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Techniques for analysis.

How to
write about design.

Students need to write about designs and decisions designers make when they are satisfying a design need. However, frequently in exam conditions, students find it hard to answer questions clearly. They often stray from the topic and mix up components of their answer. This page will begin to unpack some simple strategies for getting it right.

TECHNIQUES FOR ANALYSING VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS

This page addresses the Key Knowledge point in Unit 3 of the VCAA Study Design for Visual Communication Design 2018-22 p22, ‘Techniques for analysing visual communications’. There are two main factors to consider when making an analysis of design works:

  • The depth of analysis required. This will be directed by instructional verbs.
  • The focus of the analysis. For example, factors that influence design may be the focus of the analysis.

DEVELOP YOUR LEARNING

The framework for analysis discussed in this article is a kind of lens through which one can understand and interact with visual communications. However, in order to discuss designs in an informed way students require a foundation knowledge in all of the areas that contribute to designs and influence the decisions designers make on the way to effectively satisfying a client's design need.

I have a range of pages dedicated to informing students about the interpretation and production of visual communications. Please visit and/or revisit each of them during your analysis and revision of visual communications.

Jump to

For further information on concepts that contribute to the aesthetics and function of visual communications click on the links below.
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Design Elements

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Design Principles

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Materials

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Methods

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Media

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Constraints

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Factors, aesthetics & function

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Visual language

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Techniques for engagement

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Audience

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Purposes

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Contexts

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Instructional verbs.

An instructional verb refers to the action a student is required to perform in an analysis of art, media or design. They begin with simple identification of a component and extend to complex comparisons and evaluations.

which action is required?

The skills of analysis are investigations made by exercising actions into or about a topic. The actions include;

  • Identify (say or list contents)
  • Describe (relate the characteristics of the contents using adjectives)
  • Discuss (explore, give a range of viewpoints or interpretations)
  • Explain (link between example and/ or influences, provide reasons how, why)

These are also the words that are used in exams, so it’s a good idea to get used to using them now.

What do I talk about?

Often a question in an exam asks a student to write on a clearly identified aspect or part of a design. However, when asked to make a more comprehensive analysis of visual communications, it is sometimes hard to know exactly what to look at and discuss. Below is a range of categories that can be used to frame an investigation of visual communication. Use them to prompt an investigation;

  • Overview of the design
    • What is it? What need/ problem does it solve?
    • Who is the designer, date of design or production, the client, the producer?
    • Who is the target audience?
    • What is the purpose? What is the function?
    • What is the context for its sale, display and/ or use?
  • Aesthetic qualities
    • How do the Elements and Principles of Design combine to create visual effects?
    • How and why are materials, methods, media, techniques and processes used for visual effect?
  • Functional characteristics
    • How are the Elements and Principles of Design used to support the purpose and/ or function?
    • How are materials, methods, media, techniques and processes used to support the function
  • Factors that influence design
    • How have social (including political, historical, stylistic, religious, etc.), economic, technological and/ or environmental factors influenced designers' decision during designing the visual communication?

Instructional verbs helper table

Identify

Instruction

OVERVIEW

AESTHETICS

function

FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE DESIGN

Name or list components

HOW DO I IDENTIFY?
Write answers to these questions as simple statements in paragraph form. Resist the temptation to elaborate, describe or discuss.

What is it?
Who was the designer?
Who was the client, the producer?
When was it made?
Who is the target audience?
What is the purpose?
What is its context (where will it be sold and used?)

What are the dominant design elements? List, and list components of them.

What are the dominant design principles? List, and list components of them.

What materials contribute directly to the look of the design?

*For communication design and illustration in industrial and environmental design;

  • What methods have been used?
  • What media has been used?

What is it designed to do?

What design elements contribute to the function? List, and list components of them.

What design principles contribute to the function? List, and list components of them.

What materials contribute directly to the function of the design?

*For communication design and illustration and industrial and environmental design;

  • What methods have been used?
  • What media has been used?
What factors influenced its design including; social/ cultural, economic/ financial, technological, environmental?

model analysis

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Shell Oil Company Logo, Raymond Lowey, 1967.

sample question

Identify two Elements of Design used in the logo.

sample answer

The Design elements shape and colour are used on the Shell logo.
Describe

Instruction

OVERVIEW

AESTHETICS

function

FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE DESIGN

Elaborate on the characteristics of the components you have identified.

HOW DO I DESCRIBE?
Provide more information about the items you have identified. You may begin to elaborate on visual qualities by describing the ways elements and principles work together. Resist the temptation to give opinions or reasons that explain designs.

Elaborate on the nature of these people and groups (listed above)

Elaborate on the nature of the purpose and context.

Examine the visual characteristics of relevant Design Elements and Principles.

Examine the visual characteristics of materials.

*For communication design and illustration in industrial and environmental design;

  • Examine the visual characteristics of methods.
  • Examine the visual characteristics of media.

