Research: Effective visual communication examples

For my last research post I thought I would have a look for some examples of good visual communication based on what I have learnt from my previous posts…


This is an advertisement for Heinz tomato sauce. Firstly I was drawn to this image as an example of photo manipulation, as the sauce bottle is manipulated to look like a fresh tomato. This gives the impression that the tomato sauce is as fresh as a tomato straight of the tree. In terms of composition, this fits with the single visual layout, which seems to work quite well for things like magazine pages. In this case draws the eye to the centre where the main image is, then allows the gaze to flow down to the words and further down to the other available products. The red colour is exciting and energizing, especially against the natural beige background. These colours are colours common in nature, and therefore viewers get the impression that Heinz Sauce might be “wholesome” (though it’s probably not). The advertisement uses colour, photo manipulation and composition to persuade viewers into buying the product.


This second image really intrigues me as it looks like a mixture of photos and possibly digitally drawn images. I really like the minimal use of colour here as it makes the colour that is there stand out in contrast. The green and blue work together really nicely as they are close together on the colour wheel. The use of the timer is really clever, as the water from the melting ice caps floods into the cities below. Although the artist probably didn’t mean our cities are literally going to be flooded, the image is effective in evoking the idea that there needs to be a balance between the environments for our lifestyle to survive. They composition of the image is nice, as the eye is naturally drawn to the centre where the lines of the timer intersect. It then draws the eye up to where the water is flowing from, then down to the city below. This aligns with the writing on the upper and lower halves, so the composition also guides the reading of the message. The whole image, although not photo real, is visually balanced and pleasing to the eye. It almost looks photo real! This image sends a very strong message through its use of symbolism (the timer), colour and composition.

Here are a few other images that I consider good visual communication:


I like the way the line of the arm guides the eye in this image, firstly to the most important feature, the crash, and then down to the words. Also the use of complementary colours, blue and yellow/orange.


I like the simplicity of this design. Firstly the fish having the only colour is quite powerful in the idea of saving its life. The rule of thirds is clearly applied here, with both the bowl and the fish occupying thirds of the image.


Looking over hundreds of visual communication pictures on Google is probably the best research of all. It is powerful to see what you are drawn to and why, and what images invite deeper thinking into their meaning.


Research: Colour

Colour can be one of the most effective communicating tools in a design. It not only appeals to the eye in a decorative way, but can also attract attention, change mood, persuade and shape how we see and interpret things.

Here’s a bit of basic science first…

Colour can be reproduced by emitting light (additive) as on computer screens, and reflecting light (subtractive) as on a book cover and basically everything else that is not a screen. Additive colour works by mixing different wavelengths of light. Red Green and Blue the primary colours in this system. Subtractive colour uses the primary colours Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Colour in this system is perceived through the way the human eye detects the different wavelengths reflected by different pigments.

Colours can be used powerfully in design because of the meanings and values that we culturally associate with them. Often they carry expressive and sub conscious emotional value for viewers.


Brand logos are renowned for using colour in clever ways to incite trust and reliability in their brand. Here are a few of the cultural connotations that colours hold:

Blue= Trustworthy, loyalty, wisdom, science, can also be cold and unhappy

Green= Wealth, money, nature, healing

Red= Passion, energy, power, sometimes anger, leadership

Yellow= Optimism, childish, education, fresh

Pink= Romance, feminine, love, beauty

Orange= Cheerful, creativity, fun, enthusiasm

Black= Powerful, mysterious, elegance

White= Purity, clean, soft, fresh

Brown= Earthy, rustic

These are just some of the many meanings associated with certain colours. However colours cultural perception and context play a huge part in how viewers interpret colours.

When used together, certain colours can create pleasing and powerful relationships. Colour wheels help us to see these relationships between colours:


Monochromatic colours are the variations of a single shade of colour. Analogous colours are related colours that are positioned next to each other on the colour wheel. They provide richer and more varied relationships. Complementary colours are ones that are opposite to each other on the colour wheel and have contrasting warm and cold values. Triadic colours are three colours spaced equally around the wheel and are vibrant and harmonious.

Colour can also be referred to in terms of hue, saturation and brightness:

Hue = The position on the colour wheel i.e. the actual colour.

Saturation = how saturated/rich a colour is. Low saturation means less colour (grey).

Brightness = How bright a colour is. 0% brightness will be black while 100% brightness is the colour at it’s full.

In my image, I want to use greens and browns to represent the environmental ideas behind my article and create a fresh and simple palate. Colour will play an important roll in gaining the right emotional response.


Research: Composition

Composition describes the way visual elements of a design are laid out or organized in the frame. It usually takes into account alignment, grouping, placement, space and the natural visual flow within a frame

Good composition guides the viewer around the different elements of an image, and creates a pleasing viewing experience. It creates a sense of unity, flow and visual interest. Composition can focus a viewers eye on the most important parts of a design. It can also achieve balance, which is something I think is important in my final image because of the natural theme, so I will think carefully about my composition.

A popular composition layout is the rule of thirds concept.


The idea is that the image is sectioned into 9 equal parts using two horizontal and two vertical lines. Important elements of a design are then placed according the intersections of these lines, where the viewers eye is automatically drawn. Horizons are often placed within a third rather than in the middle, however there are no set rules with this layout, it is just a guideline.

This is the layout I am looking to use in my image, as I think it provides a nice natural balance, and that is a big part of the idea I am trying to portray, a balance between nature and humans.

