Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Perceptual Selectivity

This post is part of a draft for a new academic paper aimed at a graphic design journal and represents an idea-in-progress. Feel free to comment but questions on how or what next will be answered in future posts as I construct my paper.
Within an anaesthetic experience the very nature of it means that the very perception of the undergoing and doing falls below our conscious perception. We act and react to the causality as rhythmically as breathing but without a consummation of fulfilment. We may recognise we feel emotion as we experience or we may not. But to recognise and to perceive are not the same. In experience the relationship between action and the consequence of that action is given meaning through the perceiving of it. This is a cognitive action and one that selectively places the self into the experience. In recognition a signifier is enough to satisfy. A sign, a label, a familiarity that ‘this’ is what is needed to be done or undergone to move onto the ‘next’ thing is anaesthetic. Any resistance between an old or new experience is minimal. There is no call on the person to perceptually engage in an act of reconstructive doing, selecting meaning of the new experience from past experiences. It is within the placing of the self consciously within the experience that it becomes autotelic and it is this action that Visual Communication relies on within a communicational situation.

It is not a passive relationship between the graphic outcome and the viewer. The ‘aesthetics of surface’ certainly is meant to attract attention (Frascara, 2004, p85) but it is in the ‘aesthetics of use’ that the communicational power exists. It is within the perception of the graphic outcome that that object of attention’s meaning can be interpreted within the correct socio-cultural context. The perception and object are part of the same cognitive operation, they are built up together in the mind of the viewer and completed as a whole understanding. The past experiences and references to pre-understanding of the viewer are perceptually remade into a new pattern of understanding. This new experience is a meeting of the viewer with the designer in an experiential journey to meaning, and then to action. The experience of the past cannot be dismissed from this new pattern of understanding, but neither can it be dwelt upon, as the communicational situation is cognitively kinetic moving the viewer to action from perception. Perception is an act that is not reactive or unreflective. It calls for a personal act of engagement and responsively take in data from the situation to begin to understand what is unfolding. To perceive is to be immersed in the situation, to plunge (even for a fraction) into the context to see what is unfolding.

From perception comes awareness, and from perceptual selectivity comes understanding through interpretation leading to thoughtful action. This action leads to a behavioural change which is where Visual Communication has its strengths. The perception within a socio-cultural experience of undergoing and doing is causally limited. It is partly reconstructed from past experience but this become coefficient in creating new understanding and meaning to the current experience. This pre-understanding is not a bridge from one experience to another experience, but a partial expectation of outcomes that can be challenged and questioned, re-ordered and subverted. This leads to an individualisation of the current situation. Pre-understanding is a contribution that is neither a simple recollection or in its entirety subordinated to understand a new experience. This is a beginning of understanding, and perception advances like waves up a beach towards an action. The experience’s meaning is grown from the situational context, from pre-understood knowledge selectively framed by a personal socio-cultural context, toward an interpretative meaning that is pervaded emotionally throughout. This assimilation of waves toward a meaning elevates the experience beyond mere anaesthetic because the self is responsive within the unfolding experience that has eventually a culmination that is felt consciously, subconsciously and emotionally. This accumulation leads toward an objective autotelic fulfilment, that within Visual Communication is a behavioural change in the viewer. In discussing pre-understanding this segues back into a phenomenological discussion of hermeneutics, and how phenomenological interpretation can be synthesised with Visual Communication to aid the design of better interactions through a visualising valuation of the properties of an experience, long since “dismissed as unmeasurable” (McCullough, 2005, p44).


FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.
McCULLOUGH, M. (2005). Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing. Cambridge: MIT Press.

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