Week 11: Trends and Environments
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
This week we explored how semiotics and symbolism can affect how a design is interpreted by its audience. While the designer might have one message in mind, it is not always the message grasped by the intended recipient. How can cultural and societal norms influence how a piece is seen?
The lecture this week welcomed back Martin Hosken to discuss symbols and semiotics and how they can relate to design. A large part of his lecture centered around the act of communicating and how things can go awry during the transmission of data through communication.
The Communication Cycle
While he dug deeper into the topic, I was surprised he didn't discuss the Communication Cycle. At every point of his lecture, I found myself trying to align what he was saying with what I had learned in my Professional Writing courses. As such, I thought it would be beneficial to review the cycle and relate it back to his lecture.
In the Communication Cycle, there are seven key things to consider:
This is where the Communication Cycle begins. The sender is the person that communicates the original message to another person in the cycle. It's the sender that chooses which medium the message will be sent with. The sender is also responsible for accurately depicting the information they're trying to communicate.
In design, the sender is most often the designer. It's the designer who chooses how to portray a design's message, therefore, they are the original sender of the information.
Encoding is the part of the process that determines how a message will be conveyed to the receiver. It's during this time that the sender will choose particular words, tone, sound, or any other indicator, to accurately get the message across to their audience.
Within the sphere of design, encoding can be related to the choice of colors, fonts, shapes, imagery, or words that are included in a design. It's important to recognize who the desired audience is in order to choose symbols that translate easily to the targeted group. For example, a design meant for older individuals might incorporate larger text sizes and more easily read color palettes.
The message is the result of what the sender wants to say after it's gone through the encoding process. The original thought has been translated in such a way that it will ideally be understood by the audience.
As Hosken described, "the psychological image is the message's original intent" (Falmouth Flexible 2020). From a design perspective, the message is the desired interpretation that the sender (designer) hopes to get across to the receiver (audience).
The medium is the means by which a message is transmitted to the receiver.
In design, the medium could be a digital zine, a printed brochure, or a 3D rendering, just to name a few. Choice of medium is important as one medium might not portray the desired message as well as another.
The receiver is the person or persons to who the message is translated. The sender must keep in mind who will be receiving the information they send, as it can determine how and in what fashion it should be sent. In addition, depending upon the receiver, things may be interpreted differently than what the sender had anticipated.
In design, the receiver is anyone who views your design.
This is how the original message is interpreted by the receiver. If the sender does little to ensure proper transmission of information, it is likely that the receiver will misunderstand the message during the decoding process.
When looking at a design, the decoding process would be how an audience interprets the piece. If there are cultural differences or other miscommunications present, the intended message will not be understood.
Feedback is the part of the cycle where the receiver becomes the sender and provides communication back to the original sender, starting the process all over again.
From a design point of view, feedback would be questions about your design or potential criticisms as to how to make the design's message more easily understood.
These are the main pieces of the Communication Cycle, however, it's also worth considering noise and context. Noise is anything during the transmission of information that can lead to misunderstanding. For example, if you're talking to a friend outside, the sound of an ambulance siren could distract you from what they're saying. Another example of noise would be reading Moby Dick to a 4-year-old. While the child might understand some words, the necessary cognitive aptitude needed to understand the information wouldn't be present. As for context, this is the location or setting that the message is sent. This can be a social or cultural element. For example, "cunt" is meant to mean friend in European countries. In the United States, however, it's a derogatory remark.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ramifications of this part of Hosken's lecture. Emojis are an interesting piece of the communication puzzle. Relatively new, with the first emoji being introduced in 1999, these icons can greatly influence the meaning of a message (Prisco 2018). However, they are not always interpreted consistently across different audiences. As discussed in the paper "Are Emojis Predictable?",
People do not always have the same understanding of emojis, indeed, there seems to exist multiple interpretations of their meaning beyond their designer’s intent or the physical object they evoke. Their main conclusion was that emojis can lead to misunderstandings (Barbieri et al. 2017).
As such, emojis, while they may be beneficial to some messages, can detract from others. They are beneficial when they are used in situations that can't incorporate body language or other social indicators that can influence how a message is interpreted. For example, sarcasm is often not well-received over text-based mediums. However, by placing a laughing face within your message, the receiver is more likely to understand the message better.
On the flip side, among different communities of people, certain emojis can have different meanings. As Hosken states, "images carry meaning depending on the context, which can change" (Falmouth Flexible 2020). To an older generation, the eggplant emoji is simply that, an eggplant. I'd like to assume the original intention of the eggplant emoji designer was not what it is used for today. Amongst a younger audience, this purple vegetable takes on a phallic nature. It can be easy to see how a message containing "🍆" might mean different things to someone who is 20 vs. someone who is 60. While using emojis can help the message be more clear to the receiver, it can also make things more likely to be misunderstood, so care should be taken when utilizing these small icons.
