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Fabio
Arangio
graphic designer
& instructor
FA121210O
fabio arangio via sesto fiorentino, 20 50056 montelupo fiorentino fi...
Fabio
Arangio
graphic designer
& instructor
FA121210O
thought is primary since it is our first response to an input, a vis...
Fabio
Arangio
graphic designer
& instructor
FA121210O
that light and eventually walk towards it. If I were to draw a small...
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Design as visual communication (lecture on), TAW 2012

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What makes design distinctive is the ability to build a visual structure so that we can predict the user’s experience of a product. That is made possible because design is an act of communication, a visual communication that speaks straight to our innate ability to comprehend symbols as meanings through shapes, colors, proportions and alignments in a given space.

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Design as visual communication (lecture on), TAW 2012

  1. 1. Fabio Arangio graphic designer & instructor FA121210O fabio arangio via sesto fiorentino, 20 50056 montelupo fiorentino firenze italy tel. +39 0571 911223 cell. +39 340 8007442 fabio@ingraphix.com www.ingraphix.com www.esserebio.it www.ladolcetoscana.com it.linkedin.com/in/fabioarangio/ anno di nascità: 1974 cf RNGFBA74R03D612X p.iva 05077290483 Lecture on Graphic Design as Visual Communication Design as Use of Space What makes design distinctive is the ability to build a visual structure so that we can predict the user’s experience of a product. That is made possible because design is an act of communication, a visual communication that speaks straight to our innate ability to comprehend symbols as meanings through shapes, colors, proportions and alignments in a given space. It is the relationship between positive and negative space that plays a critical role in this “conversation” established between a design product and its intended user. Good design is design that fulfills a need and has a function. It is design a user can navigate seamlessly, design that works. The goal of a successful designer is to master this wordless visual language. 1. Art and Design Aesthetics vs Function Without a doubt, one of the highest representations of life is art in all its many forms. Art expresses itself through the visual world. Art is an act of pure aesthetics, pure since it responds to no rule or purpose: l’art pour l’art, or art for art’s sake, as artists and writers from the 19th century on would say. Art finds deep justification only in itself, not for what it says, but for what it is. Art is the highest form of creativity we can think of since it knows no restrictions or limits. It is not necessary for art to to carry a meaning or message. We can say that art is a one-way communication. On the other hand, what we call “design” in all its forms (graphic design, product design, interior design, urban design, fashion design, web design, etc.) is truely a form of communication where aesthetics serves a purpose, targeting a specific user or group. We can say that design is a form of art but it must go a step further for design to become good design. Aesthetics is certainly not enough. Function is the keyword. In this sense, design is a two-way form of communication, it needs a user on the other side. A design piece takes life when a user interacts with it. In fact, design is the interaction between a “product” and a “user”. Good design is design that works, and its achievement is measured through the function that it was meant to serve. When creating a design, acting as an artist rather than a designer can lead to a basic mistake: concentrating merely on the aesthetics and missing the design’s original purpose. 2. Visual Communication Speaking Through Signs (Primary and Secondary Thought) We tend to think of communication as an oral or written ability related to the world of words, either spoken or written with the meaning they carry and the emotions they evoke. We are definitely not far from the truth if we claim that the use of words is not our first way of communication since mankind’s history and each individual’s life begins in a world where words are yet not codified and understood. In the very early stages of our life, we react to signs rather than words. Colors, shapes and the relationship between shapes (geometry), gestures and elements of contrast is what we experience at first before words can be understood. We seem to have an innate code to translate signs as meaning (semiotics) and to react to sign inputs. Psychologists have distinguished what they call “primary thought” from “secondary thought”. Primary
  2. 2. Fabio Arangio graphic designer & instructor FA121210O thought is primary since it is our first response to an input, a visual input in this case. It is instinctive and uses innate and before-reasoning interpretation codes. Secondary thought instead offers an interpretation mediated by our capability to reason and needs acquired information that differs depending on our age, culture and individual experiences. Words are not innate, they speak only to our secondary thought system while signs speak to both our primary and secondary thought systems. For this reason, visual communication is a more basic way to “speak” than communication through words, despite what we would think. Advertisers and marketing experts know that well. The success of branding strategies is always greatly related to the visual signs associated to a brand. Furthermore, in our era, words themselves seem to have become visual signs and through the use of symbols, icons, logos and, after the Internet phenomenon, acronyms, most of the time we don’t “read” words but we “see” words. A graphic designer knows how important the choice of a font is when writing a headline or a descriptive text (copy): not only the choice of the font (serif, sans-serif, rounded, geometrical and all other variations of font anatomy) but also all the possibilities of formating that font (thickness, size, style, tracking, leading) so that the text interacts with the available space on the page, with the negative space. The visual appearance and placement of a text on a page is as important as the linguistic meaning of that text. 3. Design as Use of Space Positive and Negative Space We mentioned that we experience (visual) signs before anything else and that a sign can be simply a color rather than a complex shape. A written word is mainly a sign, certainly a sign with a linguistic semantic meaning, but it is a visual sign in the first place, a shape. Visual communciation uses space in order to communicate. For this matter, design is mainly a strategy in the use of space. Positive space is what we see as space containing an element: a logo on a graphic layout, an image or a line. It could also be a piece of furniture in a room, a building in a urban environment, an industrial product. As designers we have to admit that positive space makes sense only because of the “empty” space that surrounds it that, in a certain way, gives shape to it. Empty space is called negative space. Let’s think of the ergonomics of a product, the leggibility of a graphic layout, the accessibility of a building or environment. We need negative space to use and appreciate the positive space. Positive space is activated by the negative space that surrounds it and interacts with it. For instance, a city square is designed by the relationship between the open area (negative space) and the buildings (positive space) that define its perimeter and area. In graphic and web design there is a discipline called eye-tracking that studies how the eye of a reader moves on a page layout, how the eye uses the negative space to move on a page and experience the contents (the positive space). This is not different from a man navigating in a room in order to reach an object, or walking in a street or through a city square to reach a specific spot. 4. The Highest Point of Contrast Positive and negative space. Or better, negative and positive space, since it is the negative space that define the limits and edges of the positive space itself. Moreover, it is the contrast between proportion, disposition, luminosity and color temperature that lets negative space and positive space interact with each other. A small light lit in a dark room makes a strong contrast in terms of luminosity. My attention will be focused on that light and my experience in that room can be predictable. I will very likely turn to
  3. 3. Fabio Arangio graphic designer & instructor FA121210O that light and eventually walk towards it. If I were to draw a small black dot on a clean, white page, I can predict that the reader will move his eyes towards that dot. In this case we say that the page layout is dynamic and the user’s attention is dragged through the negative space to reach that dot. If I turned one chair upside down in a room, I know that a visitor will notice and eventually remember that chair more than anything else in there. It is what is called the “highest point of contrast”. We, as humans, are attracted by elements of contrast. Why? Because it used to be crucial for an individual’s or specie’s survival to notice something different and unusual that could indicate harm. This is how visual signs speak to us. Nowadays, through visual signs, I can depict something as modern, classical, expensive, young, sophisticated or attractive by simply using symbols in space and absolutely no words. 5. Good Design Design that works Design must be good design, otherwise it cannot be considered design. A designer is someone who creates successful designs and in order to achieve that, he or she must master this “conversation” that a product establishes with its user. This is a conversation that uses no words, but only symbols, symbols that are mainly shapes that play in a given space.

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