October 26, 2009

Anatomy of a Visual Message

The Primer of Visual Literacy by Donis was a really informative read, and helped to clarify the distinctive differences between the three ways that we express and receive visual images.

Representational • Vs • Abstract • Vs • Symbolic

Representational images are mostly images like photographs, which are most successful in recreating a picture with all of its details intact. Realistic drawings and paintings can also be representational, but often tend to lean more towards abstracts. The intended meaning behind a representational image is just supposed to be the image itself, nothing more. But meaning is left for the viewer to decide, so sometimes even photographs don't have only one meaning. Dondis uses the example of a photograph of a bird-one person may see the image as a representation of bird, while someone else might interpret as a representation of flight.

Abstraction begins as the extraneous details are removed from a picture, and all that is left is the emphasized distinguishing features. It's an abstraction only conveys the essential meaning in an image, whatever it is. The visual message in an abstracted image is left up to the viewer to decide, and as opposed to a representational image, the meaning of an abstract one is a little more versatile.

Sybolism is the most simplified of the bunch. "Less image, more meaning" would be the most succinct way of explaining it, even though it's not nearly as easy as that. The visual data that is represented by the a symbol is important to consider as a designer, because of the vastness of the data. One point that Dondis made that I found particularly interesting was the fact that in order for a person to understand a symbol, they have to have previous knowledge about it. Without the education of the meaning, the 'code' of symbolism is completely lost.

Lupton's review of Dondis further emphasies the importance of visual literacy when creating symbols. I'll keep all of this in mind when beginning to sketch my thumbnails for my haiku. It's a lot to remember, but the readings definitely helped with understanding the differences between representations, abstractions and symbols, and I'll try to avoid representational images in my drawings.

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