Visual Communication | MABC

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Learn more about different aspects of visual communication from a professor in our MA in Business Communication program, Dr. Tim McGee.

Transcript

AJ Arroyo:

Hi everybody. My name is AJ. I’m one of the enrollment advisors here at Rider University. I want to thank you all for joining us today. We’re going to be going over the visual communication components within our Master of Arts in business communication. I’m here with our special guest, Dr. McGee, who’s going to be talking this through some of these components. Real quick, I would like to take a second and just introduce you to a couple of members of the enrollment team. Myself, AJ Arroyo, Valeria Benard, Paul Eames, Cathy Rodriguez, and Noel Sepulveda. That’s going to be your enrollment team, is going to be able to help you guide you through the application process. Today I’m joined by Dr. Tim McGee. So Dr. McGee, would you care to introduce yourself?

Dr. Tim McGee:

Sure. I’ll be happy to. I am at Rider University and I work in the Masters of Arts in business communication, as well as in the Baccalaureate Honors program. My history as an educator has often been one who worked in English departments, but my degree is actually in rhetoric. So, when you think of English professor, you might think literature, whereas mine is really about oral and written communication. I have greatly enjoyed working in the Masters of Arts business communication, particularly the visual communication course. I love the course. I’m also a visual artist myself. I do watercolors. So I think it’s a wonderful course because it is so relevant because so much more of what we receive and produce is visual. So that’s what I love about this program and this course. All right. So I think I’m going to now start into the presentation and I have the first slide, is about the grounding fields. But before I go to that one, so I’m going to present under visual communication, it’s roots, branches, theories, and approaches.

Dr. Tim McGee:

So visual communication, as an academic discipline or profession is relatively recent in compared to many fields. It’s got various roots. As a result, multiple different theoretical perspectives, as well as a wide variety of approaches that practitioners can take. In this webinar, I will use some of the roots of visual communication to explain just what it is that theorists, teachers, and students of visual communication pay attention to and how they attempt to make sense the vast collection of visual messages in an ever increasing array of media presentations. So these three grounding fields. Before we delve into the disciplinary roots, we should recognize that all approaches depend heavily upon the way visible images are received physically with the physics of optics, and the way they are perceived mentally or the psychology of perception. The fact that both the physics and the psychology have major influences upon our aesthetic judgments about anything we receive as a visual stimulus.

Dr. Tim McGee:

The physics of optics has been pretty well understood since the 17th century, when Isaac Newton demonstrated that white light is in fact composed of the full rainbow spectrum of colored light of different wavelengths. Using a prism and some lenses, he showed that the rainbow of colors produced by shining light through the prism to be focused back into a beam of white light. Thereby demonstrating that contrary to popular belief, the prism wasn’t adding colors to white light, but breaking white light into its constituent colors. The psychology of perception has advanced greatly in recent years, moving from a simple behavioral stimulus response model that didn’t really explain how our brain makes sense of the stimuli. They hit the back of our eyeballs, to a much more active, productive creation of its image in our minds. Aesthetics is a rich branch of philosophy, with centuries or millennia of history during which philosophers and artists attempted to express just what makes images appealing, beautiful or emotionally moving in some way.

Dr. Tim McGee:

These three disciplines provide the grounds from which a number of other disciplines have sprung, to study and theorize about images and how they work. In 1995, Sandra Moriarty, professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado, presented visual communication, a search for roots at a visual communication conference. She listed 10 different approaches to visual communication that encompassed most of the work being done by scholars at that time. In addition to cataloging the various approaches, Professor Moriarty surveyed professionals in the field to learn the key theories and theoretical foundations that structured their work. Visual literacy refers to our ability to read and write images. Development focuses on images as they impact children and how children learn about the world through their sense of sight. Visual versus verbal, it’s two fundamental ways of sending and receiving information against each other in ways that have a long and contentious history.

Dr. Tim McGee:

The psychology of perception was mentioned earlier, and we will go into more detail about that shortly. Cognition and information processing is an approach that has become much more active as computers and artificial intelligence have occupied an ever increasing influence on all aspects of our lives. Art and aesthetics represents an obvious approach to visual stimuli that provides a very useful vocabulary to discuss images in some detail. Ideation can cover a range of things, including the kinds of visualization exercises used by elite athletes as a way to see themselves performing at their peaks. It can also be used in connection with corporate vision statements or mission statements as tools for all members of an organization to see their place in the organization and see themselves as succeeding in it and contributing to its success. Symbols and signs is an approach that developed in the 19th and early 20th century after groundbreaking work by Swiss and American linguists, Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce.

Dr. Tim McGee:

The social sciences can provide a wide array of approaches, including studies of how different demographic groups respond to different images, or the effect of images, depending upon the social context in which they are experienced, and the social relationships between the sender and the receiver of the images. Finally, critical studies applies theories of social philosophy, pertaining to the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures. In the interest of time, I will reduce Professor Moriarty’s 10 approaches to the six that my students have found most relevant to their interests, and most applicable to their work and study. So at the start of each term, I pull the students, show them the 10 fields, and I say, “Identify which is the one that you think is most interesting or most relevant to your career goals, and which is the one that is least interesting or least relevant.” Year after year, these same six appear as the ones that students find most relevant, and by large, I would agree that these are the ones that make most sense to focus on in the course of an academic term.

Dr. Tim McGee:

So the first one, visual literacy. It’s based on the model of verbal literacy, which actually should be termed alphabetic verbal literacy, because the verbal literacy and an iconographic or idiographic language like Chinese or Japanese functions rather differently. Visual literacy includes the ability to consume images, that is read or interpret them, and the ability to produce images or create them. The term visual literacy is not happily embraced by many practitioners because it defines the visual in relationship to the verbal, a relationship with a long history of the visual being subordinate to the verbal. That subordination of the visual to the verbal has roots both in the history of education and in the history of religion. So despite the fact that many graphic designers might not like the phrase, visual literacy is a longstanding and well-established field with deep roots in educational systems and such cultural institutions as museums of fine art.

Dr. Tim McGee:

That said, if you think of reading, writing, and arithmetic, that’s the core of elementary and much of secondary education, art education is often relegated to a second class status, if even that. Plus, what education and visual arts exists is often limited to art appreciation or the reading of visuals with less, if any time, dedicated to the production of visual art. Now, visual versus verbal. This is another longstanding and occasional agonistic relationship. It’s impacted by the long history of printed verbal communication. Only recently has printing and word processing technology tipped the scale back in favor of the visual over the verbal. The technologies of photography, film, television, and now digital video are rapidly and radically changing the visual, verbal dynamic. While Egyptian hieroglyphics were pictorial, most early writing consisted of words only, only in rows. Even before the printing press, illuminated manuscripts gave small space to visuals to decorate the margins of words-only texts. With the invention of the printing press and moveable type, written communication became even more predominantly verbal.

Dr. Tim McGee:

The technologies of photography followed by film, then television, and eventually digital video. Now ubiquitous, via smartphones have radically increased the number of images consumed by all viewers and greatly increased the ability of message producers to incorporate more, better, and more diverse sorts of visuals in their communications. Now, the psychology of perception has advanced greatly in recent years. Behaviorist models of stimulus response to images have largely replaced by models that emphasize the degree to which we construct images in our brands from partial sensations arriving from our eyes. Donald Hoffman, in his Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See, calls this ability our creative genius for vision. Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works, described Hoffman’s book as a lovely introduction to our magnificent ability to make sense of the world before our eyes.

Dr. Tim McGee:

Art and aesthetics. The long history of visual arts has resulted in a rich, sometimes precise vocabulary of terms that can be used to describe and evaluate art objects. According to criteria that while not universal or consistent across time and space, regularly, bespeak, widespread acceptance of conventions and adherence to norms within a given culture. Consequently, practitioners of visual communication have access to a language about images that they can use when communicating about the aesthetic dimensions or aspects of any piece of visual communication. The principles of art overlap to some degree to another collection, favorite by graphic designers called the principles of design, which are balanced, contrast, unity, rhythm and proportion. There’s an even simpler collection of design principles promoted by the graphic designer, Robin Williams, which she calls the C.R.A.P principles; contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity.

