LVR – reader Research into Visual Communication


Research into Visual Communication
samenstelling: Annemarie Quispel

The aim of scientific research is usually not to be of direct practical use. In some domains it certainly is aimed at solving problems: research aimed at curing diseases, or finding sustainable ways of producing energy. Usually the primary goal of scientific research is knowledge: knowledge to form or test theories about how the world functions and why.
In graphic design or visual communication there isn’t a lot of scientific knowledge yet. Graphic designers use visual means to convince a public of something, to inform people, to explain or to promote things. One and the same message can be designed in a lot of different forms. Which form works better than another, we don’t know. Or rather, we have ideas about it, based on intuition and experience, but generally, those ideas have never truly been studied and tested.

Research in this area is upcoming, but by far not ubiquitous yet. What has been done since a number of decades, though, are quite a lot of studies (especially within psychology) after the influence of perception and cognition on the way we visualize information and interpret visual information.
In this reader five texts have been gathered that are illustrative of the types of scientific research that is being and has been done, which can inform and ground visual communication. Perhaps not in a straightforward, practically applicable way, but more in our thinking about design and understanding the effects of it.
In the first text Friedman clarifies the importance of theory construction for the design disciplines. The second article shows how knowledge of cognitive processes is relevant in the development of visualization techniques that meet the natural ways people perceive and interpret things. In the third article the author shows how people have used graphics since ancient times to extend memory and enhance ease of information processing, and explains the way these diagrams communicate. The fourth text is an example of current scientific research aimed at the practical application of scientific insights in the form of design principles. The fifth article, to conclude with, shows the influence of aesthetics on the usability of visual information.


Ken Friedman
Theory construction in design research: criteria, approaches, and methods
pp 507-522 in:
Design Studies 24 (6), 2003

Mary Hegarty
The Cognitive Science of Visual-Spatial Displays: Implications for Design
pp 446-462 in:
Topics in Cognitive Science 3 (3), 2011

Barbara Tversky
Some Ways that Maps and Diagrams Communicate
pp 72-79 in:
Lecture Notes in Computer Science volume no. 1849, Spatial Cognition II, 2000

Maneesh Agrawala, Wilmot Li, Floraine Berthouzoz
Design Principles for Visual Communication
pp 60-69 in: Communications of the ACM, 54 (4), 2011

Nick Cawthon, Andrew Vande Moere
The Effect of Aesthetic on the Usability of Data Visualization
pp 1-9 in: 11th International Conference Information Visualization (IV’07), 2007

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