Factors that
influence designs.


Factors are contributing influences that shape the way a design is conceived and made. This page explores the range of factors identified in the VCAA Study Design for Visual Communication Design. It will explain what influence is, how it bears on designers and unpack a range of factors that can be used for design analysis, exam revision and forming original designs from a brief in practical work.

How forces create change in ideas

This graphic shows a metal tree on the left. The designer thought it was a great idea. It's long lasting. But it takes a lot of energy and resources to make metal trees. Enter the concept of 'sustainability'. Sustainability is an environmental factor. New ideas force changes in the design. Now the designer has decided to use a real tree. It uses much less energy, keeps us cooler and looks nicer too.

Some terms


Influence and shape mean to have an effect on something. The temperature might influence a person’s decision about what to wear. She decides to wear a coat: The temperature influences or shapes their decision to wear a coat. There are a number of ideas or things that influence or have an effect on designs.


The ideas or things that have an effect on a design are called factors. In the example above, where a girl decided to wear a coat, the factor that influenced her decision was temperature. Factors change people’s ideas. Factors change the ways designers design. In Visual Communication Design we also consider the same concept in reverse. Students can be asked; how did a designer respond to a factor? To use the same example, the girl responded to temperature by putting on a coat. In summary;

  • A factor’s influences causes change to a designer’s idea
  • A designer changes their idea in response to the influence of a factor


There is a famous story that goes, during the Space Race in the 1960s NASA, the American organization behind the mission to the Moon, had a need for a pen that astronauts could use to write notes during their missions in space. Since space has zero gravity this presented a major problem for pen designers as there would be nothing to push ink down a tube. Besides, the pen could leak ink from the back end easily. NASA put together a design team, briefed with the challenge of a designing a fully functioning zero-gravity pen. They worked away, spending millions of dollars on research and development and eventually created the world’s first fully sealed and pressurized pen. It was known as the Fisher Space Pen and was used in many missions to space. However, America was not the only country competing for superiority in space. Russia, who had beaten America with the first satellite orbit of the earth and subsequently the first human to orbit the earth in 1961, also faced the same challenge. How did they solve the mystery of designing a zero-gravity pen? They didn’t bother. They used a pencil!

So how can we apply this story to our study? There are many factors that drive the decisions that designers make. Factors ultimately shape or influence designs. Perhaps the incredible scope of missions to space with an unlimited budget and a need for absolute precision and safety when venturing into the unknown motivated the designers of the Fisher Space Pen to design something that would work no matter what, no matter when, in any temperature, in any condition. If this was true for the Americans, what could possibly have motivated the Russians in finding their solution? I somehow believe that they, perhaps feeling as the underdogs in the Space Race, realized that with their lack of resources and funding, success would lie in their ability to innovate. They knew that creative and lateral thinking would be the key to success. How right they were? Factors that influenced their design decision to use a pencil were economic, technology and time.

In our study students are asked to consider factors that influence designs both as we analyse visual communications by looking back, into the needs, purposes, contexts, social, cultural and stylistic trends that may have surrounded the development of a new design, and looking to the future to how factors will shape designs we make.

The factors that are known to influence design decisions in Visual Communication Design are;

  • Aesthetics
  • Function
  • Social (cultural, religious, political, stylistic)
  • Technology
  • Economics (financial)
  • The environment
  • Legal, ethical, moral

Each of these factors describe the climate for the design of visual communications. Let’s see how they impact designs.

model analysis

A presentation drawing of the Monopoly house pencil sharpener.
T-Van Track Trailer Mk5. 2019. (

sample question

Identify a range of factors and explain how they may have influenced the decisions in the design of the T-Van trailer.

sample question

A range of factors have influenced the design of the T-Van trailer. The industrial designers have responded to these influences appropriately.

Aesthetically speaking, the trailer is composed of geometric shaped parts. Diagonal lines are also used which helps it stand apart from other trailers on the market. Functionally the trailer is designed with an extremely high ground clearance and strongly built components. The materials are durable weatherproof. The trailer uses a range of technologies in its construction including CNC cutting and fibreglass moulding. There are oversize springs to help open the heavy back door. The economic factors shaping the trailer are the 'off-grid' electrical capacity with solar panels designed to function without paying for the cost of power. Environmental considerations have been responded to by making each component of the trailer as durable and long lasting as possible, thereby extending its life and reducing waste.


