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Visual Communication Principles Effective visual communication depends on the successful incorporation of both skills and tools. In many cases the tools receive more attention (and concern) than the skills that support the fundamental use of any tool. An example of this is the apprehension many people feel about learning & keeping up-to-date with tools for drawing—3-D modeling software, graphics packages, and even pen & pencil sketching. Understanding and mastering the skills that motivate how and why any particular tool is used is more important to the repeatedly successful visual communication. Visual communication relies on manipulating fundamental graphical elements—shapes, lines, color, text—as well as well expressing thematic content— the message motivating the work. It is a complicate challenge that requires not only knowing what you want to say, but also crafting an expression of that message visually. This is a 24 hour-per-day demand: visual communication has to work even when you are taking a break. Each of the following principles supports a body of skills that serve expert and novice visualClarify to Amplify communicators. They each require individual practice and as such should be approached with an understanding that at any given moment it will be difficult to focus on them all simultaneously.Consider the Whole above Eventually they will all function in harmony in ways that support any given tool relevant to the state ofthe Parts the practice: regardless of the technology at the time, you can be an effective visual communicator by understanding principles complement available tools.Use Treatment to ConveyMeaningAdd an AnalogyDesign within a Structure
Clarify to AmplifyDistill the content & messaging of yourcommunicated productto the smallest set possible.Why does it work?Frequently your visually communicated product has atiny window of impact opportunity: people are on the runor attention spans are dreadfully short. Maybe yourmessage is one of 50 or 100 being considered for aproject. Crisp articulation of a single vision helps Consider the Whole above thecommunicate effectively. PartsClarity does not forego detail. In fact, it might be license Thematic coherence is critical to the overall effectiveness of communication. Small details and bits of glory are important too(!), but they must support a larger intent. Why does this work? The overall intent of your work (the “Whole”) will dictate when and how speciﬁc efforts can really shine. Consider any large effort in visual communication as a multi- course meal. While a particular course may stand out asUse Treatment to Convey a delight—an appetizer of bacon-wrapped shrimp or aMeaning ﬂamboyant baked Alaska—it will not compensate for thematic variability or inconsistency in presentation.The visual elements when viewed from afar can Cartoonists are exemplar practitioners of considering thecommunicate content as effectively as the particular whole above the parts: their practice is to ﬁrst “roughintellectual content of the work. Treating visual out” images by blocking in general shapes with pencil orelements such as font, color, line type, and graphic pen. The next steps include taking more time and effortelements as a suite is critical for cohesive to ﬂesh out details of action and characters. The processcommunication. continues, using more reﬁned tools such as ink & color.Why does it work?People instinctively make associations among elementsand they equivalently attribute meaning based on those Add an Analogyassociations. Take a pirate map for example: a hand-scrawled font, dotted lines, faded and crinkled lines, and Leverage easily understood concepts & successesgraphic elements (e.g, an “X”, skull & bones ﬂag), all from others to communicate your work more quicklywork together to communicate a theme. & compellingly.Consider how and when you might want to usetreatment to support your message. If you were Why does it work?designing an income tax form for ﬁrst-time ﬁlers, thepirate treatment would not necessarily support the Visual communication faces the threats of time andmeaning & instruction critical for success. However, the comprehension. An audience will frequently only offerpirate treatment might be effective in communicating the gift of time with a complementary increase inadventure and discovery at a science center display or comprehension. Analogies can make new andfor messaging to school kids going off to summer camp. complicated concepts more palatable to audiences. A slide rule is like an abacus; a calculator uses the same principles as a slide rule; a computer is essentially a more powerful calculator; a micro-computer is the machine on your desk shrunken to a tiny chip.
Design with a StructureUse the physical conﬁguration of your content tosupport the message; erratic graphical structure candistract focus.Why does it work?Humans are excellent at recognizing patterns amongelements as well as attributing meaning to thosepatterns and groups.Structural features, such as an aligning grid, andconsistent style structure, such as font type & sizinghierarchy, all present information in a repeated andpredictable pattern. Generations of repeated formatshave created platforms that can serve visual designerstoday. An example in western culture is the tendency fortext to begin at the upper left of a page and progress to Use Type as a Visual Objectthe lower right. That now “simple” characteristic is anincredibly powerful tool in the design of visual Type and text are every bit as important as graphicsmessaging: people will begin the engagement of your and colors.text at the upper left unless you do something to forcethe engagement in a different sequence. Why does it work? Type matters because you can see it. That’s pretty simple, but it is often under-recognized. Take a “normal” textbook, for example: content is very often separated into verbal messaging and graphical messaging. You read the words and you see the pictures. The sneaky part is that you see the words too. Use that fact to your advantage—people who design logos, icons, and signs use this fact to their advantage all of the time.Use Contrast Get familiar with multiple font families and pay attention to the ways in which they are used. Some fonts “feel”Contrast is simply the difference between things. better in particular ways than other do: by making aThis difference can be graphic—light and dark, thick choice about a unique font, you are making a uniqueor thin—or it can be thematic—silly or serious, statement within your messaging. Does you font lookexpensive or cheap. Knowing how and why to usecontrast is the single most important skill in visualcommunication.Why does this work?The innate human capacity for identifying patternscomes from the ability to discern differences (contrast)between elements. It is instinctive to see differencesamong multiple elements. Knowing that an audience willautomatically clue into differences is the ﬁrst step inunderstanding how to present information.Contrast can be as straight-forward as using black texton a white background (visual contrast) to using only