Kalantzis and Cope on Visual Design Elements


What do the meanings refer to?

  • How have particular things, such as people, places, actions, processes and objects been depicted by using:
  • line? (outline, defining features, length, angle, intersection, direction).
  • form? (shape, size, volume).
  • colour? (hue, density or brightness/dullness, tone or lightness/darkness).
    • What persons are referred to—who? (e.g. a cartoon of a particular person)
    • What places are referred to—where? (e.g. on a map, in a photograph)
    • What times are referred to—when? (e.g. the hands of a clock, day/night, seasons, auras of the future/contemporary/historical, timelines and charts)
    • Which objects of interest are referred to—what? (e.g. an advertisement for a gym, a diagram of leg muscles)
  • How have general concepts or kinds of thing been depicted? (e.g. an icon such as a plane on a ‘to the airport’ sign, a diagram showing how something-in-general works, such as a human heart).
  • How have the characteristics of these things been depicted, including:
    • qualities? (e.g. perspective and proportion tells of ‘large’, blurring tells of ‘fast’).
    • quantities? (e.g. numbers, one/some/many, less/more/most).
  • How have the relations between things been depicted, including:
    • part/whole?.
    • possession? (an attribute or something owned).
    • proximity? (e.g. near/far, juxtaposition/separation).
    • similarity/dissimilarity? (e.g. sameness/contrast, continuity/discontinuity).



How do the meanings connect the people in the action and the people who are communicating?

  • How are people or things connected as actors in the image:
    • by the placement of picture elements? (e.g. centre/margins, foreground/background, actor/goal, eyelines in images of people, focal planes of detachment/engagement).
    • by the depiction of movement and change? (e.g. trajectories, vectors, direction, interaction between picture elements, cause/effect).
  • How is the viewer is connectedto the image by:
    • the kind of message? (e.g. information sign versus a command sign).
    • the positioning of the viewer? (e.g. perspective, angles, vanishing points, framing, degree of detachment/involvement such as eyelines of pictured people in relation to the viewer).



How does the overall meaning hold together?

  • How are the picture elements arranged? (e.g. composition, foregrounding/backgrounding, framing or defining edges).
  • How is the image sectioned? (e.g. left <-> right; top <-> bottom, centre <-> margin, dispersed/centred focus).
  • How do the picture elements form an integrated whole? (e.g. similarities/contrasts, regularity/irregularity, symmetry/asymmetry, perspective and translating three dimensions into two).
  • What does the image point out? (e.g. prominence, figure/ground).
  • How realistically are ideas or information are depicted in the image? (e.g. naturalistic or realistic depictions of concrete things versus caricature; sketch or diagram versus iconic or abstract representation of ideas or feelings).
  • How are images chained? (e.g. in an exhibition, a comic, the pictures in a children’s storybook, a slideshow, a video).
  • How do media shape the image? (e.g. production and reproduction materials and technologies: brushstrokes in a painting, lines in a drawing, the viewfinder of a camera).



How are the meanings shaped by where they are situated?

  • What is the location of the image, how does it point to its surroundings, and how do its surroundings point to it? (e.g. the painting in the gallery, the map in the travel guidebook book).
    • What visual references does the image use:
    • to things in the world? (e.g. visual analogies, metaphors, imagery)
    • to other images?(e.g. style conventions, motifs from other images, remixing, collage).
  • What is the genre of the image, or similarities with a type or style or method of image making? (e.g. abstract expressionist painting, documentary film making).



Whose interests do these meanings serve?

  • What is the position of the image maker?
    • What is the stance of the image-maker? (e.g. foregrounding-backgrounding, how the image is designed to make its point).
    • What has the image maker included and excluded? (e.g. framing and perspective that includes some things and leaves other things out, selective presentation of visual information).
    • Whose interestsdoes the image support? (e.g. an advertiser selling something or a scientist trying to persuade using a diagram depicting scientific facts).
  • What is the position of the viewer?
    • How does the image maker attempt to engage or get the attention of the viewer? (e.g. where the viewers might be when they see the image, what they might be expected to notice first, the mental images they may be expected to bring to the image).
    • Where is the viewer placed (e.g. power perspectives such as looking up/looking down, appearances of objectivity and truth claims in the form of direct frontal or perpendicular views such as plans and plans).
    • What interpretation does the image suggest for the viewer? (e.g. the positioning of the viewer, things constructed as more/less salient, the purpose or argument of the image).


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