Identifying visual communications (Project 1: Exercise 1)

Visual Comms – Purposes

  1. Persuasion
  2. Information
  3. Identity design
  4. Authorial content
  5. Interactive design
  6. Alternative messages

Exercise 1 – (i) Identify examples of the above, and (ii) how do these reference broader ideas of visual culture?


Fig. 1. Modern Nike advert
marlboro-ad new
Fig. 2. Iconic but older Marlboro advert

Figures 1 and 2 show two advertisements. I chose these because of the common “persuasion” in both ads; their appeal to men. These ads are firmly targeted at men in a truly stereotypical way. Yet one is an old iconic advert the other I would imagine is considered young and hip.

In figure 1, the colour of the trainers as well as the obscured image all hint at Iron Man. The second is appealing to the rugged man of the traditional USA.

As a man, I find these two adverts comical yet sad. Both hint at what a real man supposedly is and does. I can almost (and I emphasise the word almost once more) forgive the Marlboro ad as it is an old one and reminds us of a time “when men were men” that never existed yet many seem to hark back to.

The Nike advert though, puzzles me. I actually wondered if I had found a spoof ad parodying Nike! According to  it really is a genuine ad.

It is difficult to believe that appealing to such obvious stereotypes works but the Nike ad is a relatively recent one. I suspect it reflects an issue with sexism in sport generally. For those interested in the subject, Barbara Ellen’s article from the Guardian online (2017) makes quite depressing reading.

Of course both adverts also hint at a wider issue in visual culture, namely the stereotypical way the sexes are illustrated in images, be they video, comics, adverts, etc.


Fig. 3. Saving water
Fig. 4. Lego instructions

I chose the two images above as examples of giving information. It could certainly be argued that figure 3 is also looking to persuade as well as inform. It is part of a website from the Joint Water Council (who is the primary drinking water supplier in Washington County, Oregon, USA). The design features of their “10 gallon challenge” appear rather poor. Lacking vibrancy and colour, the table suggests that it has just one and only one function, namely information. Yet it is also trying to persuade people to take the challenge and conserve water. It is bland and suggests that the budget for this may have been limited.

Figure 4 is a page from the instruction booklet that accompanies Lego’s Yellow Submarine. It is also available for downloading as a PDF and has also been made available in YouTube ( The combination of high quality graphics, colour and clarity makes this a work of art! It stands in stark contrast to the water conservation information from the JWC. It is, of course, also persuasion. The clear and well-designed instructions reinforce Lego’s brand image of quality. The iconic Lego character (The Beatle, George Harrison, in this case) also reinforces their identity. The Lego characters are recognised globally beyond the Lego sets through Lego films, computer games and merchandise.

The Lego instructions also tell us something about the international nature of their business. By producing such clear diagrammatic instructions, Lego are able to sell this product across the globe with instructions that require no language translation. They also keep their costs to the minimum. In short, the nature of these instructions tell us that globalism is very much an aspect of modern life.

Identity design

Fig. 5. Sandals
thinkdifferent-logo apple
Fig. 6. Old Apple

These two averts reinforce identity. The smart use of the Adidas logo (in figure 5) invokes a sandal. We the consumers now know that Adidas are selling a range of sandals, but it has been done simply by using their corporate logo. This is a work of marketing genius.

Similarly, figure 6, shows an older Apple advert. Again the emphasis is on identity. Even the tag line uses an Apple font, but nowhere is Apple written in the advert.

The designs of these two advertisements tell us something about the power and influence of the world’s huge multinationals. On its website, The Fast Food Factory, the BBC reminds us that “Market research has found that children can recognise a brand logo before they can recognise their own name.”

As consumers, we are so brand aware that we are happy to wear clothes that advertise the manufacturer. And we buy the goods to pay for that right to advertise!

Authorial content

Fig. 7. Maus
scott pilgrim
Fig. 8. Scott Pilgrim

For authorial content I chose two graphic novels; Maus and Scott Pilgrim. Although both are graphic novels they have contrasting contexts.

