Communication

Pending - will discuss soon

"Visual communication design can be, as noted at the beginning, both an activity of conceiving, planning, projecting, and producing visual communications, normally implemented through industrial means, and orientated at broadcasting specific messages to specific publics. This is done to obtain a reaction, connected to the knowledge, the attitudes, the feelings, or the behavior of the public. A design is an object created by that activity." (Frascara, 2004, p189)

"Interaction is our human way of dealing with things and with information. Interaction is central to communication. We must forget the old ideas of “transmitter” and “receiver”: Real people do not receive information. For stimuli to become information, one has to actively interpret, through a variety of actions, whatever one is confronting. To live is to interact. The computer world does not own the function." (Frascara, 2004, p173)

"Given the visual nature of our culture in general, and the increasing volume of visual information in particular, visual communication designers can make substantial contributions to the clarity, effectiveness, beauty, and economic viability of the ever-growing flow of information. They can facilitate this flow and contribute to the quality of our society and our life." (Frascara, 2004, p190)

"graphic design in fact produces and reproduces society and culture." (Barnard, 2005, p59)

"And James W. Carey (1992) argues that ‘to study communication is to examine the actual social process wherein significant symbolic forms are created, apprehended and used’. Effectively, he is arguing that the study of communication is the study of culture, and that the study of communication is the study of culture, and that culture is the creation and use of meaningful forms, which would clearly include graphic design." (Barnard, 2005, p67)

"So, graphic design may be thought of as a signifying system, within a much larger system, which includes and accounts for all of the other ways in which a society constructs and communicates meaning (fashion, literature, music, language, art, philosophy and so on)." (Barnard, 2005, p67)

"Clearly, this book is committed to the idea that there can be no such thing as non-cultural communication; it has argued that all communication is predicated on the existence of signs and codes which, as profoundly cultural, must be learned in order for communication to be possible." (Barnard, 2005, p129)

References used:

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.

FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.

TOGNAZZINI, B. (2003) It's Time We Got Respect [online]. [Accessed 2nd January 2009]. Available from:

Organisation of the Perceptual, Emotional and Cognitive Processes

Frascara, in discussing Visual Communication's focus on selecting the visual elements of text and image communicate it's "Sinn"* says,
"Every shape evokes a response - more or less cognitive, more or less emotional. This demonstrates the importance of designers in the organization of the perceptual, emotional, and cognitive processes to be followed by the viewer, beyond purely aesthetic issues. It would be a fundamental error to believe that in design one can deal with the form independent of content, or with sensorial, independent of the cognitive and the emotional." (2004, p65)
Barnard folds into this the semiological roots of Visual Communication,
"Signs and codes are the bases of meanings in semiology. And signs and codes are explained in terms of learned and variable cultural rules. For semiology, then, communication is a cultural phenomenon, not an engineering problem, as it is in communication theory.” (2005, p28)"
Semiologically the Mise en Scene of a design's elements are produced and organised by the designer to facilitate the reception by the viewer. This is constructed through culturally specific manipulation of image and text as the cultural positioning of the elements aids the generation of meaning. Barnard continues,
"So for semiology, communication is the production and exchange of messages and meanings, not the transmission of messages. A message or meaning is something constructed in communication, not something that pre-exists communication. ” (2005, p28)"
He uses the phrase "communication is a cultural phenomenon, not an engineering problem" with which he means that this construction can only be investigated through qualitative methods.

The Interaction Design heavy weight Bruce Tognazzini (he founded the Apple Human Interface Group and acted as Apple's Human Interface Evangelist) wrote back in 2003 in an AskTog article "It's Time We Got Respect" that,
"(I have had managers who have) told me flat-out they could not hire such a 'designer' because their engineering-trained executives would not allow squandering company money on such 'soft' people when they could hire another engineer. Besides, they already had a graphic designer to make things pretty (if unusable). 'Designer' is perceived by the predominantly male population of both computer company management and engineering as a wimp word.” (2005, p28)"
Unfortunately this prejudiced attitude to designers, especially Graphic Designers, still continues. In a PhD-Design ListServ post Dr Terence Love recently provoked a backlash from 'soft' designers when he posted a discussion question "Are Visual Approaches to Design Outdated?" (2010). Love, from an engineering design background, is just one example of how this narrow functionalist perspective on how Visual Communication works is still perpetuated. As Tog says in his article seven years ago,
"Engineers also have trouble differentiating between graphic designers, who primarily limit themselves to the surface of the interface, and interaction people, who, like building architects, need to concern themselves with each and every aspect of a project, right down to core technology decisions.” (2003)
This argument is dealt elsewhere on this blog where I argue that we are more than the artifice, that we are designers of the 'aesthetics of use', so I won't continue this here, but will turn this back towards the phenomenological aspect.

