VCD Unit 1 AOS 3
Visual communications in context.
On completion of this unit the student should be able to;
describe how visual communications in a design field have been influenced by past and contemporary practices, and by social and cultural factors.
What you will do
This task is from the field of communication design.
This Area of Study is a theory topic. you will learn about a wonderful period in history, from World War II until the end of the Nineteen Nineties. You will research these times and learn how design and aesthetics were influenced by social, cultural, contemporary and historical events and influences.
You will learn and practice the skills of visual analysis setting you up for examination questions about audience, purpose, clients, the elements and principles of design and the materials, methods and media from which designs are made.
You will work through a series of interesting practical investigation and written tasks and conclude by writing a detailed analysis of two a visual communication.
A sample analysis is shown below.
Describe visual communications in terms of their social and cultural settings.
This analysis will focus on a poster for music band 'The Smiths' created by Mike Joyce for the 'Swissted' project, C2012. (It is a coincidence that the Smiths drummer's name is also Mike Joyce). This large format poster was designed in New York as a side project by a contemporary graphic designer who founded the Stereotype design studio in 1997. Stereotype design has large client list, including many record companies and artists for whom he has designed album artwork. The Smiths poster is part of a series of works that forms Joyce’s side project he named ‘Swissted’. This name itself is a clever reference to the country at the centre of the International Typographic Style and to the style’s dominant type face ‘Helvetica’ which refers to the native, Latin name for Switzerland.
This slightly 'tongue in cheek' parody of the International Typographic Style was designed in a post-modern era, where appropriation of imagery and styles is a fairly common practice. Whilst the style may not be recognised by the wider public it would certainly be appreciated by members of an inner urban and/ or design literate target audience. People such as these with adequate disposable income, are always on the lookout for nostalgic and authentic yet innovative artefacts to collect and display. Produced at a time when everything retro is in fashion, the posters in the Swissted series make striking features on apartment walls and in shop windows. They raise questions and make us think. Are they real? Did they really come from this period? How and why have they appeared now?
Identify the connections between past and contemporary visual communications practices
The Smiths poster is a homage to designs from the International Typographic Style. However, rather than reference one design, Joyce has researched a number of designers from the era and combined important features of several examples.
Designs from the International Typographic Style use type and abstract imagery as their chief visual components. The Smiths poster seems to be influenced by three specific visual communications from this period. Firstly, the large ‘S’ repeated in three different colours resembles the title on a book on the German design movement 'Bauhaus' by American designer Muriel Cooper in 1969. The cover is comprised of just a single word and a large area of white space. The title 'Bauhaus' is separated into the three colours used for print, cyan, magenta and yellow. This in turn was a reference to the very nature and process of the Bauhaus which was to deconstruct and rebuild afresh design thinking. Secondly, book covers by Rudolph Harak in the early 60s emphasise a strict hierarchy created by an abstract image, a title and sub headings. They adhere to a formula of carefully managed proportions in both the vertical and horizontal axis. Joyce seems to have incorporated a smilar layout in the Smiths poster. Lastly, a poster by Deitmar Winkler in 1969 shares similar characteristics with the book covers, except that as the field is much bigger, more space is allowed for images and text. The image, which is derived from type is also reminiscent of an out of phase printing error where the letters overlap each other. The poster is formed on a modular grid layout that was central to this style. Together, these designs seem to inspire and direct posters from the Swissted series.
The International Typographic Style was influenced by the age of internationalisation in business and travel. The world seemed to be getting smaller and a new, objective form of communication was required to appeal to people in different locations. It was also influenced by a range of sans serif typefaces including Helvetica and Universe, which suited a totally new style of corporate communications. A mathematical grid inspired by De Stijl and the Bauhaus was used to emphasise a kind of detachment, shifting away from personal expression. The movement was also influenced by artistic trends in abstract painting. Designers in the International Typographic Style rejected the abundance of texture, decoration and exaggerated pleas in advertising from the 1940s-50s by forming a new style for a liberated new world teaming with advances in communication, transportation, modular living and space technology.
Joyce uses similar visual components so as to remain recognisable stylistically, yet the Smiths poster exists for an entirely different purpose. Joyce's design is ironic in intent as rather than inform its purpose is to depict the information contained and therefore intrigue and entertain their audience.
Describe visual communications in terms of how manual and digital methods, media, materials, design elements, design principles and presentation formats are applied.
Joyce has faithfully re-created the mathematical grid formula upon which he has based his designs. Whist the original designs may have been made with hand formed images and photographically and mechanically produced type, Joyce had the luxury of vector-based applications on which he can lay out type and image according to the grid. The computer also enabled him to obtain Akzidenze-Grotesque medium (the pre-cursor to Helvetica) type face, to scale type in accordance with the style, and adjust the colour and transparency of the 'S' characters, a job that would have been quite difficult photographically in the 1960s. In addition, he was able to create a coloured background that is reminiscent of old paper to give his poster its nostalgic quality.
The design elements type, colour and shape are used and emphasised by their exclusive use. The sans serif type is clearly presented in black so as to parody its normal purpose which would be to inform people about details. The colours magenta, yellow and cyan, both reference past graphic styles and refer to the process of printing itself. The use of transparency also creates secondary and tertiary colours. Asymmetrical balance is used to align type to the left, yet the main 'S' image sits on a central axis. Each figure contrasts clearly with its ground. A clear hierarchy is created, first attracting audience interest then informing them of details.
