Communication is one of the basic needs of the human beings. People have become the smart creatures after they created more or less system of signs understandable for all of them that were helpful for their communication. On the whole, communication, and language in particular, has made human beings substantially different from other species of animals on the Earth. Consequently, people are vitally dependant upon their language and ability to communicate. As far as language is concerned, it is necessary to state first of all that language is a complex system of various and numerous signs that have their own meanings. Sometimes, meanings of language signs coincide and can be differentiated only according to the context of the usage of this or that sign (Balas, 303). Moreover, each language sign has two meanings. One of these meanings is the form of the sign, while another one is the plot of the sign. These meanings are also called denotative and connotative meanings respectively. However, language is represented not only by verbal communication implementing these signs, but also by non-verbal or visual communication (Coleman, 17). So, the topic of this paper is visual communication in all its aspects, its meaning, use and importance for the existence of the mankind. There are three major theories of visual communication and this paper will focus on their proper analysis.
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To start with, visual communication is a phenomenon which is difficult to define in a uniform manner. However, the majority of scholars, including Balas (2003), Tremblay (2000) and many others, agree that visual communication in its pure form is found rather rarely (348). On the contrary, the synthesis of visual and linguistic, or verbal, communication can be observed in much larger number of cases. Even when a matter concerns trade or commerce where laconic character of formulations and saving of time and space are of paramount importance, pure visual communication of producers with the customers does not take place. It is usually combined with some linguistic means of influence, including various slogans, sayings and callings that are directed at making the customers interested. Thus, verbal communication in this sense serves as the completion and explanation of the message rendered by linguistic communicational means (Tremblay et al., 348).
However, the rare cases of the purely visual communication can also be observed in use in the human society. For example, one of the cases where purely visual communication is implemented is the use of specific forms, shapes and colors of certain objects that do not bear any linguistically expressed messages and are pure forms and senses as they are. In other words, the colors that football teams wear are visual messages that bear the meaning of belonging of the person in this particular color to a certain team. Another example is the color choice of gangs that try to differ from others and manifest their presence in certain places by only displaying their colors in public and without any necessity to state their gang-relatedness explicitly by linguistic means (Coleman, 17). On the whole, examples of both cases, i. e. of purely visual or combined communication, are numerous and the following paragraphs will focus on their analysis.
It is an obvious fact that communication, visual one in particular, is of vital importance for human beings. Numerous scholars “acknowledge the important role media play in society – without communication there is no public sphere.” (Coleman, 17) Thus, one of the major theories about visual communication is the symbols and signs theory. The essence of this scientific approach to the issue of visual communication is the nature of any means of communication of human beings, which is “sign-related” which means that people aim at creating and implementing the universal signs that help them understand each other. Consequently, in the context of only visual communication, symbols and signs acquire the meaning of the tools that assist people in rendering the information for which linguistic means are not enough or insufficient at all (Coleman, 17).
Denotation and Connotation
Symbols have dual nature due to their denotative and connotative meanings that are expressed in their forms and meanings respectively. For example, in trade symbols are used to mark a certain brand name or a company dealing with a particular type of activity. Any newly implemented and launched kind of production created by such a company can also have its own symbol for distinguishing (Tremblay et al., 348). If the symbol serving as a logotype of the company “Chrysler” is taking into consideration, one can also single out two major meanings of this symbol – denotative (used to indicate one of the leading automobile producers of the world) and connotative (implemented for derivational purpose, i. e. the form of the symbol reflects the philosophy of the company and its trying to produce cars that could almost fly on the wings of speed and power). Consequently, personal images of people using the goods with the most respectable symbols are also rather high in the society. As can be seen from the above presented arguments and examples, symbols are used to render the message that would either be impossible to render verbally or it would take too much time and effort (Balas, 303).
Signs, as the phenomena close to symbols in their nature and implementation, are rather specific matter for consideration. In visual communication signs are used mainly to indicate certain state of things in their static position rather than in their development, although exceptions can also be observed. The brightest examples of signs as parts of visual communication tool kit are the traffic signs that are mainly uniform in all countries with certain specific modification typical of this or that region based on its traditions and mentality. As it can be easily observed in day-to-day life, traffic signs are used to render the information or to prohibit some kind of traffic, turning or stopping in a particular place (Balas, 303).
For example, certain traffic signs prohibit driving at speed over certain limit, for instance 50 miles per hour. These signs are created in order to render information and warn drivers about the necessity to lower speed, while it would be impossible to tell it to every single writer verbally. So, the universal and rather helpful nature of signs is observed here. However, drawing from this we can not speak about any denotative and connotative meaning of signs as contrasted to symbols. Signs are used to rendering single meaning as they are implemented to inform specifically and present accurate information allowing no ambiguity (Coleman, 17).
Shapes and colors
Shapes and colors are also means of visual communication used by people to render some particular information. The theory of shapes and colors claims that things acquire some particular meaning if their shape differs from others or if they are colored differently. There are also assumptions that certain colors are typical of some powers or on the contrary weaknesses, political parties or sports teams, criminal gangs or even traffic signs. Certain shapes are also associated with some meanings. For example, triangular form of accessories is a characteristic of a strong character of the person to whom they belong, while round form of things is the manifestation of calm nature of a person who is not eager to quarrel.
