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Design is universally held as a form of communication. It might as well be, depending on how you do define communication (for this word has a multitude of dissonant uses). But design most definitely is not transmission of information.

At first, it seems that design-as-communication is such an obvious thing that it does not even require discussion. But the basic, reliable model for communication is transmission of information. That is the baseline, the sine-qua-non of sorts, of communication. In order for something to be communication it has to communicate, and that means passing information from somewhere to somewhere else.

Now let’s see design. (For design here i will understand shaping of things and printed media, a rather broad definition but just for the sake of a blog post).

Design shapes things. Graphic design usually shapes things that are, themselves, forms of communications. For example books or magazines. But the design itself is not a form of communication. The magazine has to transmit meanings (the content of it’s articles), but the design does not. It does not have to transmit a given meaning.

The shape of the thing certainly can have meanings, or be interpreted as meaning something. A magazine with a hype actress in the cover can be interpreted (or judged) as girlie, a mag with the same actress in brief clothes can be perceived as “meaning” macho-content. But the design, the way you do make the photo of the actress, the font or color you use for the hedlines, the layout of the page, none of those things expressely says anything.

Therefore, even if design has meanings, it does not express well-stablished, definite, clear meanings. It does not transmit information. This does not mean that we can’t use concepts from communication theory to understand design, nor that we cannot actually see design as communication. But the naive ideas of design as communication will have to be taken with a grain of salt, and sometimes wholely discarded.

And this means o whole lot of ideas about design.


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