Joyce has a clear understanding of the presentation format. Realising that his posters would be displayed exhibition style, he has scaled the type and images so as to attract attention from a distance. Given that they are not advertising an event but rather celebrating a concert from the past, there is no necessity to include information in ways that can be read from a distance. The International Typographic Style, whilst not decorative in its original intent, is a perfect paradigm for such a modern visual celebration.
Learning intentions should be set at the commencement of each unit, then at regular intervals during the task.
Read through the content on this page. Discuss what you think could be learnt and form them into three 'learning intentions'. Use sentences like, 'I will learn about making 3d drawings', or I will learn about 'media codes'.
Write your three learning intentions.
For advanced learning intentions, go with 3 different levels.
- 1 - What you will learn. (For example, the media code of camera describes the techniques camera operators use to record a scene)
- 2 - How what you will learn can be used to create meaning or structure. (For example, camera techniques are combined with sound and/ or editing to create suspense).
- 3 - How could your understanding of the learning be extended or related to other learnings. (For example, the use of camera has changed over the years and the invention of digital formats have allowed anyone to become cinema photographers)
Success criteria should be negotiated between students and their teacher. The class group agrees about what is successful completion of the task. Identification of success criteria is done at the commencement of each unit, then at regular intervals.
Now that you are familiar with what you will learn in this task, it's time to lock in how you will be able to demonstrate that you know it, or can do it.
Write three success criteria, using sentences like the examples in the next column.
I will demonstrate that I have mastered the learning by;
- 1 - I Can identify all of the camera techniques used in the selected clip.
- 2 - I can use a camera to film clips in the ways I have identified.
- 3 - I can explain how camera is combined with other codes to create meaning in a narrative.
3 influential periods.
Social and cultural influences
The time and location designs are made in naturally influence not only what they are made about but how they are designed. In our study we break down these influences into smaller parts. In this section we will consider how three different social and historical contexts in the 'Western World' shape the design of visual communications.
What are social and cultural factors?
Social factors refers broadly to how people live and relate together. When you read the material about the three historical contexts look for references to the roles attributed to genders. In the beginning of our story we read about traditional gender roles and as time progresses, through the Sixties this begins to change.
How people live in spaces together is also a social consideration. If you were to contrast the homes of the Forties with those of the Seventies you would note that a new kind of living emerged. The name for this is 'open plan living'. This is where a family use a shared kitchen, dining, living space instead of separating them into three rooms. This promotes more interaction between people and reflects social change. Look for ways social values are embedded in visual communications.
Social values will also refer to the kind of political ideology a society is organised by. Look for references to liberalism, democracy, capitalism in advertising from the periods shown on this page. When researching beyond the content shown here, look for references to communism, fascism or other totalitarian systems of governance.
Visual communications are created within specific cultures. Culture refers to shared values, beliefs and behaviours of groups of people. Cultural identity often embraces social characteristics. Depending on your point of view, you may consider religious beliefs and practices to be part of a particular culture. Alternatively you may consider culture to be found within religion. Either way we will find that visual communications reflect cultural and religious values.
Images, type, layout and content may implicitly or explicitly support or critique cultural beliefs. Support for traditional family values is often shown in adds from the Fifties. Conversely, when we examine Postmodern art or record covers for Punk music it is evident that they are critical of mainstream culture. They clearly belong to a subculture, possessing its own shared values.
You may see references to racism or equality for women and/ or LGBTIs. Ideas regarding segregation or integration of diverse peoples in visual communications. These concepts are cultural constructs. Visual communications may reference multiculturalism or homogenous societies.
Cultural sensitivity is also an important consideration in designing visual communications. Images depicting dress, particularly swimwear may not appeal to people from all cultures and may need to be modified to be used around the world.
1940 - 1960
World War II, Post War reconstruction and traditional values.
The world descended into World War II in 1939. Australian soldiers and nurses left home to join in Great Britain's desperate fight against Hitler's expanding Germany. In time most of Europe was annexed by the expanding Nazi war machine. The United States was drawn into the War when Japan attacked a US naval base in Hawaii in the Pacific. Japan joined with Germany and Italy to form the Axis powers. Russia defended Germany's expansion to the east of Europe and the Allies comprising of former Western Europe, Great Britain, Australia fought to defeat Germany from the west. Life back home was difficult. Australians put up with six long years of going 'with out'. During this time all the government and social efforts were focused on the 'War Effort'. People were placed on 'rations'. This meant the purchase of food and other materials was restricted, as they were prioritised for feeding troops and building fighting machines. In the absence of male factory workers, who had left to fight in Europe, women were enlisted in groups such as the 'Womens' Land Army' to grow crops. In addition, girls were trained as metal working machinists to build tanks, guns and aircraft in factories at home. Developing technology to end the war was a race against time. Jet and rocket aircraft were flown and USA embarked in a race against Germany to build the first nuclear bomb. The 'Manhattan Project', a combined US, Canadian and British group built and used two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945. Japan's Emperor Hirohito was forced to surrender, Paris was liberated from Germany by Russia and the Allied forces and the War ended in September 1945, six years after it commenced.
