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VCD Unit 1 AOS 3

Visual communications in context.

Outcome 2

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. However, we will look at some designs from environmental and industrial designs for context.

This Area of study is a theory topic. you will learn about a wonderful period in history, from just after the end of World War Two until the end of the Nineteen Seventies. 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 visual communications from this period.

A sample analysis is shown below.

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Model answer

Shell Oil Logo, 1967, Raymond Lowey.

Identify the visual communication's, client, target audience, purpose

This is the Shell Oil Company’s logo designed by Raymond Lowey in 1967. The client was Shell Oil Company, the target audience was motorists around the world, the purpose was to identify and promote the company.

Describe the type and image content

It is a depicts a stylised scallop shell. It is a simplified version of the previous logos which were quite realistic and pictorial. In this version the type 'Shell' has been omitted for the first time, leaving the visual device to create brand recognition. This is a true acknowledgement of the internationalisation of commerce and a transfer from written to visual language in the modern world.

Identify influences by past and contemporary practices, and social and cultural factors and explain how they have contributed to the shaping of this design.

The logo was made at a time of vast world technological advancement. In 1969, there had been firsts in aviation and space travel including the first flight of the Concorde, the first supersonic airliner, the first flight of the Boeing 747, promising cheaper international travel for more of the population and the first human steps on the Moon with the Apollo 11 mission. This progress was an indication of the priority of transportation and energy held by governments. The seventies saw a huge development in automotive transport with huge increases bigger American muscle cars and also in the huge export market for Japan’s automotive industry. Although the world environmental movement was well underway it had not yet made a significant impact in the automotive sector.

The Swiss international design movement had spread around the world in the sixties and together with the introduction of a modular grid compositional system requiring independent units as well as strong typefaces such as Helvetica (1957), a resurgence of Cooper Black (1922), Avant Guard (1970), Microgrammar Bold Extended (1952) and its little sister Eurosyle (1962), designers required visual devices with a similar strength and economy in figure-ground. Shell's old pictorial design with its thin outlines looked outdated when combined with typefaces of the contemporary, corporate world. In addition, Mobil Oil had commissioned an updated brand identity, complete with a unique ‘gothic’ typeface by Tom Geismar in 1964. Coming through the massive change of the 1960s, simplicity was the taste of the times.

Identify two dominant design elements and two dominant design principles and explain how they contribute to the communication of ideas to the target audience

Colour and Shape. The bright colours of red and yellow have been used to create a sense of warmth. These elude to the colours of a flame so represent energy. The red has been used to outline the yellow shell, which gives it strength and dominance against any background. In addition, the two warm colours would be most effective when seen against a natural coloured background as they would contrast with the blues and greens of a landscape and advance, attracting attention. A shape derived from both organic and geometric roots has been used to create a simple, stylised version of the scallop shell. Although the red shape could be seen as line, it is an enclosure which reinforces the yellow shape, as if from behind. Stylisation is effective as it creates an instantly recognisable shape that is paramount to brand identification. As discussed above, using colour and shape together without type increases the function of these two elements.

Balance and Contrast. The logo is structured on a mirrored symmetrical axis creating symmetrical balance. This balance provides solidity when seen in any context. The two colours contrast sufficiently with each other to provide legibility within the logo. However, together they contrast strongly with a white or natural coloured background giving the logo immediate prominence as a brand.

Identify the materials, methods and media used and explain how they contribute to the communication of ideas to the target audience in relation to the VC's purpose

The logo would have been drawn with technical drawing instruments such as a ruler, compass and French curves then hand painted in gouache as black master artworks (one for each colour) at a large scale prior to being photographed and reduced for reproduction. The use of technical drawing and rendering methods and media ensured a flawless, corporate aesthetic feel to the logo, reflecting the strength, dominance and capability of such an international business. These methods leave no element of ambiguity in the sign as an identifying visual device.

Sample visual and social, historical analysis by Ric Roberts, 2018.

Learning intentions

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

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.

Why were these designs ever made?

creative social design

In this section we will consider some designs that emerged in the period 1945 - 1980.

The period 1945 - 1980 was a special time for design and Western culture. During this Area of Study we will investigate what caused so many innovative designs to emerge at this time. What were the issues? What was the world going through? Who was growing up, and what effect did it have on mainstream culture?

Let's take this learning journey together, travel back in time (to the time I was in primary school, when the Beatles were on the radio while my sister drove my mum's Cortina) and find out how people lived and what they thought.

We will begin by looking at some designs from this period, comparing them to traditional designs from the same period, then we we will try to find out why. Why did design change so much then?

