Visual Components

This post is the research piece from my homework over the summer, and due to it’s overly extensive nature I feel compelled to share it. It covers many of the elements that one might need for a graphic design piece or artwork.


Firstly, I want to explain the use of colour and how important it is to initial responses to something. According to Wassily Kandinsky, colours can trigger emotional and psychological responds, that when used in design could attract or repel buyers. An idea that influenced the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements, and is seen today in advertisements, warning signs and other visual media. An example of this would be temperature colours; two categories that convey a sense of warmth of cold. The colour wheel is cut directly in half, the warm side containing red, orange and yellow, while the cool side contains green, blue and purple. Warm colours are generally associated with power, while cool colours convey weakness. Although provided with their surroundings and situation, the categories can evoke different meanings. Like how red can symbolize war or feelings of passion, or how blue can symbolize the sea or a calm feeling. The way in which these colours are used may generate more complex associations; primary colours are considered the boldest and most forthcoming with their ability to trigger responses, complementary colours are a selection of two contrasting colours that opposing one another on the colour wheel, analogous colour are a selection of two to four colours that are blocked together, and monochromatic colours that are made up of one colour that varies in tonal values. There are also split complementary colours, triad colours and tetrad colours. However, those work similar to complementary colours, so I won’t go into them.


Next I want to discuss the importance of proportion, a devise that was fundamental to development of the Renaissance’s ideal beauty in art, as the golden ratio is a testament to this. Proportion works similar to colour theory, if less immediate, but effects the impression received by the viewer. These impressions can convey certain states of being, such as ‘stability’, ‘motion’ and ‘tension’. This was another thing that influence the De Stijl movement, they used scale, which enlarged objects in order to draw attention to them, and symmetry, that aimed for equal measurements and harmony, prolifically throughout their designs. Other techniques manipulating proportion are radial symmetry, that is imagery that spreads outward or inward from the centre like a flower; asymmetry that is the opposite to symmetry and actively avoids harmony; and ergonomics that focus on the comfortability on objects and human needs. If you wanted to create motion in your design you might
want to employ radial symmetry to create the illusion of images moving inward or outward. You could also combine this with colour theory to create an impression of degradation using colours gradually desaturating or
lightening in value.

Shape & Form

The shape and form of a design, be it for packaging or a product, is just as important as the colours used and allows for a design to be interactive. It works alongside proportion, for proportion handles how effective it is visually when constructed. This discipline considers 2D shapes that are used in print or web design, 3D shapes that can be used for a multitude of media, be physical construct or digital, and organic shapes and forms simulate uniqueness and uncontrollable elegance, those you might normally see in hand crafted products or plant life. These can too be manipulated using techniques. Shapes and forms can be geometric, which is generally the idea of symmetry but in physical form, they featured prominently in Art Deco; they can be organic, shapes that derive from nature and can be fluid or loose; they can be isometric, of which are like geometric designs but have stronger symmetry, where all the detentions are the same, like triangles; a zoomorphic design is inspired be nature in a more direct manner, using the shapes of animals for inspiration; combined shapes build up layers of information that generate a sense of energy; and Biomorphic shapes are abstract and have their roots in Surrealism and biological science, creating weird shapes that lack the rigidness that may plague other techniques.

Patterns & Texture

Patterns and textures owe their significance to their effectiveness to the decoration of otherwise mundane surfaces. There can attribute to the interest created for something due to sensory effect that they can provide. Those being the touch and feel of something, to the optical effects created through patterns. Those can influence how one feels about an object, where a soft pillow with simple patterns can appear more approachable, something coarse and with complicated or disorganised patterns may do the opposite. Patterns can have cultural or religious significance that may become a factor to the appeal, such as how curry usually has references to Indian paisley patterns. Texture can have similar influences, such as how steel might remind a viewer of an old industrial factory or how gold reminds a viewer of quality and wealth. There are many different sorts of textures in the world, so I’m not going to list them, however there are a few different elements of patterns to consider. A regular pattern is a repeating formula that rely on symmetry and order; an irregular pattern does the opposite to a regular one, while confusing they can effectively draw the eyes attention; contrast can play a key role in a pattern by using contrasting colours or shapes (rigid and round), to create energy and dynamism in the image.

Psychological Appropriation

While there’s the response attributed to the mind, there is also the response of the individual themselves, be it conscious or unconscious. In the early years of psychology, the development of behaviourism came about to investigate how animals and humans learned. Be it through figuring out mechanisms leading to a reward or to how they develop opinions/associations towards something. I want to draw your attention to the latter, about associations, and to John B. Watson. The reason I’m bringing this up is because of how objects and subject matter, through association, can heighten the viewer’s opinion of something, in a conscious sense, or can be uncanny (strangely familiar), in an unconscious sense. I’ll elaborate on this later.