A period known as 'Post War Reconstruction' began soon after the War and led into the mid 1950s. Wow people were happy! They were so happy that life was back to normal again and the restrictions were lifted, they were able to begin rebuilding cities and creating the life they had fought so hard to win. It was a time of immense building. Cities expanded with new suburbs, and freeways and rail networks. Young couples, married during the war, had babies at a higher rate than before. This boom in the birthrate resulted in the new generation called 'Baby Boomers'. Family life began again in lovely new houses with fancy new, electric appliances.
However, life might have looked all-new, but life-styles were built on the values of the past. That was, men and women had clearly defined gender roles at home, in marriage and at work. Men were breadwinners, and women may have a job briefly after they had completed school, but were expected to give up their careers and get married and become a mother caring for their family. The fifties is considered a time of traditional family values.
The baby boomers were a spoilt generation. Their parents had grown up doing with out luxuries so as a result, they wanted their kids to enjoy life. Everything was aimed at ensuring that children had a clean, safe and secure life. New toys were invented, kids enjoyed new TV shows and stayed at school later into their teen years.
As this new generation grew up they enjoyed the change this life-style afforded them. Brand new 'Rock and Roll' music played on the radio, much to their parents disgust. Teenagers frequented 'drug stores', where they drank ice-cream sodas and fast food chains like McDonald's (re-imaged 1953) emerged. Supermarkets replaced traditional grocery stores (Coles Balwyn North 1960) and new fashions changed the way people dressed. Popular toys from this era are; Slinky, Play-Doh, Frisby, Pogo Stick, farm sets, cap guns for Cowboys and Indians and Mr Potato Head. These toys encouraged innocent, outdoor play for kids together.
It was also a time of political unrest. As a result of the 'carve up', the division of Europe between the West and Russia after the War, mistrust between the two superpowers developed into a 'Cold War'. This manifest itself as a 'Space Race' (1955 - 1991) and threat of a Third World War leading to the the 'Cuban Missile Crisis'. (1962) Tensions and riots between Anglo and African Americans shaped the 'Civil Rights Movement' that would continue through the 1960s.
The stage was set for change. Life would never be as it was pre-war.
Art and design
'Freedom from Want'. Norman Rockwell, 1943. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_from_Want_(painting))
A Weetbix breakfast cereal ad from Womens Weekly June 30, 1954.
Youth, Hippies, protest and style
The 1960s was a period of immense change in Western Society. It was the period when a new generation of privileged teenagers turned university students and wanted a new kind of world. Many student saw their parents as boring and conformist, chained to capitalism and submissive to corporate and institutional authority and they wanted out. Our young men were conscripted from age 20, and sent to fight an unknown enemy in Vietnam. The student movement gained strength in universities across Australia and in Britain and the US. They supported the Civil rights movements including racial equality, the end of military conflicts and sexual and gender based oppression. Some sought a different, more equal, sharing way to live and groups of young people moved into old houses and formed communes where they would share their love, resources, work and parenting. The 'Hippie’ movement was a large counter culture that began in USA but soon swept around the world. Born of the affluence of the early 1960s, members of this fun, peace and music loving movement questioned their role in society and their future. Woodstock, a huge outdoor music festival held in 1969, became an emblem for the drug using psychedelic, mind altering counter culture and endures as the template for festivals today.
But this wasn’t the whole picture during ‘sixties’. It was also a time of vast technological change led by influential business men and politicians. There were vast improvements made to transportation, space exploration and electronic media. Three huge feats of transportation were realised in 1969: The first supersonic passenger aircraft the Concorde took off, Boeing's 747 Jumbo jet brought affordable international travel to the world and Apollo 11 allowed the first people to visit the Moon.
Despite the fact that Barbie (Mattel) was born in 1959, this fashion doll brought heralded a new era. At first Barbie was criticised for sexualising the female figure and hence deemed inappropriate for young girls. Dolls were traditionally made as babies, not young adult figures. Furthermore, Barbie became a career woman holding down countless different jobs. She smashed traditional gender stereotypes. Not only was Barbie a nurse and a mother she was a teacher, a doctor, a paratrooper, a firefighter, a police officer, architect and many more. She became something girls of the 1960s would aspire to be. Other popular toys of the Sixties were; Etch a Sketch, the Yo-Yo, Tonka trucks, G.I. Joe, and Twister. Twister was a game especially defined by the 'Swinging Sixties' as it required groups of people to come into close contact with each other as they sought to reach different brightly coloured dots on a plastic mat. The box art shows a group of smiling work colleagues, men and women reaching, almost embracing as they contort themselves across the board.
1960s defined design and style. Mary Quant's Mini Skirts were seen in London's Oxford Street shop windows in the early sixties. Italian interior designers created modular furniture and the strange 'Sacco', (Beanbag chair) by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro in 1968. Design was intended to facilitate friendly interaction between people in new and informal ways at home and at work. And although many of the type faces popular in the 1960s (Microgramma Bold Extended (1952), Helvetica 1957, Futura (1927), were designed many years prior it was during the sixties that a new, clean and minimal, International Typographic Style of communication design emerged world wide.
