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​​​​​​ VCE advice for teachers visual communication design

Design elements and principles

The design elements and design principles detailed in the Cross study specifications on page 9 must be studied.

Design Elements

graphic representation of point design element

Point is the smallest element of a visual communication. It can be a dot but it is not necessarily circular. Point can be repeated to create shade, tone or texture. Examples of application include half-tone printing, pixilation and dot rendering. Point is also used as a position marker on a map. Point is also used to draw attention to information as ‘dot points’ in text. Point in multiples can create textured surfaces in industrial design and it can exist as a negative in a perforated aluminium sheet used in environmental design.

graphic representation of line design element

Line is a continuous mark on a surface. It can be straight, curvy, precise, of consistent weight, broken, dotted or rough and textured. Lines can be made by any manual or digital method. Lines in multiples are used to create shade, tone and texture. This ‘hatching’ can be regular or loose. Line is also used to denote direction or boundaries in compositions. Lines exist in perspectives and in grid layouts. Line is also the component in technical drawing where thickness is carefully controlled to represent outlines, cutting edges, folds, hidden details, symbols or dimensions. Examples of application include instructional diagrams and illustration, sketching and technical drawing.

graphic representation of shape design element

Shape is an enclosure. It can be simply an outline, a ‘stroke’ in digital media or an area of colour, shade or texture, a ‘fill’ in digital media. It can be organic, geometric, hard-edged or feathered, abstract or symbolic and can be used in conjunction with other elements to create form or pattern. It can be used to simplify complex objects for effective communication. Examples of application include logo, symbols, print layouts, plans and elevations.

graphic representation of 3-D form design element

Form is a three-dimensional entity in visual communication. It can be real as in a construction, or illustrated as seen in an illustration. Form in illustrations may be created by point, line or shape and can be enhanced in tone, texture and colour. Examples of application include any three-dimensional design, construction, 3D print or CAD article in environmental design or creation of depth in illustration, concept drawings or sketch.

graphic representation of tone design element

Tone is light or dark variation of any colour. In communication design tone is used to describe the three-dimensional nature of form in terms of its shadows and highlights, created by a light source. A variation in tone is a ‘gradient’ in digital media. It can be smooth and gradual or created by point or line (dot rendering and cross hatching), subtle or dramatic, depending on its intended use. Examples of application include drawing, rendering and photography.

graphic representation of texture design element

Texture communicates a tactile aspect. It can be real or implied. It may be achieved using a combination of elements such as point and line, and applied in a realistic or an abstract style to create a pattern or to simulate the finish of a material. Texture can be conveyed through media and materials and can be combined with tone. Texture in industrial and environmental design may be for aesthetic or functional reasons. Texture in communication design can create a natural feel in drawing and rendering.

graphic representation of colour design element

Colour is light in different wavelengths as they appear to the eye. We use and discuss colour by considering relationships between them by referencing the ‘colour wheel’ and terms such as hue, complimentary, contrasting, harmonious and high/ low key colours. In addition, colour is used to enhance form, attract attention and create hierarchy. Colour is also used emotionally and symbolically because colours have historical and cultural meanings and associations with feelings. There are two ‘models’ for producing colour. ‘Additive’ colour refers to three coloured pixels red, green and blue (RGB) that when illuminated in various strengths create colours from black to white. The additive colour model applies to TV and computer screens. ‘Subtractive’ colour refers to surfaces or pigments that when increased in saturation filter light, creating all colours from white to black. This model is used for painting and print media and is created by primary colours or cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). In the design industry, exact colour mixes can be referenced by Pantone, RGB, CMYK and/ or Hexadecimal libraries.

graphic representation of type design element

Type is the visual representation of word, number and character. It communicates through literal meaning of words and through visual quality of the type form. Sets of ‘typefaces’ belong to families and can be serif, sans serif or decorative. In addition, type forms can be extended, condensed, bold, italic or 3D. Setting out or positioning letters, lines or paragraphs can be adjusted in many expressive ways. Type can be sourced from wood and metal blocks, digital libraries or be hand generated. Examples of application include in logos, film credits, books, websites and in magazine production.