Design literacy (Continued) Understanding Graphic Design
This resource grabbed my attention with the first story that it introduced. Covering James Victore's Racism piece, I knew I had to dig deeper. What I found was a bizarre, unapologetic designer that had plenty to say about design, civil rights, and more.
When he originally created the Racism piece in 1993, there was no way he could know what issues the world would be facing in 2020. With this in mind, I wondered, "How would he react to the presidency and the Black Lives Matter movement?"
I found that answer in a tweet he posted in 2018.
During this search, I also discovered that James Victore was white. This brought up my second question: Of the Black Lives Matter movement designs, how many have actually been created by black individuals?
Black Lives Matter: White-washed Design?
With the recent emphasis on racial injustices in the United States, and worldwide, it's become clear that graphic design can have a paramount effect on social causes. However, one has to wonder, are black designers the ones receiving attention for Black Lives Matter designs?
As stated by Bobby C. Martin Jr,
Many, not all, but many of the jobs promoting Black culture were awarded to White designers. Now I’m left to wonder how many of the recent ads showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement were created by Black designers or Black-owned agencies? And, if the work is Black-made, will it make it into our history books? (Printmag 2020).
As such, I was determined to find at least three black graphic designers who have made pivotal contributions to the racial movement we are all experiencing. According to the 2019 design census, "Black men and women make up just 3% of the design industry" (Printmag 2020).
Greg Bunbury is a freelance graphic designer based in London. His most well-known piece was done after the murder of Eric Garner. As he describes his practice on his website,
I'm Greg Bunbury, a British-born, award-winning Graphic Designer, Creative Consultant, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and public speaker of Caribbean heritage. I also curate/design the Black Outdoor Art project. I enable those who want to make a difference, get others to pay attention (Bunbury 2020).
His name came up multiple times when I searched for Black Lives Matter designers, and it was encouraging to see so much attention given to a designer of color.
With more than 40,000+ followers on Instagram, Sketch was another interesting find. His main design style centers around images with political connotations or drawings done of popular black celebrities, like Zendaya and Drake. His most popular piece done for the Black Lives Matter movement is pictured to the right.
While his original post of this image has received 3,000+ likes on his personal page, it has been shared across multiple other pages and received a large amount of attention.
She had very little information on her Instagram, outside of a handful of podcasts that she's been on and social causes she supports. However, her entire account is about promoting black communities and not letting injustices against them go unnoticed. The piece from her that caught my attention was the image to the left.
While it was not my original intention to fall down a rabbit hole of the Black Lives Matter movement and the black designers that deserve more attention, James Victore led me there! It's important to recognize the person behind the design, because like I covered earlier in the Communication Cycle, context and cultural influences are important to the overall message of a piece. This is not to say that #BLM designs put forth by non-black designers are less effective, but they definitely should not be viewed through the same lens.
This week's challenge gave us the option to see how a news story or brand was represented in different countries. My original intent was to look at how Joe Biden winning the United States presidential election was covered in other countries. I was able to find plenty of resources on the subject, but since the election has been so convoluted with other aspects beyond JUST the election, it was hard to find multiple pieces that covered a concise topic in the political realm. I also played with the idea of covering how the 9/11 terrorist attacks were covered outside of the US but opted for something more lighthearted heading into this final week of course material.
With no particular news story grabbing my attention, I shifted my focus to brands. Naturally, companies like Coca-Cola and Apple came to mind, but I wanted to find something just a little less obvious. One of my peers covered the different varieties of Kit-Kat flavors around the world, and I quite liked that approach to the challenge. As a means of inspiration, I began investigating the top global brands for 2020. This list included Amazon, John Deere, Porsche, Gucci, and many more. I gave a handful of these big names a cursory Google search to see if anything in their advertising caught my eye, but none of them fit the bill. That is until I got to Nike. Nike advertises in countries around the world, and each country has its own needs when it comes to the message behind an ad. The ramifications of these requirements made Nike a great choice for this Workshop Challenge.
For this part of the project, I found myself watching as many Nike advertisements as I could get my hands on. I chose to focus on video ads instead of print, simply because it was one way to lessen what I was looking for. The video format also lends itself to a greater amount of information being transmitted, so it would prove more useful in finding the tactics Nike uses to appeal to audiences worldwide. In the end, I settled on three different video advertisements to focus on. They are embedded below and I highly suggest watching them!