Art and design
Protest, Punk and Postmodernism
The period beginning in 1970 leads us into contemporary times. The rarefied climate of modern art with its minimal style had given way to the vibrant colours of Pop Art which was itself about to be replaced by the new art styles of Postmodernity. The personal computer was born in 1975 although did not affect design until the Apple Mac was released in 1984. Punk music, an aggressive anti-establishment subculture movement of the 70s, threatened the music industry itself and deconstructed grunge typography from the Mid 80s assaulted covers of magazines and changed the way we approach organised design forever. It was during this period that the world moved to digital.
Although the 'Hippie' movement was born during the 60s, it wasn't until the 70s that the civil rights movements gained traction. It was also a time of reaction from conservatives against all this 'free love'. Under President Richard Nixon the Ohio National Guard fired on students in the 'Kent State Shootings' (1970) killing four students protesting at the so called Cambodia Campaign (part of the Vietnam War). But still anti-war protests continued around the world, until allied troops were finally withdrawn from Vietnam and the war was declared lost in 1975.
All this progress and march toward the future was taking its toll on the environment, people began to look out for the health of the 'Mother Nature' and there was a renewed interest in ecology and living sustainably. The first Oil Crisis was in 1974 and as a result car design changed beginning to favour smaller, more economical cars. The 'Womens' Movement' continued to fight for equal rights for women in all areas of society. The seventies was a time when society began to be more inclusive, it was the time when old fashioned institutions began to loose control, and when we look back now, in the light of the recent Royal Commission for Sexual Abuse, it is easy to see how hard these institutions fought for power and control.
Music continued to change. Boys wore their hair long. Kids ran secret underground newspapers in schools and were educated in their rights as students. The 'Little Red School Book', originally published in Danish in 1969, spread (and was banned) around the world. It contained pages on ways young people should deal with adults referred to as 'Paper Tigers', sex, and using drugs and alcohol. I still have my copy! The new Punk music from England signalled a rising swell of anarchy and complete disregard for the institution.
Postmodernity is an entire arts movement that replaced Modernity. Here we think of Modern Art, not as contemporary art, but as a past historical movement like Impressionism or Cubism. Essentially, Modern Art was becoming increasingly academic and removed from people's experiences and understanding. Until this time, all art movements had been utopian, meaning each subsequent movement was better than the one before and would replace it. Like a new model car, changes and developments in art in the modern era would make those of the past obsolete. Postmodern art was sceptical of this and sought to rid the world of such singular, reductive approaches seen in art making and ultimately in the whole arts industry. Postmodern art has a number of characteristics. It turns many of the conventions of Western Art on their heads. Rather than look to a single, often male, genius as creator it is inclusive and promotes collaborative group work. It is eclectic in that it draws influences and imagery from all around the world instead of being limited to those found in Western art history. It is pluralistic rather than singular, recognising that different approaches and styles of art co-exist simultaneously. It promotes de-skilled techniques and allows the use of non-art materials. It is often ironic, appropriating imagery and ideas and re-contextualisng them. Although Postmodernity had precedents in anti-art movements such as Dada, it was not until the 1970s that it became the dominant movement.
The book and television series 'Fame in the 20th Century' (1993 BBC) by expat Australian journalist Clive James, notes that since world leaders had become embroiled in dishonesty and scandal such as US President Nixon in Watergate (1971), people had become increasingly cynical and distrusting of politicians. James explains that in the 70s a new kind of hero was conceived. Gone were the friendly characters, liberating the world of 'baddies', the Indians on the prairie, often played by actor John Wayne in the Westerns of the fifties. Instead a new type of hero was created in characters such as Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood, 1971) and Rambo (Sylvester Stallone, 1982). This 'anti-hero' as they became know were created bad. They were characters you wouldn't want to know. Partly evil themselves, they were bad enough to tackle the worst in crooks and corrupt officials. It was part of the make up of the new kind of hero, that it was expected that they could and would do worse than evil doers even murder if necessary, to save the world and preserve the good. This observation of the loss of innocence during this period serves us well to understand these times.
In 1984 the Apple Mac was released in California. It was the world's first computer to feature a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and mouse. This means it was the first to offer a 'WYSIWYG' (What you see is what you get) screen environment. Because of this, designers were able to move, resize and over lay type and images freely, as they had never been able before. Desktop publishing program QuarkXPress was released in 1987, offering Mac users complete flexibility in complex design and layout. More about this in following sections.
The 1980s saw the end of the Cold War with the fall of the Soviet Union and consequently the Berlin Wall that had divided a city for decades. It was a time of economic expansion as the western world incorporated Asia in its manufacturing regime. It is also know as a time of greed where the world's rich increased in wealth. This is evident in the fashions including 'big hair' and padded shoulders on blazers and work wear from the time. The term 'power dressing' was coined to describe a more masculine look for female professional work wear. Music mega-stars such as Michael Jackson and Madonna toured regularly. The 'Walkman' (1979) the first portable music cassette tape player, became common place in cities where attention turned away from the collective and to personal growth and health. BMX bikes and Aerobics classes became abundant. VHS video tapes and 'Blockbuster' video stores enabled people to rent and play movies of their choice in their own homes. This was the beginning of the threat to the movie industry and to cinemas that still exists today with streaming services such as Netflix.