Dr. Tim McGee:

Now we’re moving on to symbols and signs. Pictured here are two of the founders of linguistics and semiotics. On the top is Ferdinand de Saussure, on the bottom is Charles Sanders Peirce. The Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure and the American polymath, Charles Sanders Peirce, were roughly contemporaneous. Together, they put the study of language on a firmer, more scientific footing. Saussure promoted the dyadic model of signification, which used a sign and a signifier. Peirce used a triadic model, of signification that included the sign, the object and the meaning. It was Peirce who gave us useful way to distinguish among three fundamentally different kinds of signs. So here we have a symbol that many of us will recognize as the on-off symbol for a computer or other electronic appliance. The interesting things about symbols is that you have to be taught what they mean. There is nothing in that, that inherently says to a user, “This is the on-off button.” When I look at it, it looks more like the wheel on a hospital gurney. So symbols are fundamentally different from icons.

Dr. Tim McGee:

Here we have a collection of icons for a past summer Olympics. I do not have to be taught what they mean, because if an icon is one well-made, I can immediately understand it. So I see the first one has to do with some sort of running and then cycling and then sailing and then boating with multiple rowers. Then there’s a kayak, and swimming, and shooting at a target, and weightlifting and equestrian activities. Then gymnastics, and we’ve got volleyball, basketball, field hockey, soccer, water polo, boxing. The next one was the most cryptic. It took me a while to figure out that’s wrestling. Then we have fencing and then we have one with five events, that’s the pentathlon, and then we’ve got the Olympic Village. So no one needs to be taught the meaning of an icon, because if they’re well-made, they clearly depict what they’re intended to communicate. A walk through an international airport will expose you to a host of easily interpreted icons, which may or may not be accompanied by writing. Thus, depending upon the locale, you may or may not be able to decipher.

Dr. Tim McGee:

So we now move on to the index or the indexical. Here is an image of a thermometer that is displaying temperatures in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. So you look at the zero on the Celsius side, you see that it lines up nicely with this 32 on the Fahrenheit side. So that is the freezing temperature of water. So there is nothing abstract or approximate about an index. It has a direct one-to-one relationship with that which it is signifying. Other less obvious indices are smoke, indicating the presence of fire, footprints, indicating the presence of the humans or animals that left them, body temperature, indicating the presence of fever, as well as indicator words, such as that, this, here, and there.

Dr. Tim McGee:

Of the eight major divisions of mass media communications, and they are books, newspapers, magazines, audio recordings, radio, film, television, and the internet, only two, audio recording and radio, don’t lend themselves to visual communication. The increased ratio of images to verbal text in all these media is well documented. The fact that most Americans get their news from television rather than from reading a newspaper, provides further evidence for the increased influence of the visual over the verbal in everyday communications.

Dr. Tim McGee:

So we move from roots to theories. The roots previously mentioned have resulted in various theories. For example, from psychology, we get gestalt theory, and constructivism, and cognitive theory. From linguistics, we get theories of how the visuals and the words interact as well as categories of visuals as symbols, icons, or indices. There’s also something called ecological theory that takes into consideration the fact that we receive most of our visual stimuli while living and moving in an environment. Then we have color theory, which informs us about cross-cultural connotations of some colors, for example, red, as well as connotations that are very much tied to specific places and times.

Dr. Tim McGee:

So in conclusion, this has been a brief introduction to the variety of approaches that current teachers, students and practitioners of visual communication can take to make sense of images and the messages they convey. Each theoretical approach can be applied to a wide variety of mass communication media that afford or invite visual content. While there is much, well-established knowledge about visuals and how they work, the rapidly changing media ecology is forever opening up new and challenging opportunities to use visuals to communicate powerfully meaningful messages. So that is my say on visual communication. I hope you find it interesting and helpful.

AJ Arroyo:

Awesome. Thank you very much, Dr. McGee, for talking to us about the visual communication and really giving us some more information to think about. To everyone watching this, thank you so much for joining us. We are currently accepting applications for the online business communication program. So please give us a call. Our number here is (877) 856-5140. You can also email us at admissions@online.rider.edu, or feel free to schedule an appointment with an enrollment advisor using our live vCita link. Thank you so much. Everybody, have a great day.