If communication, meaning, interpretation and construction can only be understood through qualitative means then, I argue that a methodology of understanding this through adaptation of research methods taken from Phenomenology would help reposition Visual Communication's status. As sections of the HCI research community are also looking to a Phenomenological paradigm over the last decade to understand experience, especially aesthetic experience, this strengthens my research perspective.

* Sense, generally synonymous with meaning at a conceptual level [Bedeutung] (Derrida, 1981, p29)

References used:

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.

DERRIDA, J. (1981) Semiology and Grammatology: Interview With Julia Kristeva. In: J. DERRIDA. Positions. London: The Athlone Press, pp 15-36.

FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.

LOVE, T. (2010) Are Visual Approaches to Design Outdated? 8 April. PhD-Design [online]. [8 April 2010]. Available from:

TOGNAZZINI, B. (2003) It's Time We Got Respect [online]. [Accessed 2nd January 2009]. Available from:

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Visual Communication and Performance

Jorge Frascara in his excellent book Communication Design argues for a fresh look on the function of Graphic Design. By looking at graphic designs, like illustration, as outcomes of Visual Communication, it makes it easier to escape the accusation that Graphic Design is just artifice.

Graphic designers, notes HCI expert Bruce Tognazzini, are limited to the interface’s ‘surface’ - how it looks and the design strategy behind communicating the content structure (2003). Gillian Crampton Smith, former school director of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, sees graphic designers’ role as more involved in the interactive design process “designing what a package is and what it does, and then designing what it will be like” (Aymer, 2001). Crampton Smith, a former graphic designer within software development is well placed to acknowledge the role graphic designers can and do play in interface design. The visual language of interaction design is built upon design axioms inherited from graphic design, learnt over decades of designing for print.

Unfortunately there are misconceptions held by many professionals outside the discipline as to what a graphic designer does. They have been perceived as “decorationists, elitists or servants of the consumerist machine” (Laurel, 2003) and their work as “frivolous or shallow” (O'Reilly, 2004). Over the last century graphic design is so “deeply ingrained in the texture of daily life that it is taken for granted” (Crowley, (2004). It has become pervasive and transparent. Yet graphic design is actually serving its purpose - visually communicating a message or visually structuring the functions of an interface. In the next section I will be examining this issue.

Interaction design expert Brenda Laurel reflects that labels such as ‘dictators of style’, decorationists, elitists, ‘servants of the consumerist machine’ were unfair misconceptions of graphic designers’ profession, marginalizing their contributions despite the pervasiveness of them within society. Most of its practice is subjective, instinctive and implicit, alternating between the “consideration of objective information and intuitive leaps” (Frascara, 2006). Graphic design, when designed well, can “inspire a behavourial change” in its audiences (Forlizzi & Lebbon, 2006).

In Communication Design, Frascara develops this argument, strengthening the case for Visual Communication to be understood properly and not prejudicially. “Although some designs can become ornaments, historical documents or aesthetic paradigms – once they’ve accomplished their primary goal – visual communication design is not just about looks; it is fundamentally about performance.” (p12) He argues that a designer is designing an "an event, an act in which the public interacts with the design." This is an objective that makes it the "design of communicational situations" that impacts on "the knowledge, the attitudes, and the behaviour of people" (p13) and this happens after the communication has happened. The communicational event that is the design happens over time. The visual and aesthetic strength of the design are dimensions in which the communication is contained. This is how Visual Communication can now be seen, repositioned if you like, beyond the perceived 'aesthetics of surface' and into the 'aesthetics of use'.

Barnard in his book Graphic Design as Communication (2005) also comes to a similar conclusion that Visual Communication is about the performance of the communication. He writes, "the pleasure of the image, its entertainment value, is experienced at the same time as its persuasive function. Indeed, some would argue that the pleasure engendered is an integral part of its rhetorical power. Nor is it the case that an example of graphic design will perform only one of these functions. There can be no piece of graphic design that is only decorative, or only informative. It is the case that any and all examples of graphic design will perform more than one of these functions.” (pp16-17) The rhetorical nature of the work, its semiological transmission of a message is all there to shape the design's performance, and a primary conclusion of a behavioural change in the person receiving the design.

Sidenote: As Frascara discusses Visual Communication in the book I feel that the term used for the title causes confusion. Yes Graphic Design is about communication through the visual relationships of image/text, but the term Communication Design is a term that weakens this relationship.

References used:

AYMER, G. (2001) Norman Cooking. Create Online. 8. p38-40. BALDWIN, J. and ROBERTS, L. (2006). Visual Communication. London: AVA Publishing Ltd.

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.

FORLIZZI, J. and LEBBON, C. (2006). From Formalism to Social Significance in Communication Design. In: A. Bennett, (Ed.), Design Studies: Theory and Research in Graphic Design - A Reader. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 51-63.

FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.

FRASCARA, J. (2006). Graphic Design: Fine Art or Social Science. In: A. Bennett, (Ed.), Design Studies: Theory and Research in Graphic Design - A Reader. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 26-35.