The golden ratio is another common composition layout.

fibonacci-spiral examples-of-the-golden-ratio-you-can-find-in-nature-26434

The idea behind this layout is in its occurrence in nature. The Golden Mean or Phi is a ratio is a mathematical design that takes the shape of a spiral, commonly seen in natural objects such as shells, horns and flowers. Research suggests that viewers are intrinsically attracted to this ratio- even the faces of supermodels have been said to contain this golden ratio. It guides the eye to a single point in the frame.

The single visual layout is a simple concept that involves one dominant focus and simple backgrounds.


The Z layout is also quite simple, following the natural Z patterned eye movement around a frame. It is often used in websites, where elements are placed according to the order viewers’ eyes follow along a page.


Other principals of composition include balance, negative and positive space, rhythm, unity, harmony, movement, pattern and dominance.


Shillcock, R. (2013, September 9). An introduction to composition. Retrieved from–webdesign-14508

Berdan, R. (2004, Janurary 20). Composition and the elements of visual design. Retrieved from

Composistion: Principals of design. (2008, Janurary 16). Retrieved from

Research: Semiotics

Everyday we are surrounded by signs and symbols that we must decode in order to navigate our world. Street signs, for example, use symbols that have culturally accepted and recognized meanings to safely guide us on the road. Decoding these signs and symbols is something we do in our everyday lives, according to the cultural and social conventions we learn growing up. We do it without even realizing.


Semiotics the study of how signs and symbols communicate and create meaning. These signs and symbols can be visual or linguistic, but also come in the form of tastes, odors, sounds, objects and acts that carry additional meaning

In visual communication the concept of semiotics is useful because it describes how images and objects can have a literal meaning as well as more complex meanings, stemming from cultural association, connotation and context.

Effective visual communication incorporates this denotative (literal) meaning with connotative meaning, in order to quickly and unambiguously portray complex ideas.

Take a cross, for example:

Its denotative meaning is simply a cross. It is a symbol.

However it is loaded with connotations that turn the object into a meaningful symbol. Culturally we associate the cross with Christianity (or Satanism if the cross is inverted). It may also be associated with death, especially if the cross is white. It can also be associated with direction or coo-ordinates, the intersection of two things or a target point. The Red Cross has become an accepted symbol for medical or humanitarian aid. The types of crosses and their associated meanings are endless.

Semiotic theory suggests there are three types semiotic signs:

  • Icons are signs that physically resemble something. For example a diagram or a photo of you.
  • Index signs have a direct link between the sign and the object. For example the wet floor signs that are put on floors that are slippery.
  • Symbols are signs that seem to have no direct or rational relationship. For example the colour black can symbolize death, however there is no actual relationship between the two.

I am planing to use the images of a tree and a hand in my image. Trees have the obvious connotation of being a part of nature, and human hands are often associated with care and touch. I am hoping the two together will give the idea that people who want to be turned to compost when they die, are wanting to care and stay in touch with nature- taking nature into their hands so to speak.


Boulton, M. (2005, October 15). Icons, symbols and a semiotic web. Retrieved from:

Chandler, D. Semiotics for beginners. Retrieved from:

Pratt, R.J. (2007). Making semiotic theory more relevant to professional graphic design. Retrieved from:

Semiotics explained:

Research: Digital Manipulation

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 11.54.10 PM In early photography, photo manipulation meant hours spent in a dark room, cutting, splicing and attacking negatives with various chemicals. Today, digital photo manipulation is much easier and less time-consuming using digital software.

Digital manipulation is often confused with editing. Editing is generally used to make smaller changes that do not affect the interpretation of the image, but simply enhance it aesthetically. Digital manipulation, on the other hand, is usually used to create an illusion or deception that changes the image in a fundamental way. Often photo manipulation can involve seamlessly merging multiple photos, applying filters and layering images, to craft a unique and creative image, sometimes with a message or meaning.

A quick Google search generates hundreds of examples of fine art created through digital manipulation. The saying ‘pictures speak louder than words’ certainly can be true when digital manipulation is used in a skillful and ethical way. The result can be beautiful, disturbing, atmospheric, thought provoking and intriguing:

incredible_photo_manipulation_examples_by_photoomanipulation-d4k90un 0ffe59ac58649a04196966fd07656dd5 photomanipulations3kim-kardashian-photoshop-complex-magazine

There is, however, controversy surrounding the ethics of digital manipulation. Alongside the invention of photography came the idea that it recorded the truth or reality. Before digital manipulation, this was true. However digital manipulation now allows photographic images to be deceitful. The airbrushing and photoshopping of human bodies in magazines and online is a perfect example of digital manipulation causing controversy. The idea is to deceive viewers into thinking the subjects actually look like that. More serious issues such as the forging of evidence images in court and use of digital manipulation for a political agenda are also controversial.

To me, the difference lies in the intention behind manipulating an image. It is important not to exploit or undermine the art that is digital manipulation.


BBC. Art and design using ICT: Manipulating images. Retrieved from:

MacDonnald, J., &  MacDonnald, M.A. (2004). Digital ethics? Can digital manipulation produce a benign shooting environment. Retrieved from:

J. Lodriguss, J. (nd). The ethics of digital manipulation. Retrieved from:

Little, J.D. (2013, April 16). What are the ethics of digital manipulation in photography? Retrieved from: