Eﬀective visual communication depends on the successfulVisual incorporation of both skills and tools. In many cases the tools receive more attention (and concern) than the skills that support the fundamental use of any tool. An example of this is theCommunication apprehension many people feel about learning & keeping up-to- date with tools for drawing—3-D modeling software, graphics packages, and even pen & pencil sketching. Understanding and mastering the skills that motivate how and why any particular toolPrinciples is used is more important to the repeatedly successful visual communication.StoryViz: me 375a Visual communication relies on manipulating fundamental graphical elements—shapes, lines, color, text—as well as well expressing thematic content—the message motivating the work. It is a complicate challenge that requires not only knowing what you want to say, but also crafting an expression of that message visually. This is a 24 hour-per-day demand: visual communication has to work even when you are taking a break. Each of the following principles supports a body of skills that serve expert and novice visual communicators. They each require individual practice and as such should be approached with an understanding that at any given moment it will be diﬃcult to focus on them all simultaneously. Eventually they will all function in harmony in ways that support any given tool relevant to the state of the practice: regardless of the technology at the time, you can be an eﬀective visual communicator by understanding principles complement available tools.Clarify to AmplifyConsider the Whole above thePartsUse Treatment to ConveyMeaningAdd an AnalogyDesign within a StructureUse Type as a Visual ObjectALWAYS: Use Contrast
Clarify to AmplifyDistill the content & messaging of your communicated productto the smallest set possible.Why does it work?Frequently your visually communicated product has a tiny windowof impact opportunity: people are on the run or attention spans aredreadfully short. Maybe your message is one of 50 or 100 beingconsidered for a project. Crisp articulation of a single vision helpscommunicate eﬀectively.Clarity does not forego detail. In fact, it might be license to getfanatical about details: if you want to communicate that yourproduct or service is about LUXURY, then you can distill the Consider the Whole above theentirety of your eﬀort down to communicating luxury. That is a Partsdiﬀerent challenge than communicating, say, luxury andconvenience at the same time. The latter is much trickier! Thematic coherence is critical to the overall eﬀectiveness of communication. Small details and bits of glory are important too(!), but they must support a larger intent. Why does this work? The overall intent of your work (the “Whole”) will dictate when and how speciﬁc eﬀorts can really shine. Consider any large eﬀort in visual communication as a multi-course meal. While a particular course may stand out as a delight—an appetizer of bacon-wrapped shrimp or a ﬂamboyant baked Alaska—it will not compensate for thematic variability or inconsistency in presentation. Cartoonists are exemplar practitioners of considering the wholeUse Treatment to Convey Meaning above the parts: their practice is to ﬁrst “rough out” images by blocking in general shapes with pencil or pen. The next stepsThe visual elements when viewed from afar can communicate include taking more time and eﬀort to ﬂesh out details of action andcontent as eﬀectively as the particular intellectual content of characters. The process continues, using more reﬁned tools such asthe work. Treating visual elements such as font, color, line type, ink & color. (This process holds true with digital tools as well). Finaland graphic elements as a suite is critical for cohesive steps includes very ﬁne details such as eyelashes, shading, etc. Thecommunication. important part is that at any given time, the overall action & composition of the work is evident—even from the very ﬁrst rough- out step. The same should be true of any visual design.Why does it work?People instinctively make associations among elements and theyequivalently attribute meaning based on those associations. Take apirate map for example: a hand-scrawled font, dotted lines, fadedand crinkled lines, and graphic elements (e.g, an “X”, skull & bonesﬂag), all work together to communicate a theme.Consider how and when you might want to use treatment tosupport your message. If you were designing an income tax form Add an Analogyfor ﬁrst-time ﬁlers, the pirate treatment would not necessarilysupport the meaning & instruction critical for success. However, Leverage easily understood concepts & successes from others tothe pirate treatment might be eﬀective in communicating communicate your work more quickly & compellingly.adventure and discovery at a science center display or formessaging to school kids going oﬀ to summer camp. Why does it work? Visual communication faces the threats of time and comprehension. An audience will frequently only oﬀer the gift of time with a complementary increase in comprehension. Analogies can make new and complicated concepts more palatable to audiences. A slide rule is like an abacus; a calculator uses the same principles as a slide rule; a computer is essentially a more powerful calculator; a micro- computer is the machine on your desk shrunken to a tiny chip. Analogies are particularly eﬀective in initial messaging to “hook” an audience with something familiar—an easy win—and then again with closing messaging in order to ensure that someone can feel conﬁdent & comfortable in walking away & sharing the new information.
Design with a StructureUse the physical conﬁguration of your content to support themessage; erratic graphical structure can distract focus.Why does it work?Humans are excellent at recognizing patterns among elements aswell as attributing meaning to those patterns and groups.Structural features, such as an aligning grid, and consistent stylestructure, such as font type & sizing hierarchy, all presentinformation in a repeated and predictable pattern. Generations ofrepeated formats have created platforms that can serve visualdesigners today. An example in western culture is the tendency fortext to begin at the upper left of a page and progress to the lowerright. That now “simple” characteristic is an incredibly powerful toolin the design of visual messaging: people will begin the engagementof your text at the upper left unless you do something to force theengagement in a diﬀerent sequence.In the context of your own self-contained work, micro patterns &structure can create similar guides to help an audience focus where Use Type as a Visual Objectit is important, understand when to move on, and recognize calls toaction. Some examples include left-justifying text, using columns to Type and text are every bit as important as graphics and colors.align paragraphs, using color as an indicator of like and unlikeelements, and countless other elements. It is imperative tounderstand that these elements should considered from the verybeginning of the design right through to the last stroke. Why does it work? Type matters because you can see it. That’s pretty simple, but it is often under-recognized. Take a “normal” textbook, for example: content is very often separated into verbal messaging and graphical messaging. You read the words and you see the pictures. The sneaky part is that you see the words too. Use that fact to your advantage—people who design logos, icons, and signs use this fact to their advantage all of the time. Get familiar with multiple font families and pay attention to the ways in which they are used. Some fonts “feel” better in particular ways than other do: by making a choice about a unique font, you are making a unique statement within your messaging. Does you font look playful? Does it feel too serious? Create cohesion among your work by using a consistent fontUse Contrast throughout the content. Changing font styles & sizes erratically can violate the structure of your work and create confusion as a result.Contrast is simply the diﬀerence between things. This diﬀerencecan be graphic—light and dark, thick or thin—or it can be thematic—silly or serious, expensive or cheap. Knowing how and why touse contrast is the single most important skill in visualcommunication.Why does this work?The innate human capacity for identifying patterns comes from theability to discern diﬀerences (contrast) between elements. It isinstinctive to see diﬀerences among multiple elements. Knowingthat an audience will automatically clue into diﬀerences is the ﬁrststep in understanding how to present information.Contrast can be as straight-forward as using black text on a whitebackground (visual contrast) to using only images versus text in aslide presentation. The latter is a hybrid of visual & thematiccontrast; understanding how presentations are normally delivered isan important step in identifying a point of contrast for your ownpresentation—a diﬀerence that will make your work more distinctive.