This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Visual communication" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (August 2013) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Image showing the visual communication process
Image showing the visual communication process

Visual communication is the use of visual elements to convey ideas and information which include (but are not limited to) signs, typography, drawing, graphic design, illustration, industrial design, advertising, animation, and electronic resources.[1] Humans have used visual communication since prehistoric times.[2] Within modern culture, there are several types of characteristics when it comes to visual elements, they consist of objects, models, graphs, diagrams, maps, and photographs.[3] Outside the different types of characteristics and elements, there are seven components of visual communication: color, shape, tones, texture, figure-ground, balance, and hierarchy.[3]

Each of these characteristics, elements, and components play an important role in daily lives. Visual communication holds a specific purpose in aspects such as social media, culture, politics, economics, and science. In considering these different aspects, visual elements present various uses and how they convey information.[4] Whether it is advertisements, teaching and learning, or speeches and presentations, they all involve visual aids that communicate a message. In reference to the visual aids, the following are the most common: chalkboard or whiteboard, poster board, handouts, video excerpts, projection equipment, and computer-assisted presentations.[5]


The debate about the nature of visual communication dates back thousands of years. Visual communication relies on a collection of activities, communicating ideas, attitudes, and values via visual resources, i.e. text, graphics, or video.[6] The evaluation of a good visual communication design is mainly based on measuring comprehension by the audience, not on personal aesthetic and/or artistic preference as there are no universally agreed-upon principles of aesthetics.[7] Visual communication by e-mail, a textual medium, is commonly expressed with ASCII art, emoticons, and embedded digital images. Visual communication has become one of the most important approaches using which people communicate and share information.[8]

The term 'visual presentation' is used to refer to the actual presentation of information through a visible medium such as text or images. Recent research in the field has focused on web design and graphically-oriented usability.[9]

Important figures

Aldous Huxley is regarded as one of the most prominent explorers of visual communication and sight-related theories.[10] Becoming near-blind in his teen years as the result of an illness influenced his approach, and his work includes important novels on the dehumanizing aspects of scientific progress, most famously Brave New World and The Art of Seeing. He described "seeing" as being the sum of sensing, selecting, and perceiving. One of his most famous quotes is "The more you see, the more you know."

Max Wertheimer is said to be the father of Gestalt psychology. Gestalt means form or shape in German, and the study of Gestalt psychology show emphasis in simplicity, as its properties group visuals by similarity in shape or color, continuity, and proximity. Additional laws include closure and figure-ground principles in studied images is also intensively taught.[11]

Image analysis

Visual communication contains image aspects. The interpretation of images is subjective and to understand the depth of meaning, or multiple meanings, communicated in an image requires image analysis. Images can be analyzed though many perspectives, for example these six major perspectives presented by Paul Martin Lester: Personal, Historical, Technical, Ethical, Cultural, and Critical.[12]

Visual aid media: Simple to advanced


Components of visualization make communicating information more intriguing and compelling. The following components are the foundation for communicating visually. Hierarchy is an important principle because it assists the audience in processing the information by allowing them to follow through the visuals piece by piece. When having a focal point on a visual aid (i.e. Website, Social Media, Poster, etc...), it can serve as a starting point for the audience to guide them. In order to achieve hierarchy, we must take into account the other components: Color, Shape, Tones, Texture, Figure-Ground, Balance.[9]

Colors is the first and most important component when communicating through visuals. Colors displays an in-depth connection between emotions and experiences. Additive and subtractive color models help in visually communicating aesthetically please information.[9] Additive color model, also known as RGB color (Red, Green, Blue) goes from dark to light colors, while subtractive color model is the opposite. The subtractive color model includes the primary CMYK colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) which go from light to dark.[15] Shape is the next fundamental component that assists in creating a symbol that builds a connection with the audience. There are two categories that shapes can fall under: Organic or Biomorphic shapes, and Geometric or Rectilinear shapes. Organic or biomorphic shapes are shapes that depict natural materials (which include curvy lines), while Geometric or Rectilinear shapes are shapes that are created by man (including triangles, rectangles, ovals, and circles).[9]

Tone refers to the difference of color intensity, meaning more light or dark. The purpose of achieving a certain tone is to put a spotlight on a graphical presentation and emphasize the information. Similarly, texture can enhance the viewers optics and creates a more personal feel compared to a corporate feel. Texture refers to the surface of an object, whether is it 2-D or 3-D, that can amplify a user's content.[9]

Figure-ground is the relationship between a figure and the background. In other words, it is the relationship between shapes, objects, types, etc. and the space it is in. We can look at figure as the positive space, and ground as the negative space. In comparison, positive space is the objects that hold dominance visually, while negative space (as mentioned previously) is the background. In addition to creating a strong contrast in color, texture, and tone, figure-ground can highlight different figures. As for balance, it is important to have symmetrical or asymmetrical balance in visual communication. Symmetrical balance holds a stable composition and is proper in conveying informative visual communication. As for asymmetrical balance, the balance of visuals is weighted more to one side. For instance, color is more weighted to one color than the other, while in a symmetrical balance all colors are equally weighted.[9]

Prominence and motive

Social media

Major Social Media Apps
Major Social Media Apps

Social media is one of the most effective ways to communicate. The incorporation of text and images deliver messages quicker and more simplistic through social media platforms. A potential drawback can be there is limited access due to the internet access requirement and certain limitations to the number of characters and image size.[16] Despite the potential drawback, there has been a shift towards more visual images with the rise of YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat. In the rise of these platforms, Facebook and Twitter, have followed suit and integrated more visual images into their platform outside the use of written posts.[17] It can be stated that visual images are used in two ways: as additional clarification for spoken or written text, or to create individual meaning (usually incorporating ambiguous meanings). These meanings can assist in creating casual friendships through interactions and either show or fabricate reality. These major platforms are becoming focused on visual images by growing a multi-modal platform with users having the ability to edit or adjust their pictures or videos these platforms.[17] When analyzing the relationship between visual communication and social media, four themes arise:


Members of different cultures can participate in the exchange of visual imagery based on the idea of universal understandings. The term visual culture allows for all cultures to feel equal, making it the inclusive aspect of every life.[19] When considering visual culture in communication, it is shaped by the values amongst all cultures, especially regarding the concepts of high and low-context. Cultures that are generally more high-context will rely heavily on visual elements that have an implied and implicit meaning. However, cultures that are low-context will rely on visual elements that have a direct meaning and rely more on the textual explanations.[20]


Visual communication in politics have become a primary sense of communication, while dialogue and text have become a secondary sense. This may be due to the increased use of televisions, as viewers become more dependent on visuals. Sound bite has become a popular and perfected art among all political figures. Despite it being a favored mode of showcasing a political figure's agenda, it has shown that 25.1% of news coverage displayed image bites - instead of voices, there are images and short videos. Visuals are deemed an essential function in political communication, and behind these visuals are 10 functions for why political figures use them. These functions include:[21]


Economics has been built on the foundation of visual elements, such as graphs and charts.[25] Similar to the other aspects of why visual elements are used, graphs are used by economists to clarify complex ideas. Graphs simplify the process of visualizing trends that happen over time. Along the same lines, graphs are able to assist in determining a relationship between two or more variables. The relationship can determine if there is a positive correlation or negative correlation between the variables.[26] A graph that economists rely heavily on is a time-series graph, which measures a particular variable over a period of time. The graph includes time being on the X-axis, while a changing variable is on the Y-axis.[27]

Science and medicine

Science and medicine has shown a need for visual communication to assist in explaining to non-scientific readers. From Bohr's atomic model to NASA's photographs of Earth, these visual elements have served as tools in furthering the understand of science and medicine.[4] More specifically, elements like graphs and slides portray both data and scientific concepts. Patterns that are revealed by those graphs are then used in association with the data to determine a meaningful correlation. As for photographs, they can be useful for physicians to rely on in figuring out visible signs of diseases and illnesses.[28]

However, using visual elements can have a negative effect on the understanding of information. Two major obstacles for non-scientific readers is: 1.) the lack of integration of visual elements in every day scientific language, and 2.) incorrectly identifying the targeted audience and not adjusting to their level of understanding.[4] To tackle these obstacles, one solution is for science communicators must place the user at the center of the design, which is called User-Centered Design. This design focuses on strictly the user and how they can interact with the visual element with minimum stress, but maximum level of efficiency.[28] Another solution could be implemented at the source, which is university-based programs. In these programs, universities need to introduce visual literacy to those in science communication, helping in producing graduates who can accurately interpret, analyze, evaluate, and design visual elements that further the understanding of science and medicine.[28]

See also


  1. ^ "Subject Week". 2020-11-21. Retrieved 2021-01-28.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ Eddy, Matthew Daniel. "Diagrams". in Anthony Grafton, Ann Blair and Anja Sylvia Goeing (Eds.), A Companion to the History of Information (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020), 397-401. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b "7 Paramount Components of Visual Communication". Infographic Design Team - Infographics Design - Data Visualization. Retrieved 2021-01-27.
  4. ^ a b c Bordley, Robert F. (May 2009). "The Hippocratic Oath, Effect Size, and Utility Theory" (PDF). Medical Decision Making. 29 (3): 377–379. doi:10.1177/0272989X09333128. PMID 19380886. S2CID 45802325.
  5. ^ Rothwell, J. Dan (2010). In the company of others : an introduction to communication (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-533630-6.[page needed]
  6. ^ "The Power of Visual Communication" (PDF). April 2017. Retrieved 2023-04-03.
  7. ^ Jorge Frascara (2004). Communication design: principles, methods, and practice. p.68
  8. ^ "Why Visual Communication is So Important in Content Marketing". 2019-11-21.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Rani, Ruzaimi Mat (2015-09-15). A guide to visual presentation. ISBN 978-1-63159-103-7. OCLC 900012442.[page needed]
  10. ^ Ryan, Lindy (2016). The Visual Imperative: Creating a Visual Culture of Data Discovery. Morgan Kaufmann. p. 116. ISBN 978-0128038444.
  11. ^ Maldonado Moscoso, Paula A.; Anobile, Giovanni; Burr, David C.; Arrighi, Roberto; Castaldi, Elisa (2022-08-24). "Symmetry as a grouping cue for numerosity perception". Scientific Reports. 12 (1): 14418. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-18386-3. ISSN 2045-2322.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Paul Martin Lester. Visual Communication: Images with Messages. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. ISBN 978-0-534-63720-0.[page needed]
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Rothwell, J. Dan (2010). In the company of others : an introduction to communication (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-533630-6.[page needed]
  14. ^ Kumu, Ka. "Using Visual Aids Effectively". University of Hawaiʻi Maui College Speech Department. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
  15. ^ "Color Theory: Additive and Subtractive Colors". The Paper. 2017-03-24. Retrieved 2021-02-11.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ Rothwell, J. Dan (2010). In the company of others : an introduction to communication (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-533630-6.[page needed]
  17. ^ a b Russmann, Uta; Svensson, Jakob (2017-12-21). "Introduction to Visual Communication in the Age of Social Media: Conceptual, Theoretical and Methodological Challenges". Media and Communication. 5 (4): 1–5. doi:10.17645/mac.v5i4.1263.
  18. ^ a b c d Adami, Elisabetta; Jewitt, Carey (August 2016). "Special Issue: Social media and the visual". Visual Communication. 15 (3): 263–270. doi:10.1177/1470357216644153. S2CID 147808318.
  19. ^ "The Cultural Functions Of Visual Communication Media Essay". UKEssays.
  20. ^ Brumberger, Eva (2014). "Toward A Framework for Intercultural Visual Communication A Critical Review and Call for Research" (PDF). Connexions Internal Professional Communication Journal. 2 (1): 91–116. ISSN 2325-6044.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Schill, Dan (April 2012). "The Visual Image and the Political Image: A Review of Visual Communication Research in the Field of Political Communication". Review of Communication. 12 (2): 118–142. doi:10.1080/15358593.2011.653504. S2CID 145705984.
  22. ^ Detenber, Benjamin H.; Simons, Robert F.; Bennett, Gary G. (January 1998). "Roll 'em!: The effects of picture motion on emotional responses". Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 42 (1): 113–127. doi:10.1080/08838159809364437.
  23. ^ Barry, Ann Marie (1997). Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-3435-2.[page needed]
  24. ^ Domke, David; Perlmutter, David; Spratt, Meg (August 2002). "The primes of our times?: An examination of the 'power' of visual images". Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism. 3 (2): 131–159. doi:10.1177/146488490200300211. S2CID 146304039.
  25. ^ Vazquez, Jose J.; Chiang, Eric P. (September 2014). "A picture is worth a thousand words (at least): The effective use of visuals in the economics classroom". International Review of Economics Education. 17: 109–119. doi:10.1016/j.iree.2014.08.006.
  26. ^ "The 45-Degree Line of Economics Definition". Bizfluent. Retrieved 2021-01-30.
  27. ^ "Using Graphs and Charts to Show Values of Variables". Retrieved 2021-01-30.
  28. ^ a b c Poland, Gregory A. (September 2013). "Visual Vaccinology – The Importance of Visual Communication". Vaccine. 31 (41): 4465. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2013.07.017. PMID 23871613.