Academic journal article Visible Language

Practice-Led Iconic Research: Towards a Research Methodology for Visual Communication

Academic journal article Visible Language

Practice-Led Iconic Research: Towards a Research Methodology for Visual Communication

Article excerpt


Investigating Visual Design Processes

The following contribution proposes a research approach In the field of visual communication with the aim of developing design-specific methods from the core competence of design. The claim that a design process can be employed to gain knowledge is contested by many established research communities of the humanities and sciences. Even the review of proceedings of recent design research conferences indicates a preference for adapting methodologies from established scientific disciplines, rather than developing a design-specific research approach. Design processes become the subject of anthropological studies, design solutions are evaluated through standardized interviews, usability is tested with eye-tracking technology, and design movements and their protagonists are described by means of historical inquiries into archives and libraries.

The key issues of the creation of visual messages for the purpose of social interaction are the generation of images and an analysis of their perception by viewers.

One might object to this definition and say that objects of visual communication always consist of a combination of an iconic and a linguistic message - images and words. Or we may embrace the idea that visual communication is a phenomenon that can be read as a language. The definition of visual communication as a practice of image creation is opposed to the classification of visual communication as an exchange of conventional signs in language. In order to understand the field and its potential research contribution, it appears to be necessary to evaluate the relationship between the opposite classifications of visual communication as language or as image and to recapitulate the historical development of the relationship between image and language in general.

The Uneasy Relationship between Language and Image

The general question of the relationship between language and image - the dichotomy between sensuous experience and conceptual inference - has been a key issue of Western thought and leads us to the philosophical discourse on epistemology. Four phases of Western intellectual history - Plato, Platonism, German Criticism, and German Idealism - were described by Friedrich Nietzsche in a aphoristic summary under the title of "How the 'True World' Finally Became a Fable: The History of an Error" (Nietzsche 1888) which was interpreted by Martin Heidegger under the title of "Nietzsche's overcom- ing of Platonism" (Heidegger 1961). Nietzsche analyses the above-mentioned historical phases of philosophy and concludes that all of them continue the hierarchical relationship of the "supersensuous" over the sensuous experience established by Plato. Based on this conclusion Nietzsche bases his philosophical position by initially proclaiming, for phase five of Western thought, the superiority of the sensuous over the conceptual. By positing the sensuous experience over conceptual thought, a hierarchical relationship would be maintained. For the sixth phase of philosophy Nietzsche, therefore, argues for the necessity to continuously re-evaluate between the sensuous and the "supersensuous" and to free the relationship from a hierarchical order.

With the request for a continuous re-evaluation, the relationship between language, as a central component of a logocentric epistemology, and images as objects providing a sensuous experience, has been fundamentally shifted. Language is no longer an exclusively epistemological domain, and the evaluation of the relationship between sensuous perception and thinking in an abstract system of symbols is based on a new foundation.

Following this line of thought, we can describe a large part of the postmodern phase of Western thought as an elaboration of Nietzsche's contribution. Following his claim for a non-hierarchical re-evaluation, Jacques Derrida (1967), for example, describes in great detail in "Of Grammatology" the biased approach of Ferdinand de Saussure, who employs a Platonic hierarchy in his foundation of linguistics (de Saussure 1916). …

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