Sunday, February 12, 2012


Clear and efficient communication is an art form. It doesn't matter if you are communicating through a motion picture, a radio broadcast, sign language or an email. Communicating well requires careful thought.

There are a lot of ways to clutter up communication so that the message becomes unclear. Try having a meaningful conversation with someone while a big-screen TV is turned on in the same room. Try giving someone directions over a cell phone in an area with poor reception. Send an email full of incomplete sentences and misspellings.  Noise, interference and sloppiness can all become obstacles to good communication.

In my last post, I mentioned how avoiding unnecessary clutter can improve the clarity of an ad’s message. As a follow-up to that post, I present the subject of composition, and the designer’s role in directing the viewer’s eyes to maximize the clarity of the message. Obstacles which interrupt this clarity are avoided. Using the image of the magazine ad from my last post, I've added arrows indicating how this works:

(Click all images for a larger view)

We humans are social beings. A well placed person can become the initial focal point of a design. We are naturally drawn to the girl's face (certain stereotypes not withstanding) and her focus becomes ours as she looks in the direction of the text on the left side of the ad. The overall flow of the design then carries the eye around a fairly circular path which covers the whole ad space.

Still, there are a couple of potential traps where the eye is tempted to linger and this can get in the way of effective communication. The arrows below indicate two potential traps in this composition:

All the guys are nodding in agreement.

While these potential traps threaten the integrity of the composition, there are also several elements here which I believe help us overcome those traps and reinforce the intended composition of the first example.

People, of course, are not mindless simpletons and I don't mean to exaggerate too much the power of the graphic designer over the mind of the viewer. While most viewers will follow the composition as indicated in the first image, they will also engage with the other details of the image, noticing the warmth and opulence of the room, the richness and variety of color in the tile along with the obvious craftsmanship on display in the tile work. All of this, along with the composition, is meant to reinforce the message of the ad.

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