Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Aesthetics Theory… Visual logic

DAKE, D. (2005a) Aesthetics Theory. In: K. SMITH, S. MORIARTY, G. BARBATSIS and K. KENNEY (Eds) Handbook of Visual Communication: Theory, Methods, and Media. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp3-22.

“Visual logic is defined here as a system of visual relationships that encourages a developed internal sense of image cohesiveness, integrity, and elegance necessary to attract attention and guide the viewer to a sense of aesthetic completion and comprehension. Six individual, interlocking principles guide the development of this sense of visual logic. 

These six principles are 
(a) Ambiguity and Meaning, (b) Control of Direction, (c) Ecological Relationships, (d) Tensional, (e) Unity, and (f) Realism.

(a) Ambiguity and Meaning
(…) The ambiguity and meaning principle suggests that, if aesthetic form and content are effectively related, the visually literate viewer is able to extract relevant information by concentrating on visible relationships and the nature of meaning-making in the human brain. Multiple meanings emerge later from the layered relationships with the other five principles.
(b) Control of Direction
(…) Individual viewers will arrive at some degree of individual connection and relationship to the image based on their individual wants, needs, and expectations. The individual image-maker can control many aspects of ‘how’ the viewer’s perceptual system interacts with visible relationships but not the final interpretation. The maker can direct the viewer’s eye throughout the image’s significant areas through directional clues, groupings of elements, and tensions. The maker can also choose to emphasize certain aspects of the image and to subordinate others in order to direct the viewer’s mind to significant matters. However, the sheer number of visible relationships will quickly overwhelm the parsing and decision-making functions of the brain. (…)
(c) Ecological Relationships
When interpreting the inherent visual logic imbedded in an image, the maker (during the act of ideation) and the viewer (in a process of perception) both become involved in an intimate reciprocal and ecological [The study of living things, their environment, and the relation between the two.] relationship with the image. The visual structure offers parameters for perception of possible multiple meaning levels, as well as the potential for fixation on one particular meaning or focused aesthetic response. The maker, through trial and error, shapes this image, and the viewer must empathize with this relationship while at the same time understanding his or her ecological interactions with the structure. (…)
(d) Tensional
(…) the visual elements on the picture plane’s flat surface have tensional relationships with each other, with sides of image, and with its center of the image. The sum total of all tensions, both explicitly perceived and implicitly apprehended, creates an aesthetic impression of mood and a visible foundation for the communicated message. (…)
(e) Unity
(…) Without unity, the experience for the viewer lacks cohesion, making communicative interpretation less sure. With unity, the viewer’s own natural perceptual abilities can interpret visual clues to determine the nature and type of visual message and its relationship to reality.
(f) Realism
Application of the realism principle provides a ground of information that is either believable and true or false and manipulative. Informed visual communication must consider the medium of realism selected by the message designer and its aesthetic and affective dimensions created within the viewer.
” (pp16-18)


The six principles of a Visual Logic mirror a semiotic structure built on perception, interpretation and meaning. The six principles of (a) ambiguity and meaning, (b) control of direction, (c) ecological relationships, (d) tensional, (e) unity, and (f) realism are complimentary to the semiotic process.

A semiotic meaning-journey follows this path Sender > Intention > Message > Transmission > Noise > Receiver > Destination. Principle (b) control of direction sits comfortably within the area that the Sender occupies. The designer is the sender, and as creator they can “direct the viewer’s eye throughout the [design’s] significant areas through directional clues [visual affordances], groupings of elements [visual hierarchy], and tensions [white space, layout, typography, image and colour].”

The Intention, the Message itself and the Transmission of it affect and are affected by the principles of (a) ambiguity and meaning and (c) ecological relationships. The designer’s intention reflected in the design is to facilitate the transmission of the message to the receiver (user). The “visible relationships” that a visual hierarchy communicates helps the user to “extract relevant information” from interpreting the meaning of these relationships. This process of interpretation is a “intimate reciprocal and ecological relationship” with the semiotics in the design visually communicating the intended message(s) at that particular moment in the interaction with the design.

The principles of (d) tensional and (e) unity clearly affect the Transmission of the Message and contribute to the Noise that can prevent the understanding and interpretation of the message. Principle (a) ambiguity and meaning also can become noise if the aesthetic form is conflicted. If the message(s) being communicated semiotically through the visual communication of the interaction are not cohesive and understandable to the user; or if the “natural perceptual abilities [of the user cannot interpret the] visual clues to determine the nature and type” of the visual message then miscommunication will occur. The noise that prevents the communication is a lack of unity between the message, the chosen semiotic sign, and the transmission of it. This noise could be attributed to the design choices in the layout and visual mood of the design. These elements are what are referred to as tensional in the six principles of Visual Logic.

Finally the Destination and Receiver are affected by the principles (e) unity and (f) realism. The level of or lack of unity in the semiotics of the design obviously has a direct impact on the user (receiver) once the design outcome has reached its destination (being used). The realism in the visual communication rests with the perception of the user as to whether they trust that the design will let them achieve whatever outcome they require (contextual to the genre the design operates in), such as does a corporate design reflect the business? does the design of an eCommerce website communicate trust?

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