Say how to the visual communication is used.

Examine the functional characteristics of Design Elements and Principles.

Examine the functional characteristics of materials.

*For communication design and illustration and industrial and environmental design;

  • Examine ’ functional characteristics of methods.
  • Examine the functional characteristics of media.
Examine and elaborate on the factor/s that influenced the design.

model analysis

Image
Shell Oil Company Logo, Raymond Lowey, 1967.

sample question

Describe the two Elements of Design identified in the logo.

sample answer

The colours are warm colours, red and yellow. These are known to advance over cool colours. The shape is a stylised or simplified scallop shell that has no irregularities.
Discuss

Instruction

OVERVIEW

AESTHETICS

function

FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE DESIGN

Examine the design from different perspectives.

HOW DO I DISCUSS?
Consider, refer to and present differing opinions or other readings of the design, whilst resisting the temptations to evaluate. One may begin to refer to the interpretations, meanings, stories behind designs and the ways in which it achieves its purpose.

Consider why was it made?

Examine broader questions about the design in its context like: Is the design mainstream? Is it liked?

Describe the aesthetic qualities. Examine what effect the aesthetics has on the way it is interpreted.
Describe the aesthetic qualities. Examine what effect the materials and methods have on the way it functions.
Explain how the decisions the designer made addressed the influence of factors.

model analysis

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Shell Oil Company Logo, Raymond Lowey, 1967.

sample question

Discuss the use of shape and colour in the logo.

sample answer

The scallop shape is a visual representation of the (name of) shells originally imported by the originators of the firm. The stylised shape is idealised and represents a professional, capable organisation. Being stylised, it is easily recognised and remembered. The warm colours contrast and advance from cool colours normally found in a landscape so as to attract attention. The red appears to outline the shape which would contrast well with sky if it was on a sign. The yellow appears as a fill. This could be on an upper layer, enhancing the effect of advancing. Red and yellow are associated with flame and the burning of fuel for energy for with the company are known.
Explain

Instruction

OVERVIEW

AESTHETICS

function

FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE DESIGN

Link to characteristics and/ or influencing factors, provide reasons about how, why, when using the image as reference

HOW TO I EXPLAIN?
Refer to specific characteristics or parts of designs. Describe them and discuss how they function or meet the design need effectively.  Make links with other designs and influences. Describe how and why the designers made the choices they did referring to the Elements and Principles of Design and materials, methods and media used. Give reasons for the choices designers made in response to influences.

Give reasons for the decisions designers made in response to the needs of the audience, purpose and context.
Give reasons for the decisions designers made in the selection and use of the Elements and Principles of Design and the materials, methods and media to create aesthetic qualities.
Give reasons for the decisions designers made in the selection and use of the Elements and Principles of Design and the materials, methods and media to enable the visual communication to function.
Give reasons for the decisions designers made in response to factors that may have influenced the design including; social/ cultural, economic/ financial, technological, environmental.

model analysis

Image
Shell Oil Company Logo, Raymond Lowey, 1967.

sample question

Explain how colour and shape have been used together in the Shell logo.

sample answer

Colour and shape have been used together to attract attention, provide brand recognition and symbolise the identity of an organisation. Yellow and red are warm colours that appear to advance over cool colours that are often found in landscapes or backgrounds for signs. The yellow appears on top of the red which outlines it. This enhances the effect of depth. The radiating fingers of yellow are reminiscent of a gas flame. This becomes a metaphor for Shell as it is a combustable energy provider. The shape of the scallop shell has been stylised by removing any irregularities in the shape and creating a mirrored, symmetrically balanced shape. This simplicity underpins its function which is to identify the organisation as it is easily seen, read and remembered.
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Answering a question.

In this section we examine a simple strategy for answering a short answer question clearly. We look at how to form a topic sentence then develop ideas into a paragraph.

Topic sentence and evidence

This is a simple technique to help students answer a question as directed and to stay on topic. It is then developed into the use of T. E. E. L. (Topic sentence, Explanation, Evidence, Link) for longer answers. To illustrate, I am using an analogy where different coloured blocks of Lego represent each component of a question. Their colour is then used to relate to sections of the answer.

The question

Consider the question; "Explain how shape and colour have been used to support the function of the Shell logo."
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The answer - topic sentence

Create a topic sentence that answers the question clearly whilst referring to each component of the question. For example; "A stylised shape and warm colours have been used to make the Shell logo easily visible in any context."
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The answer - provide evidence

Following the topic sentence, one must provide evidence by referring to specific parts of the visual communication in the question. Note how each sentence in the discussion following the topic sentence is the same colour as its block in the topic sentence. Each of these sentences elaborates, with evidence on the ideas introduced in the topic sentence. For example (Discussion); "The idealised shape, drawn without any irregularities makes it easy to recognise. The colours red and yellow advance, separating the logo from most backgrounds by contrasting with most colours.
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