The 90s brought digital music in the form of the CD (Compact disk, 1982). This became an incredibly popular media format lasting for many years, but was gradually replaced by digital music streaming made possible with by advances in internet technology in the early 200s. The advances in the internet included instant communication by electronic mail and instant messaging and two way video calls.
Art and design
Depending on time we may do some or all of these task.
Get inside it
Read through my stories of the three periods above. Think about the change that swept across the world.
Write a paragraph to explain these points about history;
- How did people and society change from 1940 to 1970?
- How did technology change in the same period?
- What events actually caused these changes?
You may answer in a variety of different ways. What is important is not the correct answer but the discussion.
Share your answers.
THE SOCIAL CLIMATE
Choose one period from either the 1940s-50s, 1960s or 70s-90s. Prepare a brief report on the social, cultural, historical, political climate of this decade. Your task is not so much to mine facts, what we want to know is what people thought, what they valued and how was this represented. For example; were gender roles fixed in jobs and work? Were women and men treated equally? Were young people treated equally by their parents? We want to know how was this world different from yours now. In your report explain what life was like in these categories;
- Social and cultural factors; religion, community values and politics, ecological and sustainability values,
- Ways of life; families (gender roles, values, etc), gender roles at work, dating, marriage, shopping, leisure time, food and eating,
- Entertainment and the values represented in movies (what topics did they do?), TV, music (not just the artists but what they sang about), musicals (what were they about then?)
- Science (where was it heading?), technology, ways of transportation (what was new or revolutionary?)
Don't worry about the visual aspects of the decade for this report, we will cover that in the next task in a more suited way.
By the way, what does value mean? A value is something a person believes to be important or true. I value equality. I value a girl's right to education.
Using the period you chose in the task above, make a mood board to represent the time visually. Collect, print and collage together 10 images to show these aspects of the decade visually;
- Women's fashion,
- Men's fashion,
- Popular colours used,
- Popular type faces used,
- Popular car,
- Indoor past times, games etc,
- Shopping, new products,
- Movie poster,
- Dating, marriage or couples life.
You may like to crop your photos and put them together in Adobe Illustrator. The choice is yours
Describe visual communications in terms of their social and cultural settings
Choose one image of a visual communication in one of the periods shown above.
Write a report to explain how the society in which the visual communication was made may have shaped, either what it depicts or how it depicts it.
You are to discuss how social and cultural factors have influenced the visual communication.
To begin with, remind yourself what cultural and social factors are, list them and dot point the ones that are relevant to the visual communication you are referring to.
Ensure that you refer directly to images or features in the visual communication when you make your analysis.
Make a copy of the image and place it beside your report.
How do technology, economics and environmental considerations influence visual communications?
In addition to social and cultural factors shaping visual communications, available technologies, economic and environmental considerations will influence their design and production. In this section we will consider how these factors shape the design of visual communications.
Technology refer to any manual, mechanical or electronic process that governs an artist or designer's workspace or workflow. For us, this is how visual communications are made and what is used to make them. More of this will follow in the section on materials, methods and media below. Here we look at technologies for reproduction.
Technology for reproduction or distribution
Generally you will not be expected to know what kind of printing has been used to reproduce images and visual communications. However, in saying that, some reproduction methods do afford different opportunities and bring different aesthetic effects with them. Therefore, methods of reproduction can and do contribute to the discussion on methods.
- The method used for contemporary printing is usually offset lithography and digital copying/ printing. Both these methods allow full colour raster image processing - enabling type and image to be printed in all process colours and tones. Lithography is a form of chemical resist printing.
- Before that, there was letterpress printing that only permitted 100% spot colours. Type and image had sharp edges of 100% tone with the exception of half screen images (made of fairly course dots). Letterpress is a form of relief printing.
- Screen printing for posters and garments may permit half screen images and therefore process colours, but often screen printed images are in solid spot colours with hard, crisp edges.
- Sign writing with laser cut, self adhesive vinyl sheet is a durable outdoor printing process. As can be imagined, cut vinyl can only produce hard edged shapes and type in the colours available in vinyl sheet. Signs made with vinyl are made from vector images.
- Photography is reproduced with archival inkjet printers on acid free archival papers or laser printed stock. Images on real chemical photographs are rendered in light sensitive silver emulsion coated to the surface of photographic paper. Photography may also be subject to filters and/ or other effects. Photography permits full 'raster' image processing results.
HOW WAS TYPE MADE BEFORE COMPUTERS?
Before the Gutenberg printing press was invented in 1436, all books were hand written. That's right hand written! So you will understand what an important invention a printing press is. This is a page from a Medieval illuminated manuscript from Leeds in the UK.
Economic considerations refer literally to how much a visual communication is going to cost to produce. Different technologies used in preparation of artwork, photography, pre-press, printing (especially in the number of colours, kind of spot or process colours used in a print run), paper stocks, paper laminations, foils, binding, print runs, size and of course web programming will greatly impact on production costs.
Recently, the location of production has also impacted on costs. Many rendering, pre-press and printing services are now available through web based companies located in Asia. It may seem counter intuitive and hard to believe but it is often cheaper to print a magazine designed in Australia and intended to be distributed here, overseas. However, as you will note in the next section, decisions to incur greater distances of transportation will impact the environment.
Refer below to some examples of print technologies that affect the cost of production of visual communications. Essentially the number of colours used in printing is the chief influence in print costs.