Meanings and Use
From the ancient times, people have attributed much significance to the issues of shapes and colors of their clothing, accessories, arms, etc. This fact can be explained by mythological beliefs of ancient people who connected a certain shape of a thing to the meaning it can have or power it can bring to its possessor. Ancient Egyptians built pyramids, as far as they believed that such a shape of the burial place brings a person closer to the better world in which his soul is to meet God. In the modern world, the meaning and importance attributed to colors in visual communication is based on other reasons (Tremblay et al., 348).
First of all, according to various scientific research works, colors influence the psychology of human beings making them friendly or hostile, calm or excited, glad or angry. For example, it is known that red color excites attention and make some people irritated, while green color is calm and it provides for peaceful atmosphere at the place where it is used. Consequently, people try to pick their clothes or other distinguishing features in accordance with the message they want to render. If a person feels angry and irritated he or she is sure to be wearing something in bright colors, while those who feel depressed usually display pale and dark colors in clothing and even in the interior design of their apartments (Balas, 303).
Probably, the most important sphere of color use in visual communication is the sphere of political life, sport and criminality (Coleman, 17). In politics, colors represent countries, regions, political parties and their ideologies. For example, red color was until recently the identification of the Soviet Union and its communist ideology, while green color is the traditional manifestation of belonging to the Muslim world and worshipping the Mohammedan religion. These signs serve the purposes of informing people without actually doing it in the traditional sense. For instance, when one sees a white piece of cloth with a red circle in its center, there is no necessity to say that it is the Japanese flag, and the shape and color in such cases eliminate the necessity to point it linguistically, or verbally. Another example of color use is color differentiation of gangs in the criminal world. For example, the Los-Angeles gangs of bloods and crips are famous for their color code which is blue for crips and red for bloods. These colors manifest their philosophy and single them out from other gangs’ members and from each other when their fights take place in the streets. Thus, their colors serve the purposes of visual communication by eliminating the difficulties for them to identify themselves verbally (Tremblay et al., 348).
Images and groups of images
The final theory to be considered in this paper is concerned with the use of images and their groups for the purposes of visual communication. Images, as basic means to reproduce the phenomena of the objective reality and their groups which are helpful for the purposes of depicting the wide range of events in reality are the most accurate and understandable tools of visual communication(Tremblay et al., 348). Especially, if the impressive power of images and their ability to reflect and complete the social setting are taken into consideration, images and groups of images should be treated with special attention. At the same time, all images used for the purposes of visual communication can be roughly divided into two major types. They can be fictional, including cartoons, sketches and animation characters, and real ones, for example photos and paintings, scanned images, engravings, etc. Both these types bear their meanings, and some scholars claim that “linking design concept development with visual communication has implications for the process by which the designer communicates with self.” (Tremblay et al., 348).
Cartoons and other animation characters and pictures are used in the sphere of cinematography with the purpose of depicting real life objects and events manifesting their main positive and negative sides with special irony or sarcasm (Coleman, 17). Moreover, such images can be used to carry out the hidden protests against certain political regime in a country where an open form of protest is legally prohibited. Special use of cartoons and drawn pictures is made by journalists who want to improve their articles by adding visual aids to them. Readers are more inclined to perceive visual images than a lot of text with dry statistics of presentation of facts: “While they may momentarily forget this essential element, journalists have come to realize that visual communication can be just as important, if not more so, as verbal communication.” (Coleman, 17)
Real images, i. e. pictures or photos of real life objects or happenings, are in wider use in all spheres of social activity. Visual communication uses these images in such situations as education, mass-media activities, social activities and some others (Coleman, 17). For example, in education images with the help of visual communication are intended to demonstrate students the reasons or consequences of some events or processes as earthquakes, floods, wars, etc. Illnesses are also demonstrated to students by visual means using photos or pictures of some symptoms, etc. Social protest actions and manifestations also make use of the images demonstrating the things they fight with and protest against. Finally, mass media are the most grateful users of images and groups of images for the purposes of visual communication (Balas, 303). Special emphasis on the use of images and other means of visual communication is made by the sphere of public journalism which is aimed at affecting their audience to the greatest extent possible. Public journalists, thus, make use of photos of political events and figures, movie stars and singers. In other words, they try to picture as bright as possible the main spheres of social life of human beings keeping in mind that readers of public press perceive images, photos and picture more willingly than text. On the whole, visual communication in this case improves sales rates of public journals and magazines due to the nature of human beings who are attracted to bright colors, images and photos as they are of mind that seeing is better than hearing about something.
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To make a respective conclusion of this paper, it is necessary to state first of all that communication is a vital need of all human beings. Communication is carried out by means of language and is called either verbal or non-verbal in this case, as language possesses linguistic and extra linguistic means of communication. However, there is one specific type of communication called visual communication. The major aspects of the visual communication are necessity to render information which can not be rendered by linguistic means, opportunity to shorten linguistic expression of some idea and attract more people to the ideas expressed by visual communication means. Among these means there are symbols and signs, shapes and colors, images and groups of images. The basic theories of visual communication are titled respectively, and they all reflect the importance of visual communication which is carried out by various means.
Balas, G. R. (2003). Technology and Aesthetics: New Perspectives on Visual Communication. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 47(2), 303+.
Coleman, R. (2000). Use of Visual Communication in Public Journalism. Newspaper Research Journal, 21(4), 17.
Tremblay, K. R., Kreul-Froseth, S. A., Von Bamford, L., & Dunbar, B. H. (2000). Visual Communication: A Context for Developing Design Concepts. College Student Journal, 34(3), 348.