Design Principles

graphic representation of figure and ground work design principle

Figure and ground work together to establish the importance of visual information within a picture plane. ‘Figure’ refers to components that are more visually dominant than the ground on which they are placed. Figure may also be known as ‘positive space’ or ‘form’. Ground can be known as ‘background’, ‘negative space’ or ‘counter form’.

graphic representation of balance design principle

Balance refers to the arrangement of components of a visual communication in relation to a real or implied central axis. It may be ‘symmetrical’ where components are mirrored along the axis to create a centred and stable composition, or ‘asymmetrical’ where components of varying size and weight are placed off-centre to create a dynamic composition. Components are said to have more/less visual ‘weight’ according to their shape, colour, tone, size or proximity to the central axis. Balance is visual in communication design and can be both visual and physical in environmental and industrial design.

graphic representation of contrast design principle

Contrast refers to opposite aesthetic qualities in any design element or component present in a visual communication. Contrast is used to create emphasis, focal point, visual tension, separate parts, interest, and assists with building hierarchy.

graphic representation of cropping design principle

Cropping refers to the cutting, framing or masking of a component of a visual communication. The component is often oversized and therefore trimmed by a layout module, margins or the edge of the format. Cropping is a compositional technique related to ‘open’ and ‘closed’ composition and was influenced by the advent of photography in the mid-19th century. The two main purposes of cropping are to create impact by showing a component larger than possible in scale and to imply that a component extends beyond the field of the format.

graphic representation of hierarchy design principle

Hierarchy refers to the ‘reading order’ of a design. To establish a reading order enables a designer to first attract a viewer’s attention and then communicate ideas and information in a progressively diminishing manner. Hierarchy is created by design elements or other design principles. Factors determining hierarchy may be the scale, contrast, colour or the positioning of the visual components. Examples of application include print media layout such as posters, newspapers and magazines, website layouts, book covers and posters. Environmental and industrial designers will also create hierarchy with elements and principles including form, contrast, position, and scale.

graphic representation of scale design principle

Scale refers to the relative size of two or more components in a visual communication. These may be similar but different components, including shapes, forms, images and/or type. Variation in size between two or more components of the same kind is used to create depth in compositions. Scale is used to create hierarchy. Scale may also be expressed as a ratio when discussing or producing maps, diagrams, illustrations, technical drawings, models or mock-ups.

graphic representation of proportion design principle

Proportion refers to the ratio between at least two dimensions of a component in a visual communication. For example, two rectangles with the same heights but different widths are of different proportion to each other. Proportion is used in this way when discussing the formats and may be considered when adapting print communication design to web. Examples of proportion in environmental and industrial design can be seen in relationships of components within an object such as the wheels to the frame of a bicycle, or the windows or columns to the walls in buildings. Fibonacci’s Golden ratio and the principles of Palladio’s architecture are also examples of proportion in design.

graphic representation of pattern design principle

Pattern is the repetition or alternation of one or more components to create a visual unit. Any visual element can be used to create a pattern. Repetition can be very powerful in creating a sense of order in a composition. Alternation can create more complex patterns than those created by repetition alone. Examples of application include architecture facades and interior decoration; textile and wallpaper design.

Visual language

Visual language in Visual Communication Design is the means by which people communicate ideas, information and concepts using the elements and principles of design, methods, materials and media, images, typography, signs and symbols. When communicating using visual language the designer may gain inspiration from specific styles, representations and imagery. Ideas and concepts are communicated through the context, placement, and juxtaposition of images, typography and symbols.

Strategies to gain attention and maintain audience engagement

Visual communications, objects and structures are made from a combination of components such as symbols, signs and visual language. Through the conventions of visual language, including the use of design elements and design principles, methods and media, meaning can be created and is used to gain attention and maintain engagement of audiences.

Considerations when designing with colour

In colour theory discussions there is a view that black is not a colour, while white is a colour. This is based on the ‘Colour as Light’ or ‘Additive Colour Theory’. This theory is appropriate for digital design where imagery is generated in the RGB colour model. It is here that black has no value (0 red, 0 green, 0 blue), whereas white does (255 red, 255 green, 255 blue). The ‘Subtractive Colour Theory’ or the ‘Theory of Colour’ as a ‘Pigment or Molecular Colouring Agent’ suggests that black is a colour and white is not. For example, this is applicable to print-based design fields, CMYK printing and fabric dyeing in fashion. These printing processes often use ‘Pantone Colours’.

In the Visual Communication context both white and black are broadly and consistently applied to communications, objects and structures with the consideration of colour models such as RGB (screen/digital) CMYK (print) or HEX (web).

If the use of black and/or white involves a production process, then those components of the design must be considered. For example, if the task has asked for a two-colour logo on a sticker, then the student would need to consider which two colours to print. If they use two specific Pantone colours, they could not then include black because this would be a third colour in the production process. They could, however, have the ground (sticker material) showing through in their design as white, in which case white would be used as a colour in this task. Conversely, if the student were asked to design a festival t-shirt and chose the base t-shirt material in the colour black, then the requirement to print the colour white would become part of the production process.

Further information relating to colour theory see ‘Color and design’ on the Colormatters webpage.