theory topics

  1. What is an audience?

  2. How do we discuss audience?
  3. Audience characterisitics
    1. Age
    2. Gender
    3. Culture
    4. Location
    5. Socio-economic level
    6. Interests, opinions, lifestyles and desires

1 what is an audience?


An 'audience' is the group of people to which a product or visual communication is directed, aimed or marketed. It is not sufficient to say the poster is aimed at the 'general public'. We need to be more specific in our description of the audience. Audience is also referred to as the target audience or specific (target) audience.


Audience refers to the people who are intended to see a visual communication or use a product. Different people like different products. They are also attracted to different visual communications. Designers appeal to different audiences when they design visual communications.


In Visual Communication Design we have to be able to identify an audience when we analyse and create visual communications.


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2 How do we discuss audience?


What makes different audience groups different from each other?


We discuss audience by identifying and referring to one or more of the audience characteristics (shown in detail below). Many exams ask students to define the audience for a visual communication by identifying two audience characteristics. When choosing the right characteristics go through the list and see which ones stick out as relevant.


Two tips for identifying an audience


Be careful not to include characteristics for the sake of it (always choose ones that you can see evidence for in a visual communication).


Be careful not to think you are choosing two characterisitcs, but you are actually choosing one. For example; If you describe an audience by saying that they 'like music and are interested in the outdoors', then you have only chosen one characteristic: Interests. You must identify another characteristic if you are asked for two. You could say; 'The visual communication is non gender specific as it targeted to males and females (gender) and people who are interested in both music and the outdoors' (interests).


Let's examine the audience characteristics for a Toyota Prius hybrid car. What do we know about it? It is an economical car so it isn't so sporty, has a good luggage area and creates minimal exhaust emissions. Let's examine each characteristic one by one. Ask is it relevant. If so, how/ why?


So, we define the audeince for a Toyota Prius as;



Choose some other examples of product design and information design and try it out yourself.


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audience charicterisitcs


There are six main factors when describing 'audience'. These are called audience characteristics. Differences in these characterisitics create different groups of people, and that means different audiences.


These six factors are organised into two big groups: People’s age, gender, culture, location and socioeconomic level. These five characteristics are called ‘demographics’. The other group is called ‘psycho-graphics’. This includes one large characteristic covering people’s interests, opinions, lifestyles and desires.




Identifying an audience by thier life stage


Can you describe all these people? They are drawn to illustrate different life stages and age groups. Can you think of a product or publication that would be aimed at each group?



People’s age is used to as way to divide a market. There are three ways to discuss age. These are; age groups, the stage of life of people or by the generation into which they were born.


Age groups

Defining audiences by age is done by identifying an age range. For example ‘18 to 24 year olds’ or ‘Over 50s’.


Life Stage

We can refer to the stage of life people are up to. A stage of life influences purchasing decisions. People want products that define and suit their stage of life. For example, ‘first time mothers’ and ‘Grey nomads’ are stages of life. Think about what they buy.



People can also be categorised by the generation into which they were born. Dividing the market by generations looks at the social, political and economic influences that formed people’s attitudes, beliefs and values.


Some generation names are - The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.

Ask what age would a visual communication appeal to? And discuss why. Often it is the images that give a clue. Perhaps the layout or colours too. Answer in age ranges or life stage terms.


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Visual communications depicting a traditional and contemporary gender roles


Every Girl Annual 1949
Poster from the movie 'Tomb Raider' 2001 Paramount Pictures

Visual communications aimed at male or non gender specific audiences


Identify the design elements and principles that you think have been used to appeal to the target audience. In what ways have they been used?
How has Apple ensured that the design of the iMac will appeal to users of both gender? Head of design team Jonathan Ive 2012



Visual communications and products can be designed for boys/men, girls/women or both equally. We need to determine if a visual communication is aimed at males or females in particular.


Gender specific

Some products are aimed specifically at either males or females. Look for images or colours that appeal to mainly one gender.