Communication design

Little Red School Book, 1969, (Australian edition 1972), Soren Hansen and Jesper Jensen. (https://collection.maas. museum/ object/354431)

Victory 1945, 1975,
Shigeo Fukuda. (https://www.sessions. edu/notes-on-design/ designer-focus-shigeo-fukuda/)

Bob Dylan, Milton Glaser, 1966. ( works/8108)
Whole Earth Catalog. 1968. ( database/

Industrial design

Sacco, (Beanbag chair), 1968,Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro. ( wiki/Bean_bag_chair)
Lincoln Futura concept car, 1954, John Najjar and Bill Schmidt, assembled Ghia Design Studio, Turin Italy.( wiki/Lincoln_Futura), ( joomla/1955-lincoln-futura)
Barbie fashion doll, 1959, Ruth Handler, Mattell, Inc. ( wiki/Barbie)
Ericofon, 1956, Gosta Thames, Ralph Lysell, Hugo Blomberg, Ericsson Co. ( wiki/Ericofon)

Environmental design

Futuro house, 1968, Matti Suuronen. ( /wiki/Futuro) (Picture J P Karna)
National Congress Brasila, 1960, Oscar Niemeyer ( wiki/National_Congress_of_Brazil) (Picture Marcelo Jorge Vieira)
Rose Seidler House, 1950, Harry Seidler. (https://sydneylivingmuseums.
LAX Theme building, 1962, Pereira and Luckman. ( wiki/Theme_Building)


Identify, describe

Design elements and principles and materials and methods.

Choose one of the products seen above. Find it on the internet and collect your own picture of it. Do a bit of research around it then using your knowledge of design elements and principles describe how it looks. In you discussion choose one or two dominant elements and principles. 

Now, identify the main materials and methods (if you can), describe how the designer has used materials to create aesthetic effects and structural properties. 

Typical Australian 'triple fronted brick veneer' home from the 1950s. (
Rose Seidler House, 1950, Harry Seidler. (


give it some context

Now using the same product, or chose a different one, search up a traditional design from the same period. Choose a design that seems to emphasise how new and different your chosen design looks. 

Using the same language (design elements, principles, materials and methods) compare the way the two designs look and work.


What was life like then?

My school photos

My school magazine in 1965. I was in Prep (Year) 1.
Here I am in my Prep (Year) 1 photo in 1965. I can't pick me out.
Here I am with long pants we were allowed to wear in Senior School. I'm in Form 2 (Year 8) in 1972 here. The world is my oyster. Bye the way, that's me at the front on the left.

Back to the past

In this section we will begin to investigate what life was in one of the most influential and formative periods for art, music, style and design.

Let's get started.

For our study we are going to look at a period of growth and hope in the Western world. It is a time of prosperity and construction, a time of rebirth after World War II, and a time where art, design and style were able to prosper. You can find tons of information about this period on the internet so I'm going to give you a very condensed look at the times.

The purpose?

The reason why we look at history when analysing art or design is because designs are created as a result of the influence of the time in which they are made.

Let's look at each of the three decades in a little detail. 


The 1950s began in 1946 as this was when the second world war ended. It was a time called 'Post War Reconstruction'. To understand this, we have to understand how people had to live during the war 1939 - 45. Yes, six long years of suffering and going 'with out'. During this time all the government and social efforts were focused on the 'war effort'. People at home (us living in Australia) were placed on 'rations'. This meant that as food and other materials were used to feed troops or build fighting machines, their purchase was restricted. 

When all this ended, 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. This time is called 'Post War Reconstruction'. It was a time of immense building. Cities grew with new suburbs, and big roads and rail networks. The young couples, married in the war, began to have babies at a higher rate than before. This boom in the birthrate resulted in babies called 'baby boomers'. Family life began again and all in a new house with new electric appliances. 

However, life might have been new, but life styles were built on the values of the past. That was, men and women had clear 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 caring mother. The fifties were 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 directed 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 in their teens. 

As this new generation grew up they enjoyed a complete change in life styles. Brand new 'Rock and Roll' music played on the radio much to their parents disgust. Teenagers frequented 'drug stores', fast food shops appeared, Supermarkets began to replace traditional grocery shops and new fashions began to change the way people dressed. 

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 the 'Space Race' and the 'Cuban Missile Crisis'. Tensions and riots between whites and blacks continued shaping the 'Civil Rights Movement' that would be so active in the 1960s. 

The stage was set for change. Change that would never go back to how life had been pre-war.