A print run (number of copies printed) also affects cost. The more copies of a document printed the cheaper the unit (cost per individual copy) will be. Low volume (less than 500 copies) is far more expensive than high volume. Printing a poster at 'Officeworks' is far more expensive per unit than a high circulation newspaper used to be.
Paper stock affects cost too. Generally thicker papers will cost more. Unusual paper formats, like square, will cost more as they cannot be cut efficiently from regular 'A series' papers.
Art and design
A tow colour print job is more expensive than a one colour job as there are two ink rollers on this kind of machine. Crusader cloth, Walkabout Magazine, 1948.
The chief environmental consideration is sustainability and the impact on the environment that the production and distribution of visual communications. Environmental impact is found in preparation of visual communications, print production, and transportation involved in production and distribution.
Impacts to the environment are also felt in the use and disposal of chemicals, paints and inks. Even in an art studio, chemicals need to be used and disposed of safely. Due to the high number of printed materials, many printers specify water based inks as they are less harmful to the environment in use, cleaning equipment and disposal. To this end, screen based visual communications, like those seen in LED and LCD screens in shopping centres, are far more environmentally friendly for the end user. However, as you will note below the power required to run screens and the environmental impact created during the production, distribution and disposal may outweigh advantages gained in sustainability.
The use of recycled materials is a responsible addition to office procedures. Many businesses choose recycled paper in letterheads and envelopes as a way not only to save the environment but also to appear 'greener' to the community. This delivers a positive message. Furthermore banks and insurances use email billing to reduce the impacts of paper use and transportation on the environment. Environmentally, these are sound practices.
Improvements to electronic technology may have had a huge negative impact on the newspaper industry, with news papers reducing circulations or indeed ceasing to print daily editions. However, online newspapers and magazines offer a massively reduced impact on the environment due to zero print costs and totally nil kilometres travelled in distribution!
Finally, the whole' life-cycle' of technologies need to be considered in the effect they have on the environment. This refers to environmental impacts of mining resources, making chemicals for print, impacts in production such as fumes and use of cleaning solvents and energy required for production, and finally the safe and environmentally friendly disassembly, recycling and disposal of papers, inks or technological products. You can see from this, that minimising environmental impact of the production of visual communications is not only a complex but an essential problem to consider.
Papers and inks are components that require environmental consideration. Consider the following images and visual communication's relation to environmental footprint.
It's truely hard to imagine the environmental impact of printing encyclopaedias in the past. Wow, I'm glad they're gone.
There are specially produced fonts to that use less ink in printing. Ecofont has holes. Courier is more open than other fonts, so uses less ink for its size. (https://www.companyfolders.com/ blog/5-ink-saving-eco-fonts)
An artist hand painting a billboard.
Impacts of technology, economic and environmental factors
Using the two images of billboards above, discuss the impacts technology, economic and environmental factors have had on this presentation format.
In your answer refer to at least one consideration from each factor. Refer to specific features of each image.
Ways methods, materials, media, design elements and principles influenced by practices and cultural and social factors.
Visual language is the way people communicate ideas, information and ideas visually. This include using the elements and principles of design, methods, materials and media, images, signs and symbols. These are the words, the syntax of visual language.
For example; The use of colour or the choice of a material infers meaning around the way products are perceived. A silver computer, for example, denotes a professional choice and enhances a buyer’s feeling.
Designers use components of design to communicate with an audience in different ways. These include;
- creating aesthetic effects,
- components that support the function and purpose of a design,
- using symbols stemming from associations with social, political, cultural and past and present historical contexts.
For target audiences, the users of communication, industrial or environmental design, visual language may be a seamless, intuitive or unconscious experience. They are encouraged to think and act in certain ways as they consume their daily visual landscape of posters, packages, webpages, products, buildings, TV shows and signs. However, when designers are required to produce material, they need to be ‘visually literate’ to communicate effectively. We develop the skills of this visual literacy as we progress through Visual communication design.
Our study will require us to understand and refer to these elements of visual language and to explain how their use is influenced by past and contemporary practices and cultural and social factors.
Design elements and principles
We begin our visual analysis by discussing the role of design elements and design principles.
These are the building blocks of design so we need to be able to identify dominant elements and determine the design principles formed by the elements.
We describe how elements and principles have been used to engage the audience. Identifying and describing design elements and principles gives you a way in to complete your visual analysis.
The icons below represent each of the design elements and principles.
Design pre and post Helvetica (1957)
Our study of design looks at the period 1950 to 1979. during this time communication design underwent much change. Designs in this field moved from very decorative if a little haphazard combinations of image and multiple type faces to structured formally arranged compositions based on geometric grids and carefully selected single or paired typefaces.
Was this change a natural progression? Not really. The change in design aesthetic perception came at around the time when a new typeface arrived in the USA. This typeface is known as Helvetica. It is said to have them most cohesive figure ground relationship of any type face and it's strength, legibility and simplicity changed the game. If Helvetica changed the way designers approached communication design then what exactly was the impact?
In the following task you are going to use Design elements and principles to help you identify and describe the differences between the two distinctive styles of design. Look carefully at the two Coke ads below then complete the task.