Non gender specific

Many other products are designed for both genders. You will discuss how a designer has been able to design a visual communication that appeals to both males and females.


Preferences of genders

In answering if a visual communication is designed for men or women, or both look at the way the image is structured - the pictures, lines, shapes and colours, for example.


Traditional/ contemporary gender roles

You can also comment on what kind of boys/men, girls/women are the target for the visual communication.

Ask are the people in a visual communication depicted in traditional gender roles? Or are they shown in contemporary gender roles that oppose traditional values? Look at images and colours.


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Culturally inclusive advertising


Here is a web banner from Melbourne school, PLC. It is a culturally inclsive image. Can you suggest why it is or why they have chosen to use this image to promoter their school? Then consider, how carefully it is done?




The market can also be segmented by looking at the culture of various audience groups. Culture refers to race, ethnicity and religion. People from different cultures across the world often have different opinions concerning appropriate dress, manners of speech, ownership of sacred material, humour and depiction of humankind, genders or Gods.


When identifying and analysing the audience of a visual communication ask yourself, ‘Are there any references made to culture, religion, race (skin colour) or nationality?’ They are usually hiding in the images, or the patterns or colours, on the visual communication. Try to find out what those references mean.


Establish if the communication is culturally inclusive or exclusive. (trying to include more kinds of people or to exclude other groups of people).

Ask would people from anywhere, with any cultural background understand the messages in the visual communication like you do? If there is a joke, would they get it, or be offended?Or, if there are people shown in certain types of costume would people from different cultures appreciate it in the same way? If not, you can be sure the visual communication is aimed at certain cultural groups and you can discuss them in your SAC.


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Where do the target audience live


Would you say that a Smart car is more targeted to urban or rural people?
Are the target audience for ad for resort in Hayman Island located in Hayman or somewhere else?



Someone’s location exerts a huge impact on the choices they make about the products and services they buy. An audience’s tastes and preferences are formed by where they live or work. Designers create products and visual communications with an awareness of the factors that create differences in the preferences of people living in different locations.


Use words like city dwellers, urban, sub-urban, rural, remote to describe the kinds of places consumers live.


Ask yourself, if a visual communication designed to appeal to people in the city, the country or the seaside? Is the audience for a poster advertising Queensland’s Hayman Island aimed at metropolitan people or beach dwellers?


Identify and explain where the audience live or work, not where the images in the visual communication come from.


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7 Socio-economic level


Consumer’s ability and willingness to spend is an important factor in defining a audience.


A person’s socioeconomic level is made up of three factors. Their education, their income and their occupation. Together these form people’s general purchasing habits. There are five socioeconomic levels. People in the high levels have the highest incomes, university education and professional occupations. Conversely, people from lower levels have low incomes, high school or lower education, part time jobs or are even unemployed.


To discern socioeconomic look at both the kind of images and the kind of layout, use of colour. Then examine the materials it is printed on, etc to determine if it is aimed at a low or high socioeconomic group.


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8 Interests, opinions, lifestyles and desires


Targeting the interests, opinions of an audience


How have the designers ensured that this ad for the Toyota Prius will appeal to people who are interested in saving the planet? What role do colour and shape play in the composition. Toyota website 2009



Peoples’ interests and lifestyles affect and form their values, outlooks and opinions influence their purchasing preferences.

Designers appealing to audience’s interests, opinions and lifestyles literally, or metaphorically. For example, an advertisement for tents would be targeted to people who like and actually go camping; appealing to an audience’s lifestyle. But an advertisement for expensive Swiss watches depicting images of cutting edge sports people may not be aimed at elite athletes, shown in the commercial, but at business people who believe that values such as competition, independence and achievement are important for success.


Designers also appeal to people’s desires and intentions. An advertisement for a water efficient shower head or fuel efficient, hybrid car appeals to a consumer’s desire for a better ecology.


Discuss the interests, opinions, lifestyles or desires when you describe an audience.


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