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VISUAL LANGUAGE Basic elements


Every human being needs to communicate and not only through words, gestures and music. Images are also used to express ideas, communicate messages and represent diverse aspects of the reality. Communication through images requires its own language called the visual language which is necessary to interpret messages correctly.


Visual communication is a process in which messages are transmitted through images. The images can be graphic o tridimensional, fixed or in movement, with real figures or imagined ones.


In the process of communication various basic elements take part: a) a transmitter, b) a recipient, c) a message, d) a means. Without them it wouldn’t be possible to establish a correct communication.


A transmitter is a person, or a group of people, who wants to establish communication.


For example, when we send a letter to a friend we act as a single transmitter. A transmitter of visual communication that we find in newspapers, magazines or on TV is a company or an organization.


A message is the communication the transmitter wants to transmit. It can be made of different visual stimulus like signs, colours, forms, etc. and it can be more or less complex.


In a visual message two aspects are especially important: the aim of the message and its visual structure.


The aim is the objective which the transmitter wants to achieve through his/her image.


The structure is the visual content, the subject matter and the artistic style, which depend on the aim of the message.


A recipient can be any person or organization to whom the messages are addressed. A recipient is a fundamental element in the process of communication. Everything that the transmitter needs to do to transmit a message (its aim, structure and characteristics) depends on it.


For example, transmitters need to know that the advertisements for children are better accepted if they have vivid and warm colors. The product also needs to be adequate for recipients’ age.


A means is the medium or channel of communication through which the messages are transmitted. The communication channels may vary from photographs to computer means or communication mass media like the press, television or cinema.


For example, the press is a mass media which transmits different types of visual messages: news, publicity, reportage, etc.


To make the visual communication possible it is necessary to use an adequate language. This language has its proper syntax, rules and characteristics which make it understandable in the same way as the oral and written language or the language of music. The visual language, in this way, is a system of communication which uses images as its means of expression.


Each language uses its own code. The visual code is a set of signs and norms which give meaning to a visual message. Also, these norms help to structure the elements of the images in a clear and orderly way.


For example, a norm or a visual code used to design indicative signs need to be easily understood. That’s why they are often visualized by geometric shapes of one color on a background of a contrasting color.

SYMBOLS Religious symbols

Hotel symbols



Many companies use logos so we could recognise their brands and distinguish them among many others. The objective of the visual code is to make the content memorable to the recipients.

Comics use visual language too. The “first plan” is used to describe the thoughts and feelings of the characters because it shows all the gestures and expressions in a very detailed way.


The context of a visual language used in a message can only be understood when it is recognised and shared by both the transmitter and the recipient. The channel of communication needs to be familiar to both of them.


Imagine a writing system based on signs that was invented thousands of years ago by the readers of this epoch. They will understand it but we will only see a collection of signs without any meaning. Only a person educated in the ancient writing systems would be able to decipher those signs by encoding the signs comparing them with other symbols of similar cultures.


The visual metaphors are graphic or spatial resources which are used to symbolise memories, describe situations or suggest feelings and emotions. One colour, object and sign or any other figure can represent ideas of the reality. They are used in all the fields of expression in Art: painting, sculpture, comic, theatre, dance, cinema, publicity, etc.







The visual perception is a process during which one person receives a set of visual stimulus. By means of this process the recipient selects forms and colours, compares and interprets them. It’s because in the perception of images we don’t only use the sight but also personal experience, taste, motivation, etc.


To be able to understand a visual message it is necessary to pay the attention first. The attention means the concentration of mind on one of the visual stimulus. Because of that, the experts in images use in their creations a series of visual effects which have to attract the attention of the recipient. These effects are, among others: proximity and similarity, continuity, emphasis and homogeneity.


When in a series of visual elements these elements are located very near to one another they powerfully attract the attention and are perceived as a whole. What is more, if these elements are not only near but also they are the same or similar the effect is more profound.


When visual elements follow a concrete direction it is very easy and quickly to see what figures mark this direction.


Emphasis is used when it is important to highlight one figure against others. Normally this special figure is located in the centre or on the right of the image. Also, a different colour and size to the rest of the visual elements of the set are used.


If the transmitter of the message expects the recipient to perceive all the visual elements of an image with an equal intensity, he or she creates a homogenous or, in different words, unified effect: the same or similar sizes, forms, colours and movements.


Images can be classified according to their purpose into:  informative,   

exhortative, recreational, aesthetic.


The images are a suitable means to inform in a clear and direct manner. The informative images are used to identify people or groups; indicate actions, directions or places; describe facts or situations; or communicate news.

A) IDENTIFYING IMAGES Identifying images express or symbolise the philosophy of a company or an individual. Their purpose is to be recognised and distinguished among the other ones.  For example: logos, brands and the images of flags. 

B) INDICATIVE IMAGES Indicative images try to show things through signs or notices.  For example: pictograms which show us directions to follow or specific places. 

C) DESCRIPTIVE IMAGES Descriptive images define places or figures explaining their different parts or qualities, normally through a simplified design.  For example: scientific pictures of natural forms, designs of buildings and objects, diagrams and maps. 


Notifying images are the images of the press which accompany the informative texts or leaflets advertising events.

2. EXHORTATIVE PURPOSE Exhortative images try to convince the recipient to do what the message is proposing.  They are mainly used in advertising to maintain the interest of consumers in the products. 

3. RECREATIONAL PURPOSE The main objective of recreational images is to entertain.  A few examples of these images are: comics, films, theatre plays, puppet shows, some newspaper images, etc. 

4. AESTHETIC PURPOSE The purpose of aesthetic images is to awake the admiration and the ability to enjoy the beauty.  These images are works of Art which, through their subject, express among other things feelings and transmit a particular idea of beauty. 

Visual language  
Visual language  

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