WHAT IS AN AUDIENCE?
An audience is the group of people to which a product, media product or visual communication is intended to attract or appeal to. Audience is also referred to as the target audience or specific target audience.
Audience refers to the people who are intended to see a visual communication or use a product. Different people like different products. They are also attracted to different visual communications. Designers appeal to different audiences when they design visual communications.
In most cases an audience and a client are not the same. The client is the person commissioning or requesting a design, an audience are the people who will use or see it.
In Visual Communication Design we have to be able to identify and describe an audience when we analyse and create visual communications.
TWO TIPS FOR DISCUSSING AUDIENCE
An audience is described by referring to specific points of difference between people. These points of difference are organised into categories, known as audience characteristics.
Students must be familiar with all of the characteristics to identify and discuss an audience. This page is organised into the following categories of audience characteristics. These groups are;
- Demographics = classification of people according to facts about an audience.
- Psychographics = classification of people according to attitudes and psychological criteria.
(For Media only)
- Experiences = media people have experienced in a relevant genre in the past.
- Expectations = how people might expect to be effected by a media product.
There are six audience characteristics for describing and audience in VCD.
These are; Age, gender, culture, location, socio-economic level and interests.
Identifying AUDIENCE CHARACTERISTICS
Students should always choose audience characteristics that they can clearly see there is evidence for in a visual communication. Students do not have to discuss all of the characteristics. Usually one demographic and one psychographic characteristic is sufficient.
Students should be careful not to think they are choosing two characteristics, but are actually choosing one. For example; if one describes an audience by saying that the audience;
- 'likes music and they are interested in the outdoors',
then one has only chosen one characteristic: Interests. Students must identify another characteristic if they are asked for two. One could say;
- 'The visual communication is non gender specific as it targeted to males and females (gender) and people who are interested in both music and the outdoors' (interests).
BEGINNING TO DESCRIBE AN AUDIENCE
Let's examine the audience characteristics for a Toyota Prius hybrid car. What do we know about it? It is an economical car so it isn't so sporty, has a good luggage area and creates minimal exhaust emissions. Let's examine each characteristic one by one. Ask is it relevant. If so, how/ why?
- Age - yes - young parents - Why? Because it has a large luggage area and isn't very sporty.
- Gender - maybe - females - Why? Because it focusses on practicality rather than performance.
- Culture - no - Why? It is not biassed to any national or religious group.
- Location - yes - urban - Why? Because is doesn't have the performance of a long distance car and can only carry light loads conveniently.
- Socioeconomic - maybe - mid range socioeconomic - Why? Because it is a mid priced car.
- Interests, beliefs - yes - people who are interested in saving the earth - Why? Because a hybrid car makes less pollution.
So we define the audience for a Toyota Prius as;
- Young parents, mainly mothers, living in the city who are interested in caring for the environment.
visual communication design
The Movie 'Divergent', a hybrid of dystopian, action and science fiction genres, is made to appeal to people from their mid teens to adults as the story is about a young woman facing challenges as she chooses her destiny in a post apocalyptic world. It would engage a male and female audience, as the action and romance themes are present and each of the main characters act with similar power and prominence in the story. However, the use of a strong, independent female lead ('Tris) who overcomes challenges thrown at her by male characters may appeal to females more as they will be pleased to identify with her.
Audiences may have experienced other movies in this genre such as the 'Hunger Games' series. They may also be teens or young adults who are experiencing finding their true identity in life and identify with the themes of choice and destiny depicted.
Once engaged in the story, audiences would expect a fast paced, energetic ride that builds on their previous movie experiences. They may hope the two main characters will eventually find love and that 'Tris will give it all, to overcome the huge physical and mental challenges she faces 'Dauntless' and rise to become the victor over evil.
We rarely find that a product is aimed at people of one age. It is more likely that they are aimed at people within a range of ages. Some examples of age ranges are;
- over fifties.
We can also refer to the stage of life people are in. Stages of life influences purchasing decisions. People want products that define and suit their stage of life. Some examples of stages of life are;
- first time mothers
- Grey nomads
People can also be categorised by the generation into which they were born. Dividing the market by generations looks at the social, political and economic influences that formed people’s attitudes, beliefs and values.
Dividing a market by generation is not so popular, or precise now as people do not agree on what name to give the current generation of kids, nor which years actually define generations for those when born into the digital age. Generations just don't seem to last as long as they used to now. Some generation names are;
- The Silent Generation,
- Baby Boomers,
- Generation X,
- Generation Y,
- Connected Generation.