Aesthetics and Function.

These two factors are important drivers in designers’ decisions because designs are almost always visual creations and made for a purpose. Aesthetics is about the way a visual communication or artwork looks and the visual effect it makes. Function is about the way a visual communication works. This might include the function of communication of ideas and information or for a piece of industrial or environmental design, to work as intended.



Aesthetics has a broad definition. Some define it as the study of beauty whilst others deal with the nature of art and taste (preference). In Visual Communication Design, aesthetics refers to an object or design's visual effect created by the elements and principles of design and/ or other visual components.

Words that describe the aesthetic quality in a design are a summary of the ways visual components work together to create an effect.


An effect is defined as a consequence. This causes that. In our case elements/ principles cause feeling. An aesthetic or visual effect (as it is otherwise known) is the feeling that is created as a consequence of the use of visual components. We identify aesthetic or visual effects by using adjectives. For example, the words sleek and rustic both describe different aesthetic effects.


Aesthetic quality refers to the overall visual effect of the design. (Don't think of the word 'quality' as meaning good or bad but as something’s inner character). Put simply, it means how something looks.

Aesthetic considerations refer to the intention the client or designer may have had in mind in order to guide a design towards a visual effect. Aesthetic considerations may be included in a brief.

These two terms are very similar however, I think of them as ‘quality’ referring to the resulting effect after something is designed and ‘considerations’ as referring to ideas or intentions that may have been present prior to beginning the design.


Although it is widely accepted that definitions of aesthetic quality can be used as judgements, for example; 'The cup is beautiful', we will not be using our study of aesthetics for making judgements about the beauty of a design. Some of the words we use may infer a judgement of the success of a design, for example; 'sophisticated'. However, such a word has accepted associations with particular styles of design and therefore is used objectively and not intended as a judgement of beauty. As a consequence of this approach, students are reminded not use words such as ‘different’, ‘cool’, ‘good’, ‘ugly’, ‘beautiful’, etc. to describe aesthetic qualities as these are subjective terms and reflect individual opinions.


Aesthetic considerations influence designers’ decisions by bearing on way that they select and manipulate the Elements and Principles of Design and use materials, methods and media in visual communications. In other words, the choices designers make in the choice and use of the Elements and Principles of Design, materials, methods and media are influenced by their desire to create a particular visual effect. Students also refer to aesthetic considerations determined in earlier stages of the Design Process, in order to evaluate ideas and make appropriate selections of concepts for development and refinement.

Aesthetics IN ACTION

Here are five different chairs. Each is designed to perform the same function; to support a person at a table. Consider, what makes them different from each other? Certainly, they are constructed in different ways and from different materials, but they are also different, aesthetically. They have different aesthetic qualities, they were designed with different aesthetic considerations in mind. Explore the images and try to find words to explain each different aesthetic quality or visual effect.
Industriell chair. ( /au/en/catalog/ products/40394514/) No longer available. Accessed 2021.
1006 Navy chair. ( /variants/emeco-1006- navy-chair-brushed-us-navy)
DCW, Eames. ( image/v2/BDDH_PRD/on/ demandware.static/-/Sites-livingedge-master/default/dw5a9a3991/ LCW9N_Angled_1600x1600.jpg?sw=1220&sh=1220)
Panton Chair. Holger. Ellgaard, CC BY-SA 3.0 licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons ( wikipedia/commons/e/e2/ Panton_Stuhl.jpg)
Victoria Ghost chair. Phillipe Stark. ( 0101/3822/2677/products/ Victoria_Ghost_Crystal_r_ 1200x.jpg?v=1577157194)

Word Bank

Below is a selection of adjectives that can be used to describe aesthetic qualities and visual effects. These can be used for the analysis of design and in students’ folio annotations.