Watson introduced conditioning to humans after numerus experiments with animals, and concluded that you could control the fundamental responses (those that are our innate nature) of fear, rage and love. By using an unconditioned stimulus (US), you could produce an unconditioned response (UR), that elicited a fundamental response. By using a stimulus (US) along with an object, the response (UR) will be associate with the object, associating it to fear, rage or love. After repeated treatment like this, the individual with become conditioned to respond to the object with the appropriate response (UR), creating a conditioned response (CR) with the object being a conditioned stimulus (CS). An example of this would be the famous and controversial Little Albert experiment, where Watson and his assistant adopted a nine-month-old baby that didn’t seem to be conditioned at all. The child, named Albert, was exposed to regular experiments attempting to control how Albert learned. They were successful, by using the mentioned method they made a white
rat (CS), that Albert previously had no issues with, evoke fear (CR) in the child by creating a loud sound (US) whenever the rat was shown. Albert showed fear in the rat even when there was no accompanying sound, and also showed fear towards other animals that had similar traits, such as being white or furry.

With all this under consideration, it becomes a tool which designers can use to manipulate the fundamental responses of the viewer by taking into account the probable conditioned responses they held. Such as the use of cute baby animals the McVities adverts, they commonly elicit a response of love, because the majority of society adores baby animals. Knowing your targeted audience is vital here, since it’s highly improbable that everyone seeing the design will carry the same response, you’ll have to rely on certain traits and ideals that frequent the audience’s identity that can be visualised within your design. Hence, the McVities advert resonates with people who like baby animals, which is a large audience. The audience has a love for baby animals (CS), and this evokes love (CR).

Artist Research

Bridget Riley

The London-born Bridget Riley is a strong component of the Op-art movement, where art becomes a performance with the way it effects our vision, creating static images that seem to move. Inspired by Op artists of passed generations, such as Vasarély’s digital mind bending images, and the Post-Impressionist George Seurat’s use of colour and how two colour placed next to each other combine within the eye. Riley produces work that, not only tricks the eye into perceiving movement, but also creates images that distort perception in other ways. The work Fall (1963) irritates your eyes by making them want to follow down from the top of the canvas, but in doing so fluctuations occur and the lines become tense. Her piece Cataract 3 (1931) consists of horizontal lines that travel across the page in a wave like formation with altering thickness, but the effect creates new lines that draw your attention more and travel across the page at an angle. The repetitive patterns in these image overload your visual senses and tries to simplify them into understandable forms. August (1995), one of her colours pieces, is built up of seemingly randomly organised diamond shapes. Although, if you look at the individual colours, they seem to be pulled forward or pushed back, creating a complex level of visual depth to the seemingly simple image. Riley’s work highlights the potential of shapes, colours, scale, patterns and contrast. the manner in which she employs them allows for an immediate response to the illusion and demonstrates to powerful effects of the misguiding the eye.

Piet Mondrian

The Dutch painter who broke boundaries between art, design and even fashion. While primarily known for his abstract paintings such as the work Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow that has become a classic example of modernist art, Piet Mondrian provided a whole new perspective for abstraction. He was influenced by a mythical movement called Theosophy, who believed in a spiritual reality beyond the physical world that could only be perceived through the transcendence of the human conscious. Mondrian’s highly abstract work is a testament to its ideas of truth, with its balanced areas of colour. Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow is built from the simplest of forms, including the three primary colours and goes out of its way in order to avoid lines and shapes that make no distinction with the edges or centre of the canvas. A lot of these ideas of simplification translated into an art form he called Neo-Plasticism, which consists of purely geometric shapes that are set at right angles, horizontally or vertically and coloured using the three primary colours. The reason for these colours is to represent a universal harmony, as they were seen as pure examples of all colours’ fundamentals. There is a meditative quality to his work that somewhat resonates with Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism pieces, who’s philosophy is similar to the Theosophists, with art transcending subject matter and coming together harmonically. Mondrian experimented with varying different compositions using the primary colours, but after moving to New York where he created a more rhythmic and energetic piece called Broadway Boogie Woogie that looks very different to his previous pieces yet contain the same Neo-Plastic principles as them, with the exception on any black. Mondrian demonstrates the capabilities of restricted forms that use a limited colour palette, and how much variation they can encompass, be it art, fashion, architecture or anything. He shows us the ability of abstraction and Neo-Plasticism, and the rest of history has shown how effective it is. The Bauhaus and De Stile are the most notable examples of Mondrian’s influence, with their own ideals and formulas very much akin those of the Dutchman.


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