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WEB | The History of Visual Communication [Part I]

January 15, 2010

A while ago we featured a new section: WEB. In this section we’ll review websites that we find particularly interesting. Our most recent discovery is the awesome website The History of Visual Communication, which contains the material of the course VA312, taught at Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey. The web-site is an attempt to walk you through the long and diverse history of a particular aspect of human endeavour: The translation of ideas, stories and concepts that are largely textual and/or word based into a visual format, i.e. visual communication, as they describe themselves. We’re going to divide this post in two parts, as there is so much info to share:

Wikipedia defines visual communication as:

Visual communication is the communication of ideas through the visual display of information. Primarily associated with two dimensional images, it includes: art, signs, photography, typography, drawing fundamentals, colour and electronic resources. Recent research in the field has focused on web design and graphically oriented usability. It is part of what a graphic designer does to communicate visually with the audience.

The site is divided into 10 sections to explain the complete history of visual communications, from the Cro-Magnons to the ultimate use of computers, let’s take a trip:

01. Rocks and Caves When Cro-Magnons arrived in Europe about 40,000 years ago, they brought with them sculpture, engraving, painting, body ornamentation, music and the painstaking decoration of utilitarian objects. From that times we have cave painins which most common themes are large wild animals, such as bison, horses, aurochs, and deer, and tracings of human hands as well as abstract patterns, called Macaroni by Breuil.

By that time we can also find Petroglyphs, which are images etched in rock, usually by prehistoric, especially Neolithic, peoples and Geoglyphs, drawings on the ground, or a large motif, (generally greater than 4 metres) or design produced on the ground, either by arranging clasts (stones, stone fragments, gravel or earth) to create a positive geoglyph or by removing patinated clasts to expose unpatinated ground.


02. Ideograms that are graphical symbols that represents an idea, rather than a group of letters arranged according to the phonemes of a spoken language, as is done in alphabetic languages. Examples of ideograms include wayfinding signage, such as in airports and other environments where many people may not be familiar with the language of the place they are in, as well as Arabic numerals and mathematical notation, which are used worldwide regardless of how they are pronounced in different languages. The term “ideogram” is commonly used to describe logographic writing systems such as Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters.


03. The Alphabet The history of the alphabet starts in ancient Egypt. The first pure alphabets (properly, “abjads”, mapping single symbols to single phonemes, but not necessarily each phoneme to a symbol) emerged around 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt, as a representation of language developed by Semitic workers in Egypt, but by then alphabetic principles had already been inculcated into Egyptian hieroglyphs for a millennium (see Middle Bronze Age alphabets).


04. The Art of the Book This section is divided into the topics Scriptorium, Techniques and Classifications, where art historians classify illuminated manuscripts according to their historical periods and types, including (but not limited to): Insular script, Carolingian manuscripts, Ottonian manuscripts, Romanesque manuscripts and Gothic manuscripts.


05. The Printing Press Starting with incunabula, in the times when printers tended to congregate in urban centres where there were scholars, ecclesiastics, lawyers, nobles and professionals who formed their major customer-base. Standard works in Latin inherited from the medieval tradition formed the bulk of the earliest printing, but as books became cheaper, works in the various vernaculars (or translations of standard works) began to appear.

Building on Rosarivo’s work, contemporary experts in book design such as Jan Tschichold and Richard Hendel, assert as well that the page proportion of the golden section (21:34), has been used in book design, in manuscripts, and incunabula, mostly in those produced between 1550 and 1770. Hendel writes that since Gutenberg’s time, books have been most often printed in an upright position, that comform losely, if not precisely, to the golden ratio, as we can see in these Pages from Albrecht Duerer famous book on design fundamentals: “De Symmetria” (Unterweysung der Messung), 1525:

Part II from the Renaissance to current times, later today!! Stay tunned to check out the avant-garde and computer design.

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