What is Visual Language?

Unlike the spoken word, visual language is any form of communication that exists in the physical world, it can be seen and subsequently interpreted.

Some examples of visual language are books, characters, written word, icons, paintings and photographs.

Much like the spoken word, there is a semantic framework that defines the way in which visual language can be interpreted. In order to illustrate this, I’ll be using the example of the piggy bank symbol. There is a signifier which carries the message (ex. a piggy bank) and the signified which defines it (eg. savings). However, it is possible to change its definition by changing the context that surrounds it. For example, as seen in the image below, the green background and money going in the piggy bank denotes savings. However, a broken piggy bank with a red background transmits a different message, lack of funds.

As per the example above, it is important to consider that the interpretation of visual language is heavily influenced by ingrained cultural knowledge and immediate context. It is possible that in non-western cultures, or within different contexts, the piggy bank brings up other definitions.

Visual language can be organized, depicted and interpreted in numerous ways. Therefore, it is always important to consider where the interpreter of the message is coming from and the context in which this message is being decoded.



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