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 they wanted change. Many of them resented their parent’s conformist, capitalist, obedient, ways of life and they wanted out. They wanted a different way to live. Young people supported the Civil rights movements including equality for blacks and women, the end of military conflicts and sexual oppression. Many of the youth sought a different, more equal and sharing way to live together and were labeled ‘Hippies’. 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. The older, more conservative establishment class, those who believed in the strength and authority of institutions, were heading for a clash with their children, rebelling against the power they held over them. The sixties was a time of tension between the old and then new.


The seventies was also tumultuous time. Although the 'Hippie' alternative 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'. The US government turned on the students in the 'Kent State Shootings' killing several student anti Vietnam war protesters. But still the protests continued, until the allied troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and the war was declared lost.

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 all too familiar with their rights as students. The new Punk music from England signalled the rising swell of anarchy as people began to loose respect for traditions that had once held society together tightly.

The seventies was a time when men were men, and women were men too! The end of an era, enter 'Post Modernity'.

Before we go...

My first bike. A Malvern Star 'Dragster'. Metallic yellow and a real banana seat and sissy bar!
My first record purchase. 20 Supercharged Hits!
My first car, a Moke. Great in summer, breezy in winter. Safety, what's that!?!


Familiarise yourself

Read through my story of the three decades above. Think about the change that swept across the world. 

Write a small paragraph to explain these couple of points;

  1. Who changed?
  2. What changed?
  3. What event actually caused the change?

You may answer in a variety of different ways. What is important is not the correct answer but the discussion.

Digging deeper

To do the task below you need a good idea about what happened in a decade of your choice (50s, 60s or 70s) and how things looked back then. I have selected a group of Youtube clips to start you off. You don't have to stick to only these clips. You can search up anywhere that will help you answer the questions on 'Social Climate' below.

The 1950s

1952 Day In The Life Of A 1950's Small Town
Mid Century Home life -- The 50s
Youth culture 1950s
Obligations (1950)
A Word to the Wives (1955)
Top 10 Decade Defining Songs: 1950s

The 1960s

Review Of The Sixties (1970)
Review Of 1963: The Space Race to the JFK Assassination | British Pathé
Swinging London / 60s Fashion
Compilation of late 1960s McDonalds Commercials Part 1 (USA)
Top 10 Decade Defining TV Shows: 1960s
Hippies Change a Generation - Decades TV Network

The 1970s

Turn Back Time 1970s
Top 10 Decade Defining TV Shows: 1960s
Coca-Cola, 1971 - 'Hilltop' | "I'd like to buy the world a Coke"
Life In Australia: Melbourne
Looking Back At 1970s Fashion
VB Victoria Bitter beer - TV commercial (1973)


The social climate

Choose one decade from either the 1950s, 60s or 70s. 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;

  1. Social and cultural factors; religion, community values and politics, ecological and sustainability values
  2. Ways of life; families (gender roles, values, etc), gender roles at work, dating, marriage, shopping, leisure time, food and eating,
  3. 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?)
  4. 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.

Bye 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. 

Decade moodboard

Using the decade 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;

  1. Women's fashion,
  2. Men's fashion,
  3. Hairstyles,
  4. Popular colours used,
  5. Popular type faces used,
  6. Popular car,
  7. Indoor past times, games etc,
  8. Shopping, new products,
  9. Movie poster,
  10. Dating, marriage or couples life.

You may like to crop your photos and put them together in Adobe Illustrator. The choice is yours.


A turning point for design

Can one typeface change design?

In this section we are going to look carefully at two distinctly different periods or styles of advertising design and decode them using terms and vocabulary from our subject.

The two styles of design can be separated by  the introduction of the typeface 'Helvetica' (HAAS 1957). Helvetica was such an influential typeface that it was not only used on designs but its aesthetic characteristics forced a complete change in the way designers approached type and image.

Of course, not all designers changed their style overnight and many decorative styles endured right through the 1960s, it's just that the influence of Helvetica and the style that followed can be clearly seen or not. Period.

World famous graphic designer Michael Bierut explains the influence of Helvetica in the movie 'Helvetica' by Gary Hustwit (2007):

"Corporate identity in the sixties, that's what it sort of consisted of.  Clients would come in and they'd have piles of goofy old brochures from the fifties that had shapes on them, bad photographs, letter head that would say 'Amalgamated Widget' on the top, in some script type face and above 'Amalgamated Widget', an engraving showing their headquarters in Paducah Iowa, with smoke stacks belching smoke. [Then] you go to corporate identity consultants circa nineteen sixty five, sixty six and they would take that and lay it here and say, 'Here is your current stationary and all it implies and this is what we are proposing." And next to that, next to the belching smoke stack, the nuptial script and ivory paper they'd have a crisp, bright, white piece of paper, and instead of 'Amalgamated Widget founded 1857' it would just say, 'Widgeco', in Helvetica medium. Can you imaging how bracing and thrilling that was?...To clear away this burden of history, it must have been just fantastic. And you know that it was fantastic because it was done over and over and over again."

