Change of paradigm: Visual communication

Recently Joan Costawrote a really interesting article on Foroalfa proposing a change for the paradigm of Graphic Design into Visual Communication.

Below you can find the article translated to English.


Change of paradigm: Visual communication

Three points and twelve principles to transit from graphics and graphic design into the future of visual communication.

1. As Designer , but also as sociologist and communicologist, I cannot figure out graphic design production as “things” (posters, logos, websites, packaging, way-finding boards,) but as “social acts”, i.e. communication causes. From this particular perspective, deepening the concept of “visual communication”, get us out of graphic designer sphere and his daily professional issues, and leads us directly to the rupture and to the exit, to meet with people and society: in these environment of constructions, objects and messages that surrounds us. Here is where the Design is alive. When it gets in interaction with the people.

2. Yes, is true that “everything communicates” is because everything means. So, how to deny that every graphic message is bounded to communicate?  Like it or not, is impossible to avoid transmission of information. So, face to face with people, graphic design has evolved, and nowadays is fundamentally visual communication. And it will be even more in the future, where the notion of project will extend beyond “the graphic” to the visual dimension of the being.







First was the Graphics (XV century). After graphic design (XVIII-XX centuries). Now, Visual Communication (XXI century). The last one integrates the previous ones and opens a new dimension for design.  © Joan Costa


3.The old reductionists ideas from marketing and advertisement, which define people as target, public, consumers,etc., are definitely surpassed by what is essential before that. Before public, consumers, users, etc., the human being is a visual being. All that is visible – and not only the graphic – concerns to the eye. All visual information is work to the graphic designers, visualizer, visual communicators  and their collaborations with the others design disciplines.

So, the follow thoughts are a summary that pretends to overcome and enrich the dimensions of what, since Bauhaus, we know as “Graphic Design”. Deepening in the Visual Communications.

12 principles to the Visual Communication

1. The design addresses to the people, to different parts of society in a certain cultural context. They are the reason for the design in any of its variants. And yet, among the great mass of literature and the ocean of images and visual stimuli in which we are engaged, there are a lack of a critical sociology of Design.

2. The Design is a projectual activity, and is a result of a intention. It serves to cover a function, to solve a problem or to improve the people’s life. Responsible design.

3. What defines the idea of project, with its creative and technical components, is the innovation potential. Project and Innovation are the matrix of Design, and consequently the matrix of its different disciplines (architecture, industrial, graphic, etc.)

4. Graphic Design is, specifically, communication design. It Links information with semiotics. The messages are semiotic systems. They contain meaning, both through the semantic and aesthetic via.

5. The ability to transmit information implies that all graphic or visual project, and every message, refers to absent things, just represented by the meaning. The messages are sign systems and the visualizer operate and organize it into communicable forms carrying meaning.

6. This communicative condition belongs to the Language. It’s capacity to deal with the past, the present and the future; with the real, the imaginary and with everything that can be thought. A specific characteristic that only graphic design, and no other design discipline, has.

7. Graphic design is communication design, i.e. is transmission of information and meanings. The other design disciplines, design functions, to free the people from physical efforts, to save time or to cover needs.

8. The step from the term of “graphic design” to “visual communication” is the direct leap to surpass our traditional introversion of “design” (my job, the discipline, what I do) and “graphic” (the medium and the language that I use).

9. Assume the communication as the essential function of graphic design, is get out of the professional bubble to interact with the people and society, through the main channel of perception, knowledge and memory: the visual channel. So, we should return to the psychology of perception as explained by the gestalt.

10. This mutation of the design, that goes beyond the limits of the graphic space (paper, screen), opens a vast horizon to the innovation and to the development of the communication, once that it covers all the dimensions of the graphic, the visible and the viewable.

11. The last of these dimensions is the schematic, a facet really useful and almost undiscovered. Through the creation of models, the visual communication becomes a strategic tool, including to the designer, that is indispensable to make decisions, to plan contents, to the design of activities, services, events, etc…

12. The new fields of visual communication surpasses also the classic collaborations of the graphic design with the architecture, industrial design, fashion, advertisement and marketing. The knowledge society demands the visual communication intervention on the major development areas: the cultural industries, the diffusion of science, technology, education, environmental culture, urban environment, innovation, civility, social responsibility…


The visual communication isn’t a isolated movement. It is an epiphenomenon advancing with the technology to the future. With the knowledge and values society. With the intercultural and environmental social movements. The intervention on the public sphere, the freedom and the culture. And betting on the I+D+i+iInvestigation more Development more innovation more information. This last one is my proposal that completes the formula I+D+i with the information, i.e. with the public communication of innovation.

Oiginal article by Joan Costa

Translation: Rui Lira

Source: Foroalfa


Joan Costa is a designer, communicologist, sociologist, consultant, researcher, professor of Visual Communication.

He created the first World Design Encyclopedia (10 volumes) and has published more than 30 books and hundreds of articles.

He has taught courses and seminars in 25 universities. He recently created the “Master Dircom Online” and “Online Diploma Course in Creating and brand strategy.” Directs the editorial collection Paidós Design

Currently is a professor at the European Communication School, Brussels and the European Institute of Design, Barcelona.



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