Design elements and principles
In this task you are going to compare how design elements have been used differently in two visual communications by the same company, but from different times.
Make a grid or table in Word that has space to set out all of the design elements and principles. You could make a table 3 columns wide and 17 deep. In the left column leave one row then put in the names of the 8 design elements and names of the 8 design principles. In the top row leave one cell then put in the names of the two visual communications above.
In the remaining spaces, in the middle and right columns, describe how each design element and principle have been used. In this way you will be comparing two visual communications with the same purpose, same context and similar audiences.
Materials, methods and media
The next relevant factor in analysis of visual communications is to consider how they are made. There are three strands to this discussion; the materials designs are made from, the methods used to make the images and the media used to make them.
Materials refers to the 'substrate' on which a visual communication is made. The substrate means the thing, paper, wood, plastic, metal that the design is written, painted, drawn or printed on.
In this Area of Study we are focussing on Communication design and all of the examples shown here were printed on paper. However, the examination of material is still important as the kind of paper used makes a big difference in how the communication is understood.
A kind of paper is referred to as the 'paper stock'. When we examine paper stocks we examine the;
- feel of the paper's surface
- the thickness
- the colour
The surface gloss, matte, satin, bond, smooth, rough, hand made, single and double sided. 'Art board' is a term for smooth faced white paper. Papers range from very smooth to quite rough.
Paper thickness is discussed in grams per square metre. Although we don't really know how much a metre of photocopy paper weighs, we do know it is usually 80 gsm paper. 120-170 gsm is for flyers and brochures, 200 - 250 gsm is for magazine covers and 280-400 is for cards and book covers.
In all but selected special print jobs all papers start off as a white. All the papers for the illustrations on this page are white. Even the pictures with black backgrounds. You see, there is no such thing as white in a CMYK print run. White writing is actually space between black ink and is know as 'reversed out' type. However, all whites are not the same and paper ranges from bright white through antique white, cream and linen. Each of these colours gives a different feeling to the visual communication. Take a look below at different paper stocks in action.
The term 'methods' refers to the ways a visual communication was made. As you can be aware, this is a very broad field so in this Area of Study we will not be discussing technical drawing, model making or any of the other methods related to environmental and industrial design. Our study will focus on the methods used for communication design.
Manual Methods for original artwork (pre-press)
When considering how a visual communication is made we think about the manual and digital methods used. In this section I deal with pre-digital-based methods.
As it is the method used in making an original image that an audience notices, we always discuss how an image was originally made. Some common methods used in this period (remember all this is pre-computer; 1984) are;
- print making,
- digital-based methods.
Manual pre-press methods
Designs like the Shell emblem were drawn and painted by hand at large scale then photographed to improve their accuracy. The Shell emblem was designed by Ramond Lowey in 1967. The picture is of him working from 1958. (https://www.theguardian. com/artanddesign/gallery/ 2013/nov/05/raymond-loewy-timeless- designs-in-pictures)
This page from the Danish Hi Fi brand Bang and Olufsen in 1978 uses photography to bring a sense of clarity and realism to the visual communication.
Many book covers and stories were illustrated with painted illustrations during the 1950s-70s. These talented artists were able to bring a soft and human aesthetic to a story with delicate strokes of their brush.
Punk rock poster using collage in the style of a ransom note by Jamie Reid 1979.
Digital-based Methods for original artwork (pre-press)
There are many digital-based methods for image and model making. These involve the use of a computer or hand held tablet. We will not discuss the applications or programs that are used in digital based applications here, as they are referred to as media.
Media refers to the substance that has been used by the designer to create the image. It makes more sense to think first about the media that has been used to make an original source image but then, if it is relevant the discussion may also involve media used in the reproduction of images and/ or visual communications.
Media used for reproduction of images is usually beyond the scope of this study as it involves technical information about the print industry. However from the point of view of aesthetics it may be relevant to discuss;
- the transparency, opacity or viscosity of printer's ink,
- Silver gelatin emulsion used in photography,
- Inkjet or laser toners used in digital printing.
Media for original images are usually traditional art making media. They include dry media; pencils, pastels, and wet media, inks, watercolours, acrylics and oil paints. Silkscreen and lino cut printing ink are used to make hand prints.
Dry manual media
Soft dry pastels are like chalks
Wet manual media
Indian ink and a dip pen
Water colour comes in tubes and pans
Gouache (opaque water) colour builds a solid surface
Acrylic paint works in a similar way to oil paint and can be used to create a solid and textured surface
How media creates different aesthetic effects
Indian ink on brush and pen thinned with water and used full strength. A fashion pattern article and full length ad from Womens' Weekly June 30 1954
Digital applications (media)
You will be aware there are countless applications for drawing and designing with computer, touch screen, VR emulator, smart phone and tablet.
Applications for industrial and environmental design are referred to as Computer Aided Design (CAD). The feature of CAD is that designs are done in real space and referenced to dimensions and other characteristics in real time, as they are done. These will not be discussed here. However, it is important to note that applications used for communication design do not work in this way. For this reason, please keep in mind that those shown below are not known as CAD applications.
The applications used for communication design fall into three different categories.
- Raster-based programs,
- Vector-based programs,
- Web development and desktop publishing apps and programs.
