Visual Communication Theories


( I used this website for reference and the knowledge about the visual communication theory, most of the information on this blog post has come from this website and most of it isn’t my own words.

On this post I will be exploring the theory behind Visual communication and what ideas and designs make up visual communication. To help with this project, I want to understand what is the best way to use visual communication to appeal to my audience and apply to my brief. Everything I’ve found out about the visual communication Theory has come from the internet.

Visual Communication is communication through a visual aid and is described as the conveyance of ideas and information in forms that can be read or looked upon. (

Visual communication solely relies on vision and is usually presented with 2D images. This also includes signs, typography, drawing, graphic design, illustration, colour and computerised design. Visual communication also explores the idea that visual messages that are accompanied by text has a greater influence to inform, educate, or persuade a person, client or audience.

In Visual communication there are 6 known theories. There are sensual theories:

  • Gestalt (means forms or shapes)
  • Constructivism
  • Ecological

And there are also perceptual theories:

  • Semiotics 
  • Cognitive

“Sensual”: are raw data from nerves transmitted to brain.

“Perceptual” are meanings concluded after the stimuli are received. It is drawn from previous experiences comparison with other senses, stored images etc.

Sensual Theory: Gestalt

A gestalt theory is about how our mind perceives wholes out of incomplete elements. To work things out (design and puzzles)and how they are affected by where they are and by what is surrounding them. When parts are identified individually it has a different characteristics to the whole (gestalt means “organized whole”).

Gestalt Principles

Figures & grounds

The terms figures and grounds of Gestalt, explains how we use elements of the scene which have similar elements in appearance and shape and group them together as a whole. Similar elements are also contrasted with dissimilar elements (grounds) to give impression of whole.

It is stated that the human eye barely takes in takes in all the visual stimuli and that the brain arranges the sensation into images.

4 fundamental groupings or laws of Gestalt

  1. Similarity
  2. Proximity & contiguity
  3. Continuity/ Good continuation
  4. Common fate

Similarities: things which share visual characteristics such as, shape, size, color, texture, value are seen as belonging together.

Proximity: The idea of proximity or contiguity is  that things, which are closer together, will be seen as belonging together.

Continuity/ Good continuation: The brain doesn’t like sudden or unusual changes in movement of  lines –it prefers a smoother continuation of  lines.

Common fate: The brain mentally groups items that are all pointing in the same direction – items that are pointing in a different direction can create tension.

The brain identifies visual material into discrete groups. What we see when looking at a picture is modified by what we have seen in the past and what we want to see.

Sensual theory: Constructivism

Constructive is attributing active perception and eye movement in constructing an image.

Julian Hochberg, psychology prof. of 1970, discovered that human eyes are constantly in motion as they scan an image or everyday items. Showing that the viewer constructs the scene/image with short-lived eyes fixation, the mind combines it into a whole picture. This finding helped to explain how the mind interprets difficult images.

Sensual theory: Ecological

The ecological theory uses people in the real-world environments. It interprets depth from light and shadow with no high-level brain function required. Many perceptions about size and depth require no “mental calculation”

Perceptual theory: Semiotic

Semiotic is the study of signs; it is the study of anything that stands for something else. In a semiotic sense signs take the form of words, images, sounds, gestures and objects. After research studies have shown that signs are an essential part of cultural life and communication. According to semiotics, we can only know culture  by means of signs, through the process of signification.

There are 3 types of signs

  • Iconic
  • Indexical
  • Symbolic

Iconic: To be like or to be seen as something. Iconic signs most closely resemble the thing they represent.
Indexical: Have a logical,close connection to the thing or idea they represent rather than a direct resemblance to the object
Symbolic: Symbols that have no logical  representational or connection between to the things they represent. Symbols more than the other types of signs, have to be taught


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