VCD Theory Factors and considerations that influence and shape the way designs are made

Factors shaping design.

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What forces influence the ways designs are made?

Factors that influence design

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TVan Track Trailer Mk5. 2019. ( accessed 06 December 2019.

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Factors and considerations

That influence design

There are a number of factors and considerations that influence the way visual communications are designed. This page will explore the main influencers for designers.

Three initial factors

Target Audience

It is not surprising that successful visual communications are designed with the specific preferences of target audiences in mind. If members of an audience feel affirmed by a design, if it shares the values they have, they’ll go for it. We discuss an audience by referring to characteristics. Characteristics of target audiences include age, gender, location, socioeconomic status, culture, race and interest, values and beliefs.

Designed especially for teenage boys in 1963, this end paper from Eagle Annual has some impressive watercolour renderings of speedy machines.


The reason why a visual communication is made will of course exert a huge influence on how it is formed. For example, a sign that is intended to inform someone about a potential a work hazard needs to be clear yet a poster whose purpose is to promote an event such as a music festival needs to intrigue and stimulate interest in members of the audience. As such, visual communications with different purposes use different visual language and typographic strategies.  Purposes of visual communications include to advertise, promote, depict, teach, inform, identify and guide.

The purpose of this illustration is for readers of the book to be able to identify the (then) brand new Boeing 747. Examine how shape and line have been used to suit this purpose. Green, w 1970, The Observer's Book of Aircraft, Frederick Warne & Co Ltd, New York.


Context is very influential factor for shaping the aesthetics and functional qualities of design. This poster advertising a forthcoming art exhibition at the National Gallery Victoria is situated at Heidelberg Railway Station. The target audience is in motion as they pass. Colour, dynamic asymmetrical balance, hierarchy and contrast are all emphisised to attract attention in this busy context.


A poster at Heidelberg Railway Station advertises a forthcoming art exhibition at the National Gallery Victoria.

Additional factors and Considerations

In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are more that play important roles in shaping design. These are;

  • Aesthetics
  • Functional
  • Social (cultural, religious, political)
  • Technology
  • Economics (financial)
  • The environment
  • Legal, ethical, moral

Each of these factors describe the climate for the design of visual communications. Let’s see how they can impact designs.

Aesthetic considerations

Following stylistic trends in the ways designs look is vital to ensuring that they meet the expectations of target audiences. For example, you may be aware that it is quite fashionable to deck out new cafes in older inner-city suburbs like Fitzroy, Collingwood, Footscray and Yarraville with mis-matched chairs, tables, crockery and glass wear. This creates an old fashioned, informal and rustic aesthetic effect and is regarded by many as welcoming. By contrast, decorating a space in the same way for an airport Business Class lounge would be inappropriate. Of course, these spaces require a more professional, cooperate, unified feel. Its all about the aesthetics, all about the style.

The same approach can be taken for visual communications within the fields of industrial and communication design. For example, a kettle may have a minimal, sleek and futuristic aesthetic quality. A poster could have a fresh, childish quality in the use of colour, type and layout.

The desired aesthetic quality is often a client’s wish and is embedded in the brief as an expectation. Whilst designers are not obliged to copy others work, they may be asked to emulate a particular style. To do this they will need to fully understand the aesthetic qualities of the reference design.

Aesthetic qualities

Aesthetic qualities refers to the overall visual effect of the design. To define aesthetic qualities, we identify the overall visual characteristics of a design. We need to identify relevant components such as elements and principles of design and materials and methods that contribute to the aesthetic effect.

Aesthetic considerations

Aesthetic considerations refer to the expectations of a client that guide a design towards a visual effect. Aesthetic considerations may be defined in a brief.

The aesthetic considerations including tone and manner, style and genre, that are desired for a visual communication influences how it is made.

Prompt questions to enable analysis

How does the style of the design influence the shape or form of the design?