A=abstract, ancient, austere
B=brutal, business-like, busy
C=casual, childish, classical, cold, claustrophobic, constructivist, controlled, curvaceous, cluttered
D=deconstructed, delicate, dangerous, decorative, dynamic
E=elaborate, elegant, eclectic
F=fancy, flamboyant, formal, fragile, functional, funny, futuristic
G=geometric, graceful, glamourous
H=handmade, haphazard, harsh, heavy
L=layered, light, loose, lyrical
M=mechanical, minimal
N=natural, nostalgic
O=old-world, ordered, ostentatious, old fashioned
P=painterly, plain, professional, playful
R=restrained, retro, rustic, rough, realistic
S=severe, simple, soft, sophisticated, space-age, spacious, sumptuous, sombre
T=theatrical, tight


The term ‘function’ refers the job a visual communication does and how it works. A functional consideration is the expectation for how something should work. The notion of how something works makes sense for industrial designs. For example, it’s easy to understand that a pen functions – that is, writes on paper. Similarly, environmental designs are made to function too. A house houses a family, a school has learning spaces and a shopping centre is a group of traders in inspirational or themed environs. However, thinking how two-dimensional presentations like a poster functions, may not be as easy as seeing how ‘things’ work. To identify the functional considerations that may have influenced communication designs, one needs to first identify their purposes. For example, if a logo is intended to identify the owner of a building, then can it be seen clearly? Does it contrast in shape and colour with its background? Is it simple and recognizable? Is it easily adaptable to other presentation formats? If the answer is yes to all these questions, then the functional considerations have all been met.


Functional considerations are requirements clients have for communication needs. These requirements influence designers’ decisions regarding the selection and use of Elements and Principles of Design and materials, methods and media as they (designers) are mindful of the characteristics of these components in respect to how well they may satisfy the client’s wishes. Functional considerations are often referenced as ‘constraints’ in a brief. Examples of functional considerations frequently used in a brief include;

  • Size
  • Legibility
  • Language
  • Durability
  • Stability
  • Portability
  • Weight
  • Longevity
  • Ergonomics
  • Ease of operation
  • Safety
  • Assembly
  • Accessibility
  • Security

Aesthetic and functional factors

The Elements and Principles of Design and materials, methods and media are used to both create aesthetics and support the function of designs. These two factors are essential in any design analysis.
Elements and Principles of Design function in ways to support an eye chart. Can you identify the ones that have been used here? Can you identify ones that have not been used? Why not?
Materials support the function of this design. Can you identify two materials here and explain how aesthetic and functional factors shaped this kitchen design?

Social and cultural.

Social and cultural factors are the influences on designers that grow out of society. These are felt on a national, state, city, community, family and individual level. This section explains what social and cultural factors are and how they bear influence on contemporary designers.


Social factors mean influences that come from society and the cultures within. All creatives live in some kind of society and share cultural identity regardless of their location. There are many strong forces that act on creatives’ ideas, attitudes and practices that originate from the societies in which they live or have lived. Examples of social and cultural factors are;

  • community values
  • religion
  • politics
  • history
  • artistic, musical, fashion and literary styles, trends and practices.


Community values

Community values as a social factor refer to societies’ beliefs and opinions on;

  • Diversity, inclusivity and accessibility
  • Family and relationships
  • Education
  • Health
  • Gender and racial equality
  • Freedoms, rights and responsibilities

Below are some examples of community values and related visual communications.

Diversity, inclusivity and accessibility

This community value refers to all members of society having the same opportunities without discrimination.
An even more inclusive flag designed by Daniel Quasar to represent all peoples. In an article by Natashah Hill, 12 June, 2018.
( 2018/06/12/daniel-quasar- lgbt-rainbow-flag-inclusive/)

Family and relationships

This community value refers to the roles of family, children, men and women.
For a really offbeat and interesting depiction of family roles and relationships try this one…


This community value refers to all members of society having the same opportunities for education without discrimination.
A very thought provoking poster by graphic Designer, Esmerelda Mejia on
( /macaronimayhem)


This community value refers to all members of society having the same opportunities to health-care without discrimination.
A screen shot from part of the Grill’d website, nutrition page.
( /nutrition)

racial equality

This community value refers to all members of society having the same opportunities without discrimination.
NIKE, Inc. Statement on Commitment to the Black Community 5 June 2020
( news/nike-commitment -to-black-community)

freedoms, rights and responsibilities

This community value refers to all members of society being able to express opinions and exist in safety.
Lynnie Z shown in Design Week article: Protection: illustrators interpret universal human rights in new exhibition. By Sarah Dawood. 10 December, 2018.
( issues/10-16-december-2018/ protection-illustrators-interpret-universal -human-rights-in-new- exhibition/)


