Designing with Images: using a realism continuum to choose pictures for communication tasks

Dr. Stuart Medley
2012 Conference

Graphic design has historically been concerned with giving identity to clients’ projects. But what of its own identity? Graphic design and typography have become interchangeable terms, to the detriment of any theoretical position on pictures. This paper explains the necessity of a theory of pictures specific to the graphic design discipline.

Bamford (2003) says there can’t be a vocabulary of images since it would be as limitless as the imagination and graphic skills of humanity. But a search for a vocabulary of images is a red herring for graphic design. Typography is less about what is spoken and more about how it is spoken. Similarly, picture choice for graphic designers need not concern itself unduly with image; with what is shown, but rather with pictures; how it is shown.

Type theory covers choice of type appropriate to the communication. Picture theory for designers might reasonably be expected to work similarly: provide a basis for choosing pictures. The realism continuum is a visual model that presents any image as a series of pictures, iteratively reduced in representation from their referent.

This paper explains how knowledge of the continuum and the human visual system can assist the designer or art director to choose pictures pertinent to a communications task, and assist the design educator to explain picture choice to students. As designers we have had plenty of text to back us up when we argue for the use of a particular typeface or layout. Now we need words about pictures.

About the author

Stuart Medley’s comics have been published in Deanne Cheuk’s Mu and Neomu magazines. In addition, Medley was the editor of SiC BAG comics, now in the Michael Hill Collection at the Australian National Library. He has spoken at various conferences including TypoGraphic2005, Lebanon, and the NewViews2 2008 conference at the LCC in London, and has lectured in the German and Swiss capitals. His writing about design has been published in Visual:Design:Scholarship, the Journal of the Image, the Australasian Medical Journal and Studies in Comics. He is the designer for Hidden Shoal Recordings, a critically acclaimed record label with a roster of international artists. He has a Ph.D based on the paradox that less realism allows more accurate communication.