Friday, January 9, 2015

What Can Visual Communications Do?

In a word?  Everything. Visual communication is the conveyance of ideas or meanings via visual images. This includes everything from illustration to logo design, from typography to road signs.

Employing visual communications in your business is a great way to increase your brand awareness. Today, corporate entities and their associated products can be readily identified worldwide, simply by an act of visual communication.

Consider the ‘McDonald’s Golden Arches’ Logo. When it is placed on a road sign, this logo is usually only accompanied by the number of miles away the nearest restaurant is. This suggests that the logo itself is so well known that no text is needed to explain it.

The Nike ‘Swoosh’ is another prominent example, as is Apple’s, um, Apple.

The subject of the corporate world’s reliance on visual communication (together with its effect on the rest of us) was covered extensively by Naomi Klein, one of our favourite authors, in her 2000 bestseller, ‘No Logo’. She says,

“Advertising and sponsorship have always been about using imagery to equate products with positive cultural or lifestyle experiences. What makes nineties-style branding different is that it increasingly seeks to take these associations out of the representational realm and make them a livid reality. So the goal is not merely to have child actors drinking Coke in a TV commercial, but for students to brainstorm concepts for Coke’s next ad campaign in English class.”

If you’re looking for a definitive answer to your question, look no futher than ‘No Logo’.

Visual communication can be used to convey instant meaning, which is especially good for road signs. Typically, road signs contain no words, just an image representing the thing that motorists are supposed to be aware of. A figure of a man digging up the road, for example, denotes roadworks ahead (although, to be fair, it also looks as if he could be putting up an umbrella). A silhouette of a deer (or, in Australia, a kangaroo) indicates the presence of animals in the area that may pose a danger to motorists (or themselves).

It is also used as a sort of communicational shorthand, with increasing levels of cross-cultural complexity. For example, horror movies would once have been advertised with a typeface made from blood, or slime, to convey the ‘horror’ of the movie. However in today’s world, such advertising would only be used in pastiche horror movies, or else horror movies that were being made to invoke a bygone era. Movies that used a stereotypically ‘ethnic’ typeface (such as to evoke a now-problematic ‘Chinese’ or ‘Indian’ feel), might now find that those typefaces are used for movies knowingly aimed at Asian American or British-Indian audiences.

Visual communication can provide a wealth of information in just one simple image, or a few words. The ‘Star Wars’ typeface, for example, evokes the science fiction film franchise, even if all it says is “Danger: High Voltage” or similar.

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