Visual communications can celebrate or critique cultural beliefs and community values. Advertising from the before the Nineteen Sixties often depicts men and women in ways that supported traditional gender roles and family values. Conversely, when we examine Postmodern art and Punk music record covers from the Seventies, it is evident that they were critical of their mainstream culture. Consider the role of the Elements and Principles of Design and the method used in communication of ideas.
Cover of Women's Weekly magazine. July 10, 1943. Illustration by Fischer.
'God Save The Queen' (Detail) Sex Pistols. Jamie Reid, Designer, 1977.
( artanddesign/2018/oct/18/ jamie-reid-sex-pistols- artist-interview-pussy-riot)


Religion as a social factor can influence designer’s decisions regarding the choice of symbols, settings and depictions of people. Visual communications influenced by religious values tend to be traditional in their depictions of people. However, they recently promote diversity to appear to be keeping pace with social change.
Home page of ‘One Church’ Melbourne.
Catholic Education Today Melbourne, magazine cover, Term 1 2019.
( News-Events/Catholic- Education-Today.aspx)
Home page of ‘Anglican Church of Australia’.


Political views and ideologies like traditionalism and progressivism shape the ways designers approach communicating ideas. However, other social factors certainly impact the they approach designing political promotional materials. Take the three screenshots shown below for example. They are the homepages from the Australian Liberal, Labor and Greens parties. It should be evident just how much factors such as gender roles, inclusivity and diversity have impacted on designers’ decisions in these examples.
Home page of Australian Liberal party. 18 June 2021.
Home page of Australian Labor party. 18 June 2021.
Home page of Australian Greens party. 18 June 2021.

Artistic styles and practices

Design as a visual art has a history that sits parallel with, yet has close connections with other arts histories. Stylistic trends within the visual arts, music, literature, fashion and theatre are driven by the social, cultural and political climate of the day. They seem to emerge in waves that bring change the entire arts world almost simultaneously. For example, students may be familiar with the painting style of ‘Impressionism’ beginning in Paris in the late 1800s, but do they know that this style swept across the arts and includes impressionist music. They may also not be aware that the artistic style of Surrealism, with its chief painters Dali and Magritte, actually began with Surrealist literature. Contemporary designers often have interests in the broader arts and follow and are informed by trends in fashion and news, social and entertainment media. A quick examination of design history will reveal contemporary connections with the visual arts of the day. Students are encouraged to make an examination of design history to understand its relationship with the visual arts and how each is able to shape the styles and practices of the other.
Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow. Piet Mondrian, 1925.
(By Piet Mondrian - [1], Public Domain,
Campaign for Aizone stores. CREATIVE & ART DIRECTION: Jessica Walsh PHOTOGRAPHERS: Sing-Sing (Adi Goodrich and Sean Pecknold) DESIGN: Jessica Walsh, Daniel Forero 3D & DESIGN: Pedro Veneziano MAKEUP: Anastasia Durasova SET BUILDS: Sing-Sing
Look Cycles Social Media Facebook logo.


An example of the social factor ‘family and relationships’ shaping environmental design is in the changes to kitchen, dining and living spaces in homes. If you contrast the homes of the Forties with those of the Seventies you would see that a new kind of living called 'open plan living' emerged. This is where the house has a shared kitchen, dining, living space instead of separate rooms. Open plan design promotes interaction between people and reflects social change in the ‘Post War’ years.


Technology is any mechanical or electronic process used in a designer's workspace or workflow. Technology and an influencing factor refers to advantages that can be gained through these systems and is often discussed with economics. Despite the high costs of purchasing improved technologies, their use can lead to greater productivity. Examples of ways technology is used to save money include; time saving in design, virtual materials and structural testing, reduced wastage of materials and greater accuracy.


Designers use digital-based methods with the mediums of vector/ raster-based, and page layout programs to design visual communications. Digital technology has shaped every facet of design through developments in the flexibility, portability, editing, enhancing, appropriating, copying, recording, sending, animating, projecting and exhibiting of design solutions. Electronic technologies in design have shaped how designs are made, how they look and how they function.


