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VCD Theory Techniques for analysing visual communications

Analyse visual communications.

How to write about design

Techniques for analysing visual communications

Depth of analysis

Single/ dual action directed questions

Action verbs

Multi-level analysis

Categories or focus of analysis

Categories or focus

Develop your learning

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What I see versus what I know

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Action verbs

Below are prompts for each action verb, organised in increasing order of depth and complexity. The action verbs are shown colour coded down the table, the categories for which the prompts are applied are shown across the table.

Action verb

Overview of the design

Aesthetic qualities

Functional characteristics

Factors that influence design

Identify

(Say or list contents)

What is it?
Who was the designer?
Who was the client, the producer?
When was it made?
Who is the target audience?
What is the purpose?
What is its context (where will it be sold and used?)

What are the dominant design elements? List, and list sub components of them.

What are the dominant design principles? List, and list sub components of them.

What materials contribute directly to the look of the design?

*For communication design and illustration in industrial and environmental design;

  • What methods have been used?
  • What media has been used?

What is it designed to do?

What design elements contribute to the function? List, and list sub components of them.

What design principles contribute to the function? List, and list sub components of them.

What materials contribute directly to the function of the design?

*For communication design and illustration in industrial and environmental design;

  • What methods have been used?
  • What media has been used?

What factors influenced its design including; social, economic/ financial, technological, etc.

 

How do I identify?

Write the answers up to these questions as simple statements in paragraph form. One may blend some of the answers together, but resist the temptation to elaborate and go into descriptions or discussions yet.

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Raymond Lowey, 1967

Example in use

The Design elements shape and colour are used on the Shell logo.

Action verb

Overview of the design

Aesthetic qualities

Functional characteristics

Factors that influence design

Describe

(State the characteristics of the components you have identified)

What is the nature of these people and groups?

What is the nature of the purpose and context?

Examine the design elements and principles’ visual characteristics in detail.

Examine the materials’ visual characteristics in detail.

*For communication design and illustration in industrial and environmental design;

  • Examine the methods’ visual characteristics in detail.
  • Examine the medias’ visual characteristics in detail.

Describe how to use it.

Examine the design elements and principles’ functional characteristics in detail.

Examine the materials’ functional characteristics in details.

*For communication design and illustration in industrial and environmental design;

  • Examine the methods’ functional characteristics in detail.
  • Examine the medias’ functional characteristics in detail.

Examine the factor/s that influenced the design.

 

How do I describe?

Provide more information about the items you have identified. You may begin to elaborate on visual qualities by describing the ways elements and principles work together. Resist the temptation to give opinions and reasons that explain the designs.

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Raymond Lowey, 1967

Example in use

Thick outlines lines form a stylised shape of a scallop shell.The red and yellow are vibrant, warm colours.

Action verb

Overview of the design

Aesthetic qualities

Functional characteristics

Factors that influence design

Discuss

(Examine the design from different perspectives)

Why was it made?

Examine broader questions about the design in its context like: Is the design mainstream?

Is it liked?

State the aesthetic qualities. What effect does the aesthetics have on the way it is interpreted?

State the functional characteristics. What effect do the materials, techniques etc., have on the way it functions?

Discuss how this product addressed influences.

 

How do I discuss?

Begin to refer to differing opinions and other readings of the design, whilst resisting the temptations to evaluate. One may begin to refer to the interpretations, meanings and stories behind designs.

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Raymond Lowey, 1967

Example in use

The stylised geometric shape gives a highly professional, measured and industrial aesthetic quality to the logo.

The use of warm colours attracts attention in most outdoor contexts as they contrast with cooler blues and greens with the landscape.

The stylised shape  contributes to its function as it is legible and combines with modern sans serif type faces chosen by corporations then.

Action verb

Overview of the design

Aesthetic qualities

Functional characteristics

Factors that influence design

Explain

(Link, provide reasons about how, why, when)

Give reasons for the designers choices made in response to the needs of the audience, purpose and context.

Give reasons for the designers choices made in relation to the aesthetic qualities.

Give reasons for the designers choices made in relation to the materials, techniques and processes used.

Give reasons for the designers choices made in response to broader social and other factors.

 

How do I explain?

Refer to the interpretations, meanings and stories behind designs. Make links with other designs and forces. Explain how and why the designers made the choices they did. Give reasons for the choices designers made in response to influences.

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Raymond Lowey, 1967

Example in use

The choice of a sea shell is a visual representation of the company's name.

The warm colours allude to heat generated by energy and serve to make this a strong visual device.

The strong lines, absence of type and the use of mirrored symmetrical balance not only help the logo to stand out from any background but also define Shell as a strong and well formed identity, recognisable across the globe.

The wedge like lines that radiate from a central point resemble flames from a burning fire and may even act as a metaphor for the spread of a company with a wide reach.