Males and females often have different purchasing preferences. Visual communications and products can be designed for boys or men, girls or women or for both (gender inclusive).
Some products are aimed specifically at males or females. Look for image, colours, textures, type or shapes that seem to appeal more to one specific gender.
Many other products are designed for both genders. Look for colours especially that will appeal to men and women together.
Culture, race, religion
When identifying and analysing the audience of a visual communication ask, ‘Does a visual communication contain any references to culture, religion, race or nationality?’ Clues may be hiding in the images, patterns or in colours. Try to find out what those references mean.
Establish if the communication is culturally inclusive or exclusive. (trying to include more kinds of people or to exclude other groups of people).
Consider if people from anywhere, with any cultural background would read (understand) the messages in the visual communication in the same ways you do?
Take care not to confuse culture with location. People from one location may belong to different cultures.
The location of an audience member exerts a huge impact on the choices they make about the products and services they buy. An audience’s tastes and preferences are formed by where they live or work.
Words that describe location include;
- city dwellers,
- remote .
Determine where a visual communication or product is designed to be consumed. Take care not to confuse the location of the target audience with the location of an image shown in a visual communication.
The Toyota Landcruiser 4 x 4 is intended for people living in rural or remote locations. These people often drive long distances and carry large loads on un-made roads.
The Smart car is designed for people living in urban locations. Its small size makes it both fuel efficient and easy to park.
In discussing location, take care to identify where the product will be seen or used. Remember, this location refers to the location of the audience, not the context, and not to cultural or racial considerations.
A person’s socio-economic level is a kind of score made up by combining three factors. A person's;
- education - from school to university
- income - from nil to > $120,ooo,
- occupation - from unemployed unskilled through part time, casual to full time professional.
People are classed by numerical scores that are combined to place them in one of 5 groups known as 'quintiles'. These are: AB, C, D, E, FG. Information about people within the quintiles describes the member’s general purchasing ability.
To discern to which socio-economic level in a visual communication is aimed, look for;
- the kind of images used,
- use of colour,
- kinds of type and layout conventions,
- other conventions such as use of 'white space',
- the content,
- the methods of printing, manufacture or presentation format.
(Research from https://www.emma.com.au/ wpcontent/uploads/2013/09/Socio-Economic-groupings.pdf)
Peoples’ interests and life-styles influence their purchasing preferences. When designers appeal to audience’s interests, opinions and lifestyles they can do so both literally, and metaphorically. For example, an advertisement for a tents would be targeted to people who like outdoors actually go camping. This appeals to the audience’s lifestyle. But an advertisement for expensive Swiss watch with an image depicting an elite fighter jet pilot may not be aimed at pilots as shown, but at business people who believe that values such as competition, independence and achievement are important for success.
Designers may also appeal to people’s desires and intentions. An advertisement for a water efficient shower head or fuel efficient, hybrid car appeals to a consumer’s desire to minimise their impact on the earth's resources.
Interests are a common characteristic to differentiate audience members by. Identify the topic or images depicted in a visual communication and discuss how they appeal to people with certain interests.
Common interests include;
- listening to live music,
- the outdoors,
- health and fitness,
- designer homewares.
Audience experiences give them knowledge of how to read a media product. Certain kinds of products within different genres, and sub-genres, require that their audiences are familiar with the form and genre. Take a low production zine for example. What may appear as a messy, ad-hoc production to one person will be regarded as a wonderful, original and quite special publication by someone else with experience in the form.
In similar ways, movies may appear too violent, or even not violent enough to audiences with different experiences. Experiences are what audience members bring to the table and strongly influence how they read a production.
Experiences are essential for audience members to understand visual language. Without appropriate experiences a production could quite simply be misunderstood.
Relevant experiences may be those of real events experienced in real life, or of represented events seen in media previously.
Right from the first moment a media product begins, an audience member is aware of the genre, their expectations are aroused as to factors like how characters might develop, how they will cope with challenges and how the narrative will resolve.
Audiences expect similar products within the same genre will give them similar experiences to those they have had previously. Some critics believe that media products are becoming more intense and more violent. The increase and desensitisation to violent or sexually graphic events in media is driven by the rising expectations of audiences. Once fulfilled, audiences are constantly seeking a similar satisfying experience. Try watching a fight scene from an action movie from the 1950s for example, or even special effects from the same period, to understand how far audience expectations have developed in cinema.