LAUREL, B. Ed (2003). Design Research: Methods and Perspectives. London: MIT Press.

O’REILLY, J. (2004) Thinking with Images. In: R. POYNOR, ed. Communicate: Independent British Graphic Design since the Sixties. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd., pp216-231.

TOGNAZZINI, B. (2003) It's Time We Got Respect [online]. [Accessed 2nd January 2009]. Available from:

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

…all experience is experience of meaning | Derrida

Jacques Derrida's Deconstructionism looked to subvert binary oppositions that shape our dominant ways of thinking, and through textual interpretation lead to alternative meanings. The philosophical aspect to Deconstructionism leads him towards a "metaphysics of presence”. It is within this framework that the quote that Barnard makes in his book Graphic Design as Communication needs to be understood. Barnard says,

“There is a sense in which no images are at all meaningful without words. This is the sense in which words are necessary even to see or experience an image: without using language, one could not even identify what a picture contained, let alone describe that content or experience to someone else. To this extent, all experience is experience of meaning, as Derrida says. Without language, the image would not be experienced in any meaningful or communicable way at all and could, therefore, hardly be described as a experience at all.”
(Barnard, 2005, p45)
The core of Visual Communication rests in the relationship between text/image, and as Frsacara argues, in the performance of that relationship to incite a change of behaviour of the viewer. Barnard explains the rhetorical and semiotic structure underlying this relationship. Although my argument isn't purely a Deconstructive one (as I am interested more in a phenomenological position, with pragmatism as a philosophical framework through which to view the aesthetic experience), Derrida is useful to unpick the semiology of how the ralationship works. To understand Barnard's statement I have followed his citing of Derrida back to the original source. Here are two paragraphs from Julia Kristeva's interview with him in the 1981 book Positions, that puts Barnard into a philosophical context.

"Subjectivity - like objectivity - is an effect of différance*, an effect inscribed in a system of différance. This is why a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation - in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being - are always deferred."
(Derrida, 1981, pp28-29)
"Kristeva: It is said that the concept of 'meaning' in semiotics is markedly different from the phenomenological concept of 'meaning.' In what ways, however, are they complicit, and to what extent does the semiological project remain intrametaphysical?
Derrida: It is true that at first the phenemonological extension of the concept of 'meaning' appears much wider, much less determined. All experience is experience of meaning (Sinn**). Everything that appears to consciousness, everything that is for consciousness in general, is meaning. Meaning is the phenomenality of the phenomenon."
(Derrida, 1981, pp29-30)
* différance A new concept of writing, examining the internal and external semiological oppositions
** Sense, generally synonymous with meaning at a conceptual level [Bedeutung]

References used:

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.

DERRIDA, J. (1981) Semiology and Grammatology: Interview With Julia Kristeva. In: J. DERRIDA. Positions. London: The Athlone Press, pp 15-36.

FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Probing Experience

Mattelmäki in her book based on her Doctorate "Design Probes" features this diagram on the process for the application of probes. The caption reads:

"Fig. 53. The upper process stages describe the application of probes like empathy probes. The desire to create an understanding of the phenomena in an interactive process is emphasised. The lower process stages describe the way in which the probes are applied like cultural probes as sources of inspiration"

The Application of Probes
Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006, p99)

The application begins with "Tuning In" (bracketing in phenomenological methodology), then "Probing", followed by two forms of "Interpretation", one deeper (top) than the other (bottom).

My rough adaptation of Mattelmäki's diagram showing how my use of the probe differs from hers.

I am interested in using the probe to prepare each volunteer's perception - to help them attune themselves into understanding their own ability to appreciate experience from identifying a beginning until a consummation, without undue influence. Using the probe tasks they will in Task 1 attune themselves in their own way, with varying degrees of success or correlation to each other. In Task 2 which will be post-observation they will self-reflect and evaluate themselves, using their own method (mediated through the provided material in Task 2) to evaluate their experience. This method will be un-scientific, and Mattelmäki suggests that a more appropriate description would be "making sense, outlining or interpretation" (p88).

I will give the Probes out to those who volunteer at a briefing (1). Each volunteer will then do Task 1 before coming to a pre-observation contextual interview (2). At this audio recorded interview (3) I will get a sense of who this person is, how they are preparing themselves to be observed, and to bracket and document any prejudgments they may have of the observation. They will then be observed using the interactive installation (videoed and photographed for reference) (4). Post-observation, the volunteer will be directed to do Task 2 before the next interview. This post-observation contextual interview (5) will be a de-brief, and the task result will be used to begin the recorded interview. This fragmented qualitative data will then lead to (6). (6) is the development of a Visual Communication phenomenological framework.

The development of my Probe will be detailed in a separate post(s). Here are some examples of different Probes from Mattelmäki's book.

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006, p79)

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006, p83)

References used:

MATTELMÄKI, T. (2006). Design Probes. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Art and Design Helsinki. Helsinki, Finland.