Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century

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9781892637093: Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century

In this book, Bob Horn has brought together the depth of his years of experience in information design with a wealth of research on the history and practice of visual languages. The result is a new synthesis: a way of thinking about visual language that integrates and extends the different elements on which he draws. It may come to be, as he predicts, the starting point for a new field of study that develops the "global language for the 21st century."

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Review:

Uh-oh, McLuhan was right. As our information stream meets a confluence of new media, our language has changed accordingly. Stanford scholar Robert E. Horn lays it all out for us in Visual Language, incorporating visual elements with writing to show and tell simultaneously. Reminiscent of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, the book thoroughly explains how we recognize and interpret this new language; rather than teaching us how to read or write, it lays the groundwork for better use of the still-evolving communication tool.

Simple clip art and occasionally confusing text boxes amply demonstrate that this language is unfinished and even uncomfortable for some readers--but the power of combining graphics and words still shines through. Complex issues and wide ranges of opinion can be grasped quickly and particular problems can be highlighted for greater scrutiny. (It's no accident that Horn is best known as a pioneer of hypertext.)

Sections cover the basic units and form, semantics, and pragmatics, exploring all elements of advertising, comics, static multimedia, and other uses of visual language. Anyone who is involved in advertising or uses PowerPoint professionally--or just wants insight into the new directions our language is taking--should read Visual Language carefully for clues to the future of communication. --Rob Lightner

From the Author:

Origins of the ideas The idea for this book initially arose on the day, in 1984, that I first saw a Macintosh computer. I realized that easy access to computerized drawing programs would bring into being a whole new world of communication possibilities. For the first time, nonartists could use the computer to draw and could endlessly modify and reuse drawings once they were created. I immediately began to use some clip art in ordinary business and personal communications. At that time, I was CEO of Information Mapping, Inc., now one of the world's premier information management companies, and I thought of the graphic computer as simply a way to add graphics to our existing method of analyzing and organizing business communication documents.

Why this book now? Not until a couple of years later did I come to understand that, in fact, people all over the world were using the capabilities of the graphic computer to create the fundamentals of a new communication tool-a language based on the tight integration of words and visual elements, which in this book I call visual language. I saw this book as necessary to establish visual language as a language. After some research, I realized that no frame work existed for analyzing and understanding the new types of communication units that are created when text and visuals are combined. Neither was there a linguistics of visual language. Borrowing the approaches of natural language linguistics is an insufficient way to analyze the systematics of visual language. Nor is the simple addition of concepts from art theory sufficient. For this new communication tool to flourish, I identified a need for the kind of deeper understanding that can come from an analysis based on integration of linguistic and visual elements. Finally, I saw this book as a way to encourage people to begin using more visual language in their communications, to integrate text and graphics to communicate more effectively.

Style of the book An analysis of visual language must, of course, be written in visual language (I hardly ever write otherwise these days). This book could have been rendered in a variety of aesthetic styles, but I decided to use clip art, to further demonstrate how much one can communicate with this medium without original artwork. I also wanted to encourage others to use visual language, and the 1st hurdle often seems to be fear of drawing. I believe that clip art is going to be the primary tool that will facilitate most people's use of visual language in their everyday jobs. I recognize that using clip art gives this book a particular look that may be dismissed by some critics, which is often fate of clip art. It is my belief, however, that clip art is yet evolving, and that different styles will soon become available that will make it an increasingly graceful and aesthetically pleasing communications tool.

A focus on 2 dimensions and the static media The two-dimensional page and screen are foundational for other media. Most of the semantic constructs discussed here transfer easily to the 3rd dimension and to motion. Thus, media such as virtual reality, multimedia, and animation are not heavily emphasized in this book. During their development, films are broken down in to scenes and then into shots. This is why storyboards work in filmmaking. And it is why films can be analyzed using the techniques developed here for static media. As regards three-dimensional media like virtual reality, as such media develop enough complexity to be truly useful and interesting, they require the kinds of maps and navigational tools that are analyzed in this book.

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