Friday, 17 September 2010

The Interpretive Role

Frascara’s (2004) reframing of graphic design as an outcome of Visual Communication releases Visual Communication to demonstrate itself as deeper and richer than just the unfairly perceived design of an ‘artifice’. Within its internalized design processes beats a semiological heart, where contextually the relational configuration of image and text is reliant on a direct relationship with the person interpreting it.

This relationship is situated within the internal and external life of the graphic design - within “itself, the medium, the place and the time” (Bergstrom, 2008, p82). Frascara suggests that this is the design not of a product, object or visual, but the design of a “communicational situation” within which the design impacts on the knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of the ‘receiver/user/viewer’.

Therefore there is an interactive element to graphic design, between message and ‘receiver/user/viewer’, through the use of the design over duration of time (p13). Bergstrom uses the terms internal and external to explain this. The semiological relationship of how the text and images are laid out in the design; the choice and use of typography; and the art direction of tone, colour, composition, flow and balance, are all the internal variables of Visual Communication that a designer manipulates.

There is a misconception that within a design the meaning is set by the designer, in fact what this refers to is a denotational meaning. An image or phrase in one social context may mean one thing to a ‘receiver/user/viewer’, and in another context something else. But the connotational message the target ‘receiver/user/viewer’ interprets leads only to construct the intended meaning. This visual perception is “pervaded by our attitudes, values and experiences” (Bergstrom, 2008, p80), and affect the process of interpreting the message.

It is within this crucial area that the rhetorical nature of the visual communication engages the ‘receiver/user/viewer’ proactively in understanding the designed message, relevant to their cultural context, to aid successful reception. Bergstrom refers to the designer operating from a ‘perspective of proximity’ to decide upon the internal variables of a design and how they will perform once externalised in space and time.

From a ‘perspective of reception’ the ‘receiver/user/viewer’ visually perceives a connotational meaning through their own cognitive and emotional interpretation based upon their own previous experiences. Through this external involvement of the ‘receiver/user/viewer’ in the reception, interpreting and comprehension of the message, behavioural change can be induced leading to an embodied action.

Barnard (2005) presents the discipline of Visual Communication as a “signifying system, within a much larger system” as a visual constructor for how a “society constructs and communicates meaning” for itself (2005, p67). The visual organisation of the design itself must aesthetically be appropriate and congruent to “establish clear relations of importance, inclusion, connection, and dependence”, and then to “guide the sequence in the perception of a message” (Frascara, 2004, pp67-68). Aesthetics attracts and retains attention to communicate possible actions to facilitate interaction.

It is certainly a Visual Communication aim to seek interpretation of a connotational meaning by a ‘receiver/user/viewer’, rather than their passive acceptance of understanding the surface denotational message. This is crucial to aid the construction of meaning that will then elicit the embodied action and change in behaviour that the design seeks. Understanding itself, Shusterman (1992) insists, should be understood as “corrigible, perspectival, pluralistic, prejudiced, and engaged in active process”, and that understanding “initially grounds and guides interpretation, while the latter explores, validates, or modifies that initial ground of meaning”.

He further insists that even understanding on a highly intelligent level is “unreflective, unthinking, indeed unconscious” whilst proper interpretation is deliberate, critical and conscious thought characteristically involving a “problem-situation”. Interpretation acknowledges that there may be other interpretations or meanings, whereas understanding merely accepts without engaging further (p133). Understanding is acceptance, but interpretation leads to behavioural change.

Csikszentimihalyi (1990) in discussing his FLOW thesis provides a valuable insight into how the processes within a 'communicational situation' consciously/subconsciously happens; where the outcome of the ‘perspective of proximity’ and the ‘perspective of reception’ operate to change behaviour. He says,
"consciousness is phenomenological in that it deals directly with events – phenomena – as we experience and interpret them, rather than focusing on the anatomical structures, neurochemical processes, or unconscious purposes that make these events possible." (p26)
[cont. soon]

References used:

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.
BERGSTRÖM, B. (2008). Essentials of Visual Communication. London: Laurence King Publishing.
CSIKSZENTIMIHALYI, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper.
FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.
SHUSTERMAN, R. (1992). Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art (2nd ed). Blackwell.

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