The technology used for contemporary printing is usually offset lithography and digital laser printing. Both these methods allow full colour raster image processing - enabling type and image to be printed in process colours. Before that, there was letterpress printing that only permitted spot colours. Type and image had sharp edges with the exception of half screen images (made of fairly course dots). Screen printing for posters and garments may permit half screen images and therefore process colours, but often screen-printed images are in solid spot colours with hard, crisp edges. Sign writing with laser cut, self-adhesive vinyl sheet is a durable outdoor printing process. However, cut vinyl can only produce hard edged shapes and type in the colours available in vinyl sheet. Signs made with vinyl are made from vector images. Photography is reproduced with archival inkjet printers on acid free archival papers or laser printed stock. Images on real chemical photographs are rendered in light sensitive silver emulsion coated to the surface of photographic paper. Photography may also be subject to filters and/ or other effects. Photography permits full 'raster' image processing results.


Industrial and environmental designers use CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs to design in 'real space' and create a 'model' of forms for parts and assemblies. All three-dimensional forms are created in computer. Three-dimensional drawings are output automatically from CAD models to create 3rd Angle Orthogonal drawings, perspective views and Plans and Elevations. Sophisticated CAD engineering programs enable designers to 'test' materials for strength and durability and for fit.  CAD also enables architects to specify door, window and maintenance schedules and estimate construction costings for building construction.

CAD models can be exported for complex and realistic rendering. The ‘Toy Story’ movies are renderings from 3-d CAD software. CAD models can be exported for 3-d printing and CNC routing of parts for assembly as prototypes.


CAD technology allows for accurate and direct design using industry specific parts, assemblies, fasteners and conventions. 3d printing is used for making models and prototypes. This technology enables industrial designers to produce functioning prototypes for evaluation. 3d prototypes can also be used to make patterns that can be test fitted and used as patterns for casting metal objects.

Manufacturing technologies influence designs. Advances in medical and scientific technology mimicking growth of cells influences forms. 3d printing of molten metal is now possible.

Advances in plastics and the lamination of wood allowed designers to create biomorphic forms in interior design during the last century. In short, technology, (in the ways things can be visualised and constructed) influences the range of forms that are possible.


When I began writing this section I thought technology was used to assist design. Now I realise technology is design. Cars, for instance are so complex that they simply can’t be designed without technology. If students are asked to explain how technology was used to shape design, or how designers responded to technological factors, they should examine what technologies would have been needed to make the design what it is. These may be within the visioning, the communication between people, the prototyping, the testing, the construction and production. Technology is everywhere in design. It influences successful designs by enabling them to be produced. How does technology help me build this website?

Architectural renderings

Consider how technology is used in every way in architectural renders now.

McLaren carbon fibre chassis

Watch this and identify how many ways technology is used to build a car body.

AI Designed car.

Ok take a look at this one. Don’t worry about how technology can shape designs here, technology designed a design. Think about it. How is technology influencing efficiency!!

Economic or financial.

Design costs money and the chief objective of a company is to make money, not spend it. Therefore even the most upmarket, high-end, super-rich companies like Apple, Rolls Royce, Cartier, and Vogue Magazine try to do things as cheaply as they can. Economic or financial considerations refer to the need to cut the cost of design and production as much as possible. An economic consideration is present in every design.


The chief costs for communication designs are design time, photography, printing and binding. Designers cut the costs of photography by buying images from photo stock libraries. Whilst paying for photos may seem expensive to a student, the cost to a studio is far less than employing a photographer, actors, props and a studio to shoot original ones. Different technologies used in preparation of artwork, photography, pre-press, printing (especially in the number of colours, kind of (‘spot’ or ‘process’) colours, paper stocks, paper laminations, foils, binding, print runs and size impact on production costs. Recently, due to costs increases in land, energy and labour, the location of production also impacts on costs. Many printing services are now available through web-based companies located in Asia. It is now cheaper to print a magazine designed in Australia and intended to be distributed here, overseas. A print-run (number of copies printed) also affects the unit cost. The more copies printed, the cheaper it is per copy. Low-volume printing (less than 500 copies) is far more expensive per unit than high-volume printing. The kind of paper stock used affects cost too. Generally thicker papers cost more. Unusual paper formats, like square, will cost more as they cannot be cut efficiently from regular 'A’ series papers.

