Generating Visual Ideas

Work to have achieved:

  • Read about graphic design principles (positive/negative space, dominance & hierarchy, rhythm & movement)
  • Find a graphic or visual design that makes a claim or argument
  • Analyze the designed artifact through the lenses of graphic design principles.

Plan for the day:

  1. Building our vocabulary
  2. Using our vocabulary
  3. Loop writing
  4. Offline sketching

1. Building our vocabulary

I knew I was throwing a bunch of new terms at you in this assignment:

  • Visual Dominance
    • Scale
    • Value
    • Color
    • Style
    • Proximity
    • Density
  • Visual Rhythm
    • Repetition
    • Pattern
    • Flow
  • Positive and negative space

We’ll come back to those in just a minute.

What I didn’t fully account for was the newness, or non-clarity, of some of the terms even before you got to the assigned reading:

  • Design
  • Argument

2. Using our vocabulary

Let’s look at some strong examples of design, to get a better handle on how they’re making an argument through visuals.

From Tessa: teach for america flyer

  1. What does this image want us to do?
  2. What arguments is it making?
  3. How does the design function in terms of…
    • positive and negative space: Is the negative space significant here?
    • dominance and hierarchy: What has the most visual weight? Second-most? Is there a third level? Beyond?
    • rhythm and movement: How does your eye move across the image? Does it come to rest, or keep moving? Why?
  4. Would you say the artifact is effectively designed for making the arguments we’ve identified?

Next up, from Jenny H (with the same questions): stronger than hate logo

EXT: If time allows, I’d like to contrast the two images above with the full laptop worth of stickers. Is there visual unity of design here?

3. Loop writing

This exercise is adapted from one by Sondra Perl. Take a few minutes to think in writing about the visual arguments you might want to make. I’ll read a series of questions aloud. Repeat them silently to yourself, and when you feel yourself answering, make a list.

These lists will remain private, unless you choose to share. I won’t ask for them.

  1. What ideas do you want help remembering?
  2. Or what do you want to persuade others of?
  3. Is there something you’ve noticed that you want to bring to the attention of others?
  4. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Something from a course? From an activity or group you participate in? Something you’ve been reading about?

Take a moment now to read back over your lists. Is there something that stands out, that says, me, pick me? Choose one thing to work with, at least for today, and mark it in some way. Then copy it into a clean page.

With that chosen subject, write again:

  1. What terms or images come to mind when you think of this subject? … Think about categories of words: actions vs things. Descriptors.
  2. Is there anything you’re forgetting to add to your list? A line from a song? A color?
  3. Who else might be interested in this? Who, that is, could be your audience?

See if you can summon up the whole of this idea, like it’s right here in the room with you. Where does it live? Is it above you? Inside you? In the palm of your hand? Just sit with your idea for a moment, feeling where you connect to it.

4. Offline sketching

And now, draw. Take a piece of paper, fold it in quarters, and in each quarter sketch out some possibility, some version, of what your idea might look like.

If you can, try to make each image significantly different from each other, to give you options; you can use your lists for inspiration. If you can’t think of very different ones, then work to make just some change.

We’ll work here for a while.

EXT: Fair Use, Creative Commons, and Google Image’s Advanced Search Tools

Not everything is just available for any use – even if you can find it on a public website. See my FAQ from last year at

Don’t miss the screencapture gif of the advanced search filters on Google Images!

screencast of google image search, filtered by usage rights

Homework for next time:

  • Read about fonts at Note that this is part 2 of a 3-part series; feel free to read part 1 for more vocabulary about fonts, or part 3 if you get excited about font-learning! But part 2 has the most essential bits.
    • Optionally, play a font-matching game at to get a sense of (a) what sorts of fonts are out there and (b) how designers go about pairing fonts for what Thompson called hierarchy by “style.”
  • Review the resources page, this time with an eye toward visual resources.
  • Write a visual rhetoric proposal, thinking in words about what you’d like to make for this unit’s major project. See more detailed instructions for what to include in the Issue Queue.