Look at the following four images. Then, as we have been thinking about how social and cultural influences shaped design, let's ask ourself, what social, cultural or historical influences shaped the style of Helvetica? The answer lies in what was going on in the world at the time. Think international transport, migration, internationalisation of business and tastes. Think designer Massimo Vignelli, American Airlines and the New York Subway signs. Look it up...

1950s style digital font

Janda Chunkygirl Chunky is a digital version of a 1950s hand formed font.

TV ad from national geographic 1955

“Every single visual bad habit that was endemic in those days” Michael Bierut in 'Helvetica', Hustwit, 2007.


Helvetica was formed from Akzidenz Grotesque in 1957.

Coke ad post helvetica

“It's the real thing. Period. Coke. Period” Michael Bierut in 'Helvetica', Hustwit, 2007.
Visual language
In our study of the theory of design, how design works, we are going to analyse visual communications.

Visual language in Visual Communication Design is the way people communicate ideas, information and concepts using  components including the elements and principles of design, methods, materials and media, images, signs and symbols. These components are the words, the syntax of visual language. For example, colour or the surface of a material creates meaning around the way products are perceived in the world -  A silver computer denotes a professional choice and can enhance a buyer’s opinion of themselves. Whereas woodgrain texture printed on packaging creates an expectation of a warm and nostalgic feeling towards the product inside.

Designers use components of design to communicate with an audience in different ways. They may embed meaning by;

  • creating optical or psychological aesthetic effects,
  • the way the components support the function of a design (including the use of technical drawing conventions and practices),
  • using symbolism 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 navigate 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 in visual language. We develop the skills of this visual literacy as we progress through Visual Communication Design.

The examples of communication design we will look at all use visual language to communicate idea and meanings. Our study of visual language will centre around the elements and principles of design and the materials, methods and media that have been used to construct the design.

Design elements and principles

We begin our visual analysis by discussing the role of design elements and design principles in a visual communication. As these are the building blocks of design we need to be able to identify dominant elements and then discuss how they have been used to engage an audience by identifying and discussing the design principles that are formed by the elements. Being able to identify and discuss design elements and principles gives you a way in to complete your visual analysis.

The images below are icons made to 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 ball 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.

Let's compare designs

Coca Cola magazine ad from 1947.
Coca Cola magazine ad from 1970.


Design elements and principles

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.

If you need to refresh your language, go back to my full page on Design elements and principles.

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

Paper stock

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

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.

Paper colour

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.

Paper stocks

A full gloss heavy weight stock on the cover of an exhibition catalogue from Palazzo Reale gives a feeling of quality, Italy, 2001.
A medium weight matt stock gives a different and perhaps ironic arty indie feel to the cover of the NGV members magazine November December 2017.
A medium weight satin stock gives a feeling of a real photo and allows the blacks to appear very rich and deep. Japanese photo portrait book called '17'.

Methods (manual)

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.

We study methods to understand how the way an image has been made shapes the ideas and meanings it communicates. 

One point to watch is that as most visual communications are printed when they are consumed by their target audience they have really been made with at least two methods. Hence we can study methods used for making;

  • original images,
  • reproduction of images.

Methods  for original image making

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;

  • drawing,
  • painting,
  • print making,
  • collage,
  • photography.

Methods for reproduction and printing

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.

Original image making methods

Image Image
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. 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.

How was type made before computers?

This is a big question. The answer is slowly. The following methods have been used, and in the same way as methods of reproduction influence the way a visual communication expresses ideas, so do the different methods of making type:

  • Wood block,
  • Metal block,
  • Cast metal lines - Linotype,
  • Hand drawn,
  • Photo typesetting - hand cut and applied to an art-board,

See below for images and the ways they affect a visual communication.

How was type made before computers?

Single block metal and wooden type forms used for letterpress printing.(

All newspapers were printed with Linotype right up the the end of the 1970s. Imagine how restrictive thes was on design flexibility? ( /the-best-tech-inventions-of-all-time-5-awesome-machines /6/)


Type and images were printed photographically then hand cut from pieces of paper. Every title, image, block of type, etc used to be hand cut and pasted up before being photographed to film for a printing plate. Even though computers began to replace this hand work in 1984, paste ups were still being used through the 90s in Australia. (

How do these methods make their visual communications look?

Note how the large type is layed out in a very orderly and perhaps restrictive way. ( /wiki/Wanted_poster#/ media/File:John_Wilkes_ Booth_wanted_poster.jpg)
See how all of the type and images run in clearely defined columns. This is a result of the metal frames that hold the lines of type and headings.( /120th-anniversary-special /witnessing-recording-japans-history/)

Notice  how all of the components are separate from each other and spread across the field. Is this a result of the method of collaging them together in the 'paste up'? It is a little rigid, but the options for layout have certainly come along way from the days of separate blocks of type. Mobilgas ad, Walkabout Magazine, 1954


Media refers to the substance that has been used by the designer to create the image. Again it makes more sense to think first about 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. Looking at them in order;

Media used for original images

Media for original images are usually traditional media used in all forms of art. They include dry media; pencils, pastels, and wet media, inks, watercolours, acrylics and oil paints. Silk and lino cut printing ink are used to make hand prints.

Media used for reproduction of images

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.

Dry manual media


Graphite pencils

( mark-making/pencils/graphite-pencils)


Coloured pencils

( search/coloured-pencil)


Soft dry pastels are like chalks

( Pastel)


Oil pastels

( erengi-artaspirer-oil-pastel-sets)

Wet manual media


Indian ink and a dip pen

( speedball-dip-pen-atelier-drawing-ink/)


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

( pages/Nova-Color-Acrylic-Artists-Links.html)

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

Detail from image at left shows how softly the media can be applied, yet can create contrasts where needed.
Watercolour and dry pastel used in this cosmetics ad from Womens' Weekly July 12 1943
Detail from image at left shows the different textures that can be created with these two media
Gouache (opaque watercolour) is used frequently for technical illustrations. Republished in The Mid-Life Crisis Ladybird Books, 2015.
Detail from image at left shows even such a smooth illustration can have brush marks and how the artist has caught the reflected sunlight in the windows of the Rover.
What a beautiful portrait in coloured pencils by Linda Fennimore for this record cover for Billy Ocean, 1984.
Detail from image at left shows the beautiful looseness of the pencil work, yet still achieving the accuracy of Ocean's face.

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.)

Weetbix 1954

A Weetbix breakfast cereal ad from Womens Weekly June 30, 1954

Tessa 1974

A Tessa Furniture ad from Vogue Living October-December 1974


How to communicate to an audience?

This is the major task in this Area of study.

If we consider the Outcome descriptor for this Area of Study: On completion of this unity 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.

These two posters are both from Australian companies yet represent very different ideas and communicate very different concepts. Your job will be to analyse the visual communications and to describe how visual communications in this design field have been influenced by past and contemporary practices, and by social and cultural factors.

This is not a comparative task, but two separate analyses. 

Complete each analysis under the following headings template:

  1. Identify the visual communication's, client, target audience, purpose,
  2. Describe the type and image content,
  3. Identify two dominant design elements and two dominant design principles and explain how they contribute to the communication of ideas to the target audience,
  4. Identify the materials, methods and media used and explain how they contribute to the communication of ideas to the target audience in relation to the VC's purpose,
  5. identify influences by past and contemporary practices, and social and cultural factors and explain how they have contributed to the shaping of this design.

For the Weekbix ad research:

  • post war reconstruction,
  • gender stereotypes in the 1950s,
  • American illustration including those by Norman Rockwell.

For the Tessa ad research:

  • The history of the Tessa Furniture company and  the designer Fred Lowen,
  • Scandinavian (mid century) furniture in the 1950 - 70s.
  • The origins and use of Helvetica, how and when it was first used outside Europe, 
  • Massimo Vignelli,
  • (Swiss) international (typographic) design style,

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).

  1. Describe what is meant by the term 'communication design'?
  2. What is meant by 'past and contemporary practices, and social and cultural factors' influencing design?
  3. How can the choice and use of materials, methods and media contribute to the ideas communicated in visual communications?
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
Complete the evaluation, deeper learning and rating tasks as shown above.
[cbratingsystem form_id="2"]

Assessment criteria

The extent to which the student identifies and explains:

  1. social and cultural factors that influence the design of visual communications, such as religion, community values and politics,
  2. factors that influence visual communication practices, such as technology, economics and environmental considerations
  3. design styles of past and contemporary key designers
  4. ways in which manual and digital methods, media, materials, design elements and design principles are influenced by past and contemporary practices and cultural and social factors.
  5. Uses appropriate visual communication terminology

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.