Well-Known Member
Oct 21, 2006
We live in a world of communication, not just “mass” but also in terms of visual. Everything we see, touch, hear, etc. and everything we are exposed to is communicating something to us. In this way a learning experience happens within a communication process. When communicating something, the intention is to have an effect on the person it is being communicated to. Every designer is communicating a meaning through the products they produce whether it is fashion, books, art, magazines, toys, billboards, furniture, games, etc. There are some political and ideological purposes to design, but what are the psychological effects?

Learning is a continual process, not only academically but also in emotional development, social interaction, and personality development. It is therefore important for our children to receive messages that will encourage, uplift, create self-esteem, produce cultural awareness and give them a sense of identity.

In this writing, I argue the significant role in semiotics as a language of communication on both a political and psychological level. Semiotics is the study of socially constructed meanings of signs, letters, symbols, literary text and all signifying objects.

Concepts within Visual Communication

Some of the concepts that exist within visual communication are:

- “Noise”, which is interference in a communication signal between the sender and the receiver. Semantically, a receiver’s cultural background can cause noise and the receiver may misinterpret the messages sent or may not understand the message because the signal is distorted.

- “Semiotics”, briefly mentioned earlier, is the theory and study of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language and communication. and is a very significant factor of visual communication. There exist established meanings to signs and symbols, words and colour, yet the associations or attached meanings are arbitrary and the intended meaning is not always understood because one thing can have different meanings to different people. When differences in cultures exist, the intended meaning of the encoder is likely to be different to that of the decoder.

- “Polysemy”, which is the idea of something having more than one meaning. In terms of images, these are open to interpretation, but once text is added, it is then closed to interpretation.

Psychological Effects of Visual Communication

Are there any psychological aspects of visual communication? Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) accentuated the significance of the creation and meaning of symbols in terms of its psychological effects. He states that "the symbol is the primitive expression to the unconscious, but at the same time, it is also an idea corresponding to the highest intuition produced by consciousness" (Welsing, 1991, pg. 56). African-American Psychiatrist Dr. Frances Cress Welsing explains that many other symbols exist in society which are not automatically understood due to their high abstraction, nonetheless, they have an effect on the consciousness and subconscious.

Carl Jung and Dr. Welsing’s arguments show that the concepts that exist within visual communication discussed earlier can be applied on a psychological level. When communicating messages to different cultural backgrounds the message can be misinterpreted. Therefore, if one does not understand a culture, which for the sake of this article will be termed frequency, then how can you know you are sending the correct messages (signals)? According to African American psychologist Dr. Amos Wilson, symbols and signs carry psychosomatic meanings on all levels that determine "influence on human consciousness, cognition, emotions and behaviour" (Wilson, 1978, pg. 190).

A design serves to express specific world views and communicates an ideology. People are constantly being spoon-fed images of how to act, think, be, look, love, dress, etc. This system of mass production and mass consumerism strongly influences people’s sense of self and their relation with the world rather than it being influenced through natural or psychological factors thus giving a false sense of self or ‘false consciousness’.

Given the significance and implications of all these factors, it can be said that the language of visual communication can have a profound effect on one’s perception not only of the world but more importantly of the self. In light of these facts it is clear to see that people of African descent in the Diaspora are being fed negative aspects of their race and of their communities with stereotypical images broadcasted through mass media, in the news, and within educational institutions.

In terms of ‘sense of self’, Dr. Wilson shows that when one forgets one’s history then one is more inclined to misconstrue other people’s history and motives as well as one’s own, and lack of knowledge of self leads one to becoming "whomever somebody else tells us we are" (Wilson, 1993, pg. 38). So, what are we doing and how are we defining or re-defining ourselves?

Hanifah 2008


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