How does the aesthetic quality support (or detract) from the ability of the design to function well?

functional considerations

The term functional considerations refer to how a visual communication works. The notion of how something works probably makes sense when we consider industrial design. For example, its easy to understand that a chair or pen, functions respectively – that is, they support a person safely or writes on paper clearly. Similarly environmental design is made to function as well. A house houses a family, a school encloses learning spaces securely and a shopping centre comprises a group of traders in inspirational or themed environs. The functional considerations for each of these visual communications refers to the things that need to be considered in order for the design to function effectively. These items could include the selection and application of appropriate elements and principles of design, materials, methods and media or any other element of construction needing to be used.

For visual communications in the field of communication design the same applies. However, considering how two-dimensional presentation formats like a poster, function may not be as easy as determining how appliances or building work. To identify the functional considerations (and ultimately to describe, explain, analyze and evaluate) communication design, one needs to first identify its purpose. For example, if a logo is intended to identify the owner of a building, then can it be seen clearly? Does it contrast in shape and colour with its background? Is it simple and recognizable? Furthermore, is it easily adaptable to other presentation formats? If the answer is yes to all these questions, then the functional considerations have all been met.

Functional considerations required for visual communications influence the way they are designed and made.

Prompt questions to enable analysis

How do the requirements of the function influence the form?

Does 'form follow function'?

Social (cultural, historical, religious, political, contemporary)

Social factors refer broadly to how people live and relate together. When we analyse visual communication that include references to people, we look for clues about the values of the designers or the preferences of the target audience. Social factors reference people’s attitudes to, and the ways designers depict gender and gender roles, depictions of God and the divine, structures of power and organisation of society, the ways we use public, shared and private spaces, social status, wealth, work and leisure time, sport and education.

An example of a social factor shaping environmental design can be seen in the changes to kitchen, dining and living spaces in homes in the last 60 or so years. 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 having them in separate rooms. Open plan design promotes more interaction between people and reflects social changes of the Post War years. In analysis we look for ways social values are embedded in visual communications.

Visual communications are products of the culture within which they are created. Culture refers to shared values, beliefs and behaviours of groups of people. Cultural identity is often evident in communication design. Images, type and layout may support or critique cultural beliefs. Support for traditional family values is often shown in adds from the Fifties. Conversely, when we examine Postmodern art and record covers for Punk music, it is evident that these rock groups were critical of mainstream culture.

You may also see references to racism, equality for women and/ or LGBTI members of society. Visual Communications may reference multicultural or homogenous societies. Cultural sensitivity and inclusivity is also an important consideration in designing visual communications. Images depicting dress, particularly swimwear may not appeal to all cultures and may need to be modified to be used around the world.

Prompt questions to enable analysis

How do the considerations of society, for example racial, gender and sexual equality, safety, freedom, education, accessibility, etc influence a design?

How do/ did stylistic trends influence a design?

How did religious beliefs and/ or cultural practices influence a design?

How did political beliefs and/ or ideologies influence a design?

How did/ does contemporary society influence design?


Technology refers to any manual, mechanical or electronic process used in a designer's workspace or workflow. Technological factors refer to how visual communications are made and what they are made from.

Generally, you will not be expected to know what kind of printing has been used to reproduce visual communications. However, in saying that, some reproduction methods do afford different opportunities and allow different aesthetic effects and therefor become integral to the discussion on factors that shape and influence designs.

The factor of technology is often discussed in partnership with that of economics as despite the costs of purchasing improved technologies their use can lead to greater productivity through time saving in design, testing and production, cost savings gained through reduced wastage of materials and greater accuracy.

Prompt questions to enable analysis

How did technology for visualising, drawing, imagining new ideas enable further creativity?

How did technology for prototyping enable new forms in design?

How did advances in chemical, electrical, computer, physical engineering enable innovative manufacturing techniques?

How did technology for communication, converging and cross-pollination of ideas enable innovation?

How did technology for gaining audience feedback influence subsequent designs?

Technologies used in communication design

Source designs and images

Designers use digital-based methods with the mediums of vector, raster,  and desk-top publishing programs to design two and three-dimensional visual communications. Digital technology has shaped every facet of design through developments in the flexibility, portability, cross-pollination, morphing, editing, enhancing, appropriating, copying, recording, sending, phase shifting, animating, projecting, exhibiting of design solutions. Electronic technologies in design have shaped how designs are made, how they look and how they function.

Production and Reproduction

The technology 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 process colours. Lithography is a form of chemical resist printing.