Action verb

Overview of the design

Aesthetic qualities

Functional characteristics

Factors that influence design

Evaluate

(Assess its functionality and aesthetic success)

Assess the design’s success against it aims in terms or functionality, aesthetic goals and/or its social, historical, environmental or technological context.

 

How do I evaluate?

When asked to evaluate you must give your opinion. But, here is the catch, it must be justified with evidence when given. Therefore, assess the design against criteria, including constraints and expectations that (you believe may) have existed in the brief.

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Raymond Lowey, 1967

Example in use

Lowey's logo for Shell is a fantastic design. Its reductive simplicity has allowed it to adapt well to Shell's expansion in to markets across the world and through time periods from when it was introduced to compliment contemporary styles in type and design, to the needs of current, screen based applications.

As an iconic visual device it succeeds and maintains its position with other corporate symbols through its differentiation and ability to be easily recognised.

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Applied analysis

The following analysis is a complete analysis of a piece of industrial design. It is written as a response to the question;

Analyse and evaluate the Phillippe Stark Hot Bertaa kettle (1990) and explain how it became a controversial design icon in 1990.

Notes for this analysis

The colours for the text illustrate sections corresponding to action verbs:

  • Identify (say or list contents)
  • Describe (relate the characteristics of the contents)
  • Discuss (explore, give a range of viewpoints or interpretations)
  • Explain (link, provide reasons how, why)
  • Evaluate (assess its functionality and aesthetic success)

The paragraphs correspond to the categories or focus for analysis.

  • Overview of the design
  • Aesthetic qualities
  • Functional characteristics
  • Factors that influence design

      Model analysis

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      (https://www.moma.org/ collection/works/1791) Accessed 18 January 2020.

      The Hot Bertaa is a kettle. It was designed by Philippe Stark, perhaps the first of the superstar designers. It was manufactured by Alessi, a specialist firm that produces a range of house-hold products designed by prominent industrial designers, in Italy from 1990 to 1997. Alessi makes low volume editions that attract a very narrow group of collectors and decorators. It was designed for audiences of men and women with a mid to high socio-economic status and a keen interest in industrial design. It was displayed in design stores and minimal modern houses. The prospective purchasers often surround themselves with objects that function more as sculptures than work well. The design is stimulating and divides design conscious people. Some people enjoy the focus on aesthetics, some hate that it does not function well, as intended and inferred by its premium price.

      The Hot Bertaa is made from two intersecting forms. They are both conical. The more vertical, main form is angled and has convex curves. The other, more horizontal, gently tapering cone with almost parallel sides is trimmed at each end. It is a natural aluminium silver and pastel green. The materials it is made from are aluminium and plastic.  The two forms are made in contrasting materials. The larger is aluminium and the other plastic. They are both finished in a gentle satin texture. The kettle is asymmetrically balanced. Each form sits around different contrasting axis. The main form appears to slouch, to lean backward, as if to balance as it supports its lengthy handle/ spout. It has a futuristic, minimal aesthetic quality.  Its severe geometric forms are a clever interplay between two formal elements, yet it's casual poise seem to give it a jovial attitude, almost mocking its ‘High Art’ composition. The form of of the kettle resembles the central part of an aeroplane propeller called a ‘spinner’. Stark grew-up around planes as his father was an aeronautical engineer. He was launched into a life of design, manufacturing and innovation. To design for Alessi is an honour given to only the best and most successful designers. Stark’s Hot Bertaa is simultaneously a work in form, materials, aesthetics and a bold contradiction to the expectation that great designs work well.

      It is designed to boil water when placed on a stove top. It is filled through the broader end of the handle/ spout, in a deep sink and sat atop a stove. The Hot Bertaa is demanding to fill and use. It is not apparent, exactly how to fill and pour it and is actually physically difficult to hold the bulk of its weight with such an asymmetrical cantilevered handle. It is also prone to having the handle melt if placed on a gas cook-top. Its design clearly is not motivated by ease of function.

      The Hot Bertaa was designed at the end of the 1980s. The Eighties is known for huge economic growth that underpinned an increasing interest in flamboyant designs that could also be seen as ‘fine art’.  It may have been influenced by economic prosperity and the climate of Postmodernity that influenced the prolific market of design objects. The Hot Bertaa is a perfect response to the hedonistic influences of this period as it places its emphasis on aesthetics over function. It is an icon of wealth, of having sufficient income to buy an expensive product, though in reality is inferior to one purchased at Kmart. It is a kettle for a snob.  It is also shaped by advances in contemporary manufacturing techniques. Although plastic and aluminium are common materials in appliances, the marriage in this instance is sophisticated and requires advanced techniques relating to tolerances and heat expansion. It is an elaborate exercise in design exclusivity and manufacturing prowess. It is the Ferrari of Kettles. Stark designed this piece to define his ability as a designer of heart stopping icons that would announce his arrival as an international force. For that, it was a huge and widely collected success.