With my videos chosen, I moved on to investigating and writing. My developed critical review is as follows:
Nike and Globalization: Looking Beyond “Just Do It”
In the years since the company’s founding in 1964, Nike has become a household name around the globe. While they can attribute their success, in part, to their quality athletic gear, a large amount of their notoriety comes down to the advertising campaigns put together by their creative teams. Nike’s tactful use of globalization has allowed them to position themselves as one of the top brands in the world. While they present themselves as a unified company, Nike utilizes certain means to cater their advertisements to the region of the world they will be used in.
One of the most important things Nike looks at when advertising in different countries is what the brand means in that particular region. A prime example of this can be seen in the Nike Korea ad. The video follows young Asian athletes as they strive for excellence and fail. During their training, predominantly male authority figures can be seen saying things like, “This is a waste of time” and “It’s just one big distraction” (Nike Korea 2015). The messaging in this ad speaks to the culture that can be found in South Korea. The collectivist country often pressures its young people to pursue reasonable careers that will allow them to take care of their families. Professional sports are not viewed as a viable career option. The video works to crush these ideas as the athletes continue to work on their craft and eventually reach their goals. In Korea, the Nike brand represents chasing your dreams.
Another way Nike works so well around the world is how they incorporate cultural references into their advertisements. In “The First Nike Chinese New Year Ad”, the viewer follows a young Chinese girl as she grows up. Each Chinese New Year, she tries to thwart her aunt’s attempts to give her money, but eventually always fails. This ad speaks to the respect given to older generations in the Chinese culture, while also incorporating the changing times we live in. In addition, as the aunt chases her niece throughout a variety of scenes, you can see nods to Chinese culture, including dragons, paper lanterns, and food. As explained by Jean Grow, “the actual products recede into the background as the brands become enmeshed with the cultural and social referents embedded within the ads. The more embedded the cultural and social referents the more significance is attached to their meaning" (Grow 2006).
Lastly, Nike customizes the people and their activities in its ads to best match the regions they’re marketing to. In an advertisement for Nike India, every single person seen in the video appears to be of Indian descent. In addition, the sports they’re playing complement the interests of the country. The athletes are seen running and playing basketball, which may not seem unusual. However, the video continues on to show a cricket match, as well as street dancing, with nods to Bollywood dancing. As Nike’s Phil Knight states, “We had to learn to do well all the things involved in getting to the consumer, starting with understanding who the consumer is and what the brand represents” (Willigan 2014). By encapsulating the popular sports in a country, while also using an accurate representation of the people who live there, their ads have more reach and effectiveness.
“Delivering a global proposition in a way that resonates locally is one of the most important and toughest challenges in marketing” according to William Mills (Mills 2016). This, combined with their ability to attach the brand to a message, is what allows Nike to remain relevant and effective in the world marketing scheme.
With the writing part done, it was time to move on to the actual design of my piece. Naturally, I thought I would want to incorporate the notable Nike swoosh, but beyond that, anything could happen.
When I populated the font into my document setup, I decided to approach this piece from a more serious place than my last attempt at a text spread. Because of this, I opted to focus on the story. I added imagery to complement what was being said in the article but I didn't add anything superfluous in the way of design.
I had originally started with a three-column design but moved to a two-column spread because I liked the way it looked more. When I had three columns, there seemed to be too much text on one page. Things naturally flowed better when I changed it to two.
For the heading, I used the Aileron font. This worked out nicely because the font family has a bold and a thin option, making it a solid choice for my title. I used the bold type for the main title and the thin for the subtitle. As for my body text, I opted for a serif font, since those have a higher level of comprehension. The font I chose was Adobe Garamond Pro.
For my final touches, I incorporated a drop cap in my first paragraph, since many editorial pieces do this. I also chose to border the edges with a light yellow, as all three images had hints of yellow in them. This served as a way to tie the images and the piece together.
My final piece is below.
This piece was definitely less designed than my past spreads, but I think it worked well. I tried to stop before I did too much since the feedback I've received in more than one Crit suggests that I often add stuff that's not needed. I didn't want to detract from the content of the article, so I decided to keep it simple. I also imagined this article being printed in some sort of business magazine or The New Yorker, so I wanted to replicate that feel.
If I had more time, I would love to explore more Nike ads and write a more intensive paper outlining the various tactics they use in different countries. In fact, at the time of writing, Nike recently released a video in Japan that questions the culture's subtle racism against other Asian ethnicities. It's been a bit of a controversial topic, and I think it could be interesting to expand what I've already written to include this video. If you're interested, check out the video here!
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