Raster-based programs are image processing programs. They work with images as bitmaps. This means they process images as pixels. Although raster-based programs can work with a complete range of tones and colours in pixels the images they process are resolution dependent. This means if they are enlarged in size they need to be increased in resolution which results in an increase in file size. An example of a raster-based program is Adobe Photoshop.
Vector-based programs create images not as pixels but as mathematical calculations. They map coordinates and arcs. Vector programs have an advantage that they can creates scaleable images that do not loose detail or increase in file size as they increase in size. An example of a vector-based program is Adobe Illustrator.
Web development and desktop publishing apps and programs.
Web development and desktop publishing apps and programs can have characteristics belonging to both kinds of programs above. As they can process type (vector glyphs) and images (raster files) they incorporate features common to both. Examples of these programs are Adobe InDesign, Adobe Dreamweaver and even Wordpress.
What is an aesthetic effect?
Depending on the kind of project, the audience, the purpose and the context, designers often try to create one of two different aesthetic effects. The two effects can grouped into;
- designs that communicate a feeling of corporate security, strength, accuracy, unity, professionalism, etc.
- designs that communicate a feeling of human personality, of softness, sensitivity, warmth, humour, empathy with emotions, etc.
Look back at some of the designs above, can you identify the kind of effect the designers were seeking to achieve with their work?
Identify the aesthetic effect?
Select a piece of communication design made from 1950 - 1979. Collect and pint an image of the design. Don't forget to reference your image.
Identify the methods and media that have been used then explain how they have contributed to the communication of ideas in the visual communication. (Some of the ideas and concepts being communicated may be in the aesthetic effects heading above.)
Influenced by cultural and social factors
This area of study requires us to understand how manual and digital methods, media, materials, design elements and principles are influenced by past and contemporary practices and cultural and social factors. (VCAA VCD Study Design 2018-2022 p15).
In order to discuss visual communications in this regard you will have to;
- find out what methods, materials and media have been used,
- find out what design elements and principles are evident,
then examine how the cultural and social factors may have impacted on the designer.
How do social values and viewpoints influence the ways designers think?
Choose one visual communication from the three pictured above.
In this task we are going to discuss the relationship between how a visual communication is made and the social and cultural context in which it was made.
Identify the materials, methods and or media used in the visual communication. Discuss how they contribute to the communication of ideas and information. Then describe how cultural and social factors may have influenced design decisions regarding how they were used.
Identify two dominant design elements and principles. Describe the ways they are used. In your answer refer to how they may support or critique social or cultural values or viewpoints.
Write your answer as a short report, include the image you are referring to.
Making connections between designs
This section will describe out assessment task. We will put all of our knowledge together and analyse present with past designs.
Mike Joyce runs a design studio in New York called Stereotype Design. He has an impressive client list, which includes many from the music industry. In 2012 he started a side project called 'Swissted'. In this project he began to create music posters in the style of notable designers from the International Typographic Style movement from the Mid Twentieth Century.
In our project we will trawl through both his design site and Swissted and compare his new design with originals. We will find out how and why they were made in the style, and why he might be making homages to them now.
HOW WAS TYPE MADE BEFORE COMPUTERS?
This is one of the retro Swiss International Style posters by Mike Joyce from the Swissted project.
Click on the images above to visit the home page for Mike Joyce from Stereotype Designs side project 'Swissted'.
Assessment task: Identify, describe, discuss and analyse visual communications.
Choose one image from Stereotype Designs or Swissted by designer Mike Joyce. Links are given above.
Research extensively the International Typographic Style. Collect pictures of the Mike Joyce design you have chosen and original images from the 1960s and other periods as relevant.
Write a 800 word analysis that describes a piece of contemporary visual communication, discusses connections with past styles and describes how social, cultural and other factors impacted it, and previous designs.
In your analysis ensure you address the following criteria. You may structure your report using these as subheadings:
- describe visual communications in terms of their social and cultural settings,
- identify the connections between past and contemporary visual communications practices,
- describe visual communications in terms of how manual and digital methods, media, materials, design elements, design principles and presentation formats are applied
- use appropriate terminology.
Evaluation and deeper learning
In this section we will think about the learning we have done. We will review the main topics and evaluate our learning. Follow the steps in the tasks shown here to prepare your folio for presentation and grading.
What have I learnt?
Answer the following questions (on paper or if you use a computer, print them and stick them into your visual diary).
- Describe what is meant by the term 'communication design'?
- What is meant by 'past and contemporary practices?'
- What are social and cultural factors' that influence design?
- What are other factors that influence designs?
- How can the use of materials, methods and media contribute to the ideas communicated in visual communications? Give an example.
Putting it together
Find where you wrote up what you thought the success criteria might be. Check that you have done something for all of the steps you wrote down.
Print final and organise your written answers and visual diary for submission.
Check the assessment criteria below to see if you have prepared your work for each criteria. If not, take the time to complete it.
Hand up your work on the due date as instructed.
Evaluation and deeper learning
Below is shown a broad indication of the evidence a student should show.
The extent to which the student identifies and explains: Please note: To achieve good marks in criteria based assessment you must remember to include some work for each part of the task required. Spread your time evenly across the task.
The extent to which the student identifies and explains:
To achieve good marks in criteria based assessment you must remember to include some work for each part of the task required. Spread your time evenly across the task.