Thinking about visual thinking It is easy to think of vision as something separate from thinking. Yet there is an incredible amount of cognitive effort expended in just resolving the objects around you in space. We take this for granted because, mostly, it goes on at an unconscious level. But the visual world is not simply there to be passively acknowledged. You have to make sense of it. What is a chair, a table, a person, a shadow, an image of a person, a reflection in a mirror; all of this is stuff that you have to work out. And this working out involves visual thinking. Imagine being in a rush to leave university (I know, but try really hard). You spin around the railings on the landing and run down the stairs two at a time. This is potentially a dangerous situation; legs could get broken. The whole endeavour rests on being able to identify in a fraction of a second what part of the step is a rise and what part the step. We do such tasks seemingly automatically and relatively effortlessly, but let’s think about it for a moment. Imagine trying to program a robot to do the same thing. Perhaps the robot would be able to resolve an image something like the one below, where all the extraneous material is stripped away. Once again this looks quite straightforward to us, but not so fast! The two dots can indeed be conceived as being on the same step, but there is an alternative way of understanding the picture: the two dots can be imagined as being on two different steps. This paradox, known as the Schröder Staircase is a famous example of a whole class of similar visual effects. So what is the poor robot to make of these two competing conceptualisations of the staircase. In one the staircase is there in front of her, in the other she might come to the conclusion that she is upside down, or looking at glass stairs from underneath. The point here is that working out such details Title: Visual Thinking Ref: GDS456 Level: 4 Credit Points: 40 Weighting: 2.0 Study time: 400 hours Commences: Mon 7 Dec 2015 Deadline: 12.00 Thurs 11 Feb 2016 Tutors: Amanda Evans, Kirsten Hardie, Gabbi Hass, Mark Osborne, Phil Jones 6 is not unproblematic and straightforward; it involves us actively working things out. And resolving such visual ambiguity is not confined to highly abstracted and tightly controlled line drawings. Look at the two images below the first is a photograph of an installation by the artist Do Ho Suh, but the question is which way up should it be? The second shows a child on some stairs, but are we looking down the flight of stairs, or up it?
Although incredibly important to us, this is only one aspect of visual thinking. We organise things spatially. If something is really important, we might put it right in the middle of a poster. We might also make it big, and choose a bright colour for it. If we want someone to read something first, we might put it at the top of the page. If we want to suggest that two things belong together we might line them up, and/or put them close together, and/or render them in the same colour. If we want to suggest movement we might show something falling out of the right side of the page (or in other words cropped or blend on the right side).
Understanding the way that people think visually is therefore of fundamental importance to graphic designers. But this does not mean that we must slavishly follow a set of rules, learning how to trigger, blend, and contrast different types of visual thinking is an exciting part of graphic design practice.
This assignment encourages you to develop your visual thinking within your graphic design practice.
The assignment involves a number of different activities, you will begin by reflecting on the visual thinking that takes place in the undertaking of simple visual tasks and you will then use this analysis as the basis for a poster to be completed before the Christmas break. At the same time you will be considering key concepts and deciding on a theme for an illustrated essay as mentioned in the assessment components. You will then develop research in relation to this theme which will form the basis for your essay. This essay—as it develops—will provide source material for a series of experiments that will take place after Christmas. These experiments explore the ways in which organising ideas spatially can help us to think through arguments and help new understandings and connections to emerge. The first of these weeks is concerned with Visualising Structure, the second with the idea of Non-linear and Networked Texts, the third with Spatial Arrangement and the forth with Text and Image.
The illustrated essay should be completed for the 25th January 2016, and should meet the set What is the step and what the rise? According to Hoffman (1998, p.84) we base such decisions on the ‘Rule of concave creases: Divide shapes into parts along concave creases’. 7 requirements of the brief (including adhering to academic protocols) and should be designed to be read in a functional and transparent way according to the principles of readability and legibility. In the final two weeks, however you will explode this text, deconstructing it physically and conceptually and re-making it, incorporating image, texture, and three-dimensional elements as you see fit. The final work that emerges will be the ‘illustrated essay’ referred to in the unit outline.