Industrial DESIGN

The chief costs for industrial designs are design, manufacturing techniques and materials. The cheapest products strike a balance between the use of existing manufacturing techniques that work and readily available materials. Specialist designs may involve innovative, highly skilled manufacturing techniques, use rare materials and be manufactured in small production runs. All of these characteristics lead increase cost.


The best example of design shaped by economic considerations has to be in IKEA. They use every technique possible to save money. Watch this video to learn how they cut costs in design, production, energy, assembly, storage and distribution


Environmental factors refer to the impact design and production of visual communications is having on the earth and its resources. It is widely accepted now that designers should be environmentally conscious people.


The main environmental consideration impacting on designers is the need minimise the impact on the environment that the design and production of visual communications has. The two ways designs impact negatively on our environment is through the use of natural resources and causing pollution. The practice of minimising the use of natural resources which leads to a reduction in pollution is called ‘sustainability’. Sustainability refers to work being able to be sustained without causing environmental harm. Environmental factors (ways to minimise the impact to the environment) include;

  • Reduced toxicity of chemicals
  • Use of recycled/ recyclable materials
  • Use of renewable energy.

The idea of ‘Net Zero’ means a society where their production of energy does not contribute carbon dioxide to the air. This is not totally achieved by energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide but by emitting it and using nature and technology to absorb it at the same time. Through absorption the society aims to achieve ‘Carbon Neutral’, otherwise known as Net Zero.


Impacts to the environment are felt in the use and disposal of chemicals, paints and inks. Even in an art studio, chemicals need to be used and disposed of safely. Due to the high number of printed materials, many printers specify water-based inks as they are less harmful to the environment in use, cleaning and disposal. To this end, screen-based digital visual communications, like those seen in LED and LCD screens in shopping centres, are far more environmentally friendly for the end user. However, as you will note below the power required to run screens and the environmental impact created during the production, distribution and disposal (the product’s life cycle) may outweigh any advantages offered in sustainability of use.


The use of recycled materials responsible office practice. Many businesses choose recycled paper in letterheads and envelopes as a way not only to save the environment but also to appear 'greener' to the community. This delivers a positive message. Furthermore, banks and insurances use email billing to reduce the impacts of paper and transportation on the environment. Environmentally, these are sound practices. Electronic technology may have had a huge negative impact on the newspaper industry, with newspapers reducing circulations or indeed ceasing to print daily editions. However, online newspapers and magazines offer a massively reduced impact on the environment due to zero print costs and totally nil kilometres travelled in distribution!

Contemporary designers consider a product’s ‘life-cycle' and how it effects the environment. This includes mining resources, making chemicals for print, pollution from fumes and use of cleaning solvents, the energy required for production, and finally its safe and environmentally friendly disassembly, recycling and disposal. Minimising environmental impact of visual communications is not only a complex but an essential problem to consider.


Energy is consumed, usually as electricity, in the design, operation and disposal of visual communications. Producing (known as generating) electricity from fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) emits massive amounts of a gas called carbon dioxide (CO2). These and other polluting gasses are called ‘Greenhouse’ gasses and contribute to global warming. Increased temperatures cause ‘climate change’ and rising sea levels! The alternatives to generating energy from fossil fuels are burning uranium in a nuclear reactor and using renewable energy sources. Nuclear energy looks good at first glance because it does not emit pollution as energy is being produced but the spent fuel is almost impossible to dispose of safely and securely. Renewable energy is means energy that is natural, never runs out and doesn’t cause any pollution. Sources of renewable energy are hydro power, wind mills, solar, geothermal and tidal power.


Designing a building that uses less or even recycles its energy and waste is design in response to the environmental factor of sustainability through energy and pollution. Watch this video that discusses sustainable buildings. Note here also, the links to technological factors shaping its design.

Legal, ethical, moral.

The concepts of intellectual property, copyright, trademarks, design registrations and patents are known as the legal, ethical and moral obligations for designers.

The legal stuff

I have prepared a very brief presentation that covers the main points of legal obligations for designers to the level of Year 12 Visual Communication Design.

Find more information on the page on IP and Copyright.

Students and teachers are reminded that the knowledge here is to be used with the information from IP Australia.