Before that, there was letterpress printing that only permitted spot colours. Type and image had sharp edges 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. Screen-printing is a form of stencilling.

Sign writing with laser cut, self-adhesive vinyl sheet is a durable outdoor printing process. However, 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.

Technologies use in environmental and industrial design

Source designs and models

Industrial and environmental designers use CAD (Computer Aided Design ) programs to design in 'real space' and create a 'model' of forms for parts, buildings and assemblies. All three-dimensional forms are created in computer. Two-dimensional designs for three-dimensional work is not done anymore. However, three-dimensional drawings are output automatically from CAD models to create 3rd angle orthogonal drawings and Plans and Elevations for fabrication and construction of products and forms.

Virtual reality and drone footage is also used for design of environments.

Some sophisticated CAD engineering programs enable designers to 'test' materials for strength and durability and part for fit.  CAD also enables architects to specify door, window and maintenance schedules and estimate construction costings for building construction.

CAD models can be exported for complex and realistic rendering. Toy Story movies are renderings from 3-d CAD software.

CAD models can be exported for 3-d printing and CNC cutting of parts for assembly as prototypes.


CAD technology allows for accurate and direct design using industry specific parts, assemblies, fasteners and conventions.

3-d printing is used for making models and prototypes. This technology enables industrial designers to produce functioning prototypes of design objects that can be used for evaluation. 3-d printed forms can also be used to make patterns that can be test fitted and changed easily for casting metal objects necessary for industrial machines.

Manufacturing technologies influence designs. Advances in medical and scientific technology mimicking growth of cells influences forms. 3-d printing of molten metal is now possible.

Advances in plastics and the  lamination of wood allowed designers to create biomorphic forms in interior design during the last century.

In short, technology, (in the ways things can be visualised and constructed) influences the range of forms that are possible.

Economic (financial considerations)

Economic and financial considerations refer literally to how much a visual communication is going to cost to design and produce.

For communication design the chief production costs are printing and binding. 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, due to costs in land, energy and labour, 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.

A print or production run (number of copies printed or made) 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 per unit 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 cost more. Unusual paper formats, like square, will cost more as they cannot be cut efficiently from regular 'A series' papers.

In the field of industrial design the chief costs are felt in research and development (experimental design), manufacturing techniques and materials. A cheapest products strike a successful balance between the use of existing manufacturing techniques that work existing and readily available materials in mass quantities. Specialist designs may involve discovering innovative highly skilled manufacturing techniques using hybrid or exotic, imported materials and by the nature of their limited appeal due to cost, be manufactured in small production runs. All of these characteristics of the design lead it to become expensive be comparison.

How a design is to be made, what it is to be made from and how many of them will be produced are economic considerations.

Prompt questions to enable analysis

How did 'cost cutting' (the drive to do more for less $$) influence the aesthetics, functionality, technology, social success, environmental impact of a form of a completed design?

Is there any evidence of automation, rather than hand-work, affecting costs in a design?

How did the choice of materials affect a design?

How did the choice of manufacturing or printing methods affect a design?

How did the costs of packaging, transportation, distribution, waste disposal affect a design?

How did the size of a production/ print run affect the cost and therefore scope of a design?


The chief environmental consideration is sustainability and the impact on the environment that the production and distribution of visual communications has. Environmental impact is found in preparation of visual communications, print production, and transportation involved in production and distribution.

Significant 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 and disposal. To this end, screen-based digital 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 (the product’s life cycle) may outweigh any advantages offered in sustainability of use.

The use of recycled materials is a responsible addition to office practice. 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 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 newspapers reducing circulations or indeed ceasing to print daily editions. 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.

Prompt questions to enable analysis

How does the final visual communication impact the environment when used and/ or displayed or disposed of?

How can the environment be protected/ damaged with this design?

Will this design increase/ reduce waste or carbon footprint?

Does the design use renewable energy in its construction?

Legal, ethical, moral

Legal, ethical, moral text.

Prompt questions to enable analysis

How do the requirements of IP (intellectual property), copyright, trademarks, registered designs, moral rights affect sourcing images, image manipulation, reproduction, storage and distribution of visual communications?