Maus looks to present the Holocaust in illustrated form. This could sound insulting to the memory of those who suffered and died in such unspeakable circumstances. Yet the book has become something of a classic and became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Based on the author’s father’s survival of the Holocaust, the Jewish inmates are portrayed as mice and the Nazis as cats. As can be seen in figure 7, above, the graphics are simple and clear and convey the story highly effectively, and with great artistry.

The Scott Pilgrim story borrows from computer games for its structure. This carried through into the film made of the book. The style of the page in figure 8 is modern, cool and very effective. As with Maus it is another display of great artistry.

Comics have been around for a long while, but the term graphic novel has been coined relatively recently. (Whilst I can’t vouch for its accuracy, this Wikipedia entry is very interesting;

I am quite ignorant about graphic novels, but the presenting of serious fiction and non-fiction in comic and visual form strikes me as a reflection of our times. We live in a period when visual culture surrounds us from advertising through to web content.

Interactive design

My two choices are:


and (ii)

I have no idea why in January 2013 The Guardian decided to offer Build your own snowman as entertainment. It does, however, illustrate the sort of simple interactive entertainment available to the world through the internet.

The Airbnb website is an altogether different interactive experience. An example of simplicity, hyperlinked photographs are arranged in rows offering a variety of services or options. Starting with Experiences, scrolling down presents places, destinations, other experiences, selected cities and so on. The photographs are vibrant colourful and arranged to present something of a visual (but pleasing) onslaught.

The simplicity in the design of the snowman activity is mirrored in the simplicity of the design of the Airbnb website.

In terms of broader visual culture, both illustrate what can be achieved by simple yet thoughtful design. Neither site needs to offer an explanation of how to use them. Both sites reinforce the sense that we are surrounded by images in a variety of contexts and on an enormous scale.

Alternative messages

satirical adidas
Fig. 9. Attacking Adidas

Being a world-famous and ubiquitous brand brings responsibilities. If a company is perceived to be ignoring its responsibilities, it is very easy to turn the company’s branding into a weapon. The Adidas anti-advertisement in figure 9, above, is just one such example. There are other excellent examples on the following blog:

My second example of alternative messages appeals to my sense of humour. With the increase in motivational posters in corporate headquarters, produce posters in an identical style which mock the trite sloganeering that cover many an office partition.

Fig. 10. Get to work


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. The Sneaker Makes the Man (2010/11) [Advertisement] At: (Accessed on 14/08/2017)

Figure 2. Marlboro (No date) [Advertisement] At: (Accessed on 14 August 2017)

Figure 3. JWC (No date) Take the 10 Gallon Challenge. At:  (Accessed on 14 August 2017)

Figure 4. Lego (2016) Building Instructions: The Yellow Submarine. At:  (Accessed on 15 August 2017)

Figure 5. Adidas Sandals (no date) [Advertisement] At:–advertising-ideas-advertising-design.jpg (Accessed on 16 August 17)

Figure 6. Think Different (1997) [Advertisement] At: (Accessed on 16 August 17)

Figure 7. Excerpt from Maus (First published as a book in 1986) At: (Accessed 17 August 17)

Figure 8. Excerpt from Scott Pilgrim vs. The world (2005) At: (Accessed 18 August 17)

Figure 9. Adidas Anti-Advertisement (2015) At:  (Accessed 18 August 17)

Figure 10. Get to work (no date) (Accessed 19 August 17)


Dovas. (No date) ‘People Make Anti-Logos To Urge Sponsors To Withdraw From Qatar 2022 World Cup’ In: boredpanda [online] At: (Accessed on 19 August 2017)

Ellen, B. (2017) ‘When will sport stop treating women as a joke?’ In: The Guardian [online] At:  (Accessed on 17 August 2017)

Oliver, C. (2013) ‘Build your own snowman – interactive’ In: The Guardian [online] At:  (Accessed on 18 August 2017)

BBC World Service (No date) The Fast Food Factory. At: (Accessed on 19 August 2017)



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