Purposive Pattern Recognition: The Nature of Visual Choice in Graphic Design

LANGRISH, John Z and ABU-RISHA, Maria (2009). Purposive Pattern Recognition: The Nature of Visual Choice in Graphic Design. In: Undisciplined! Design Research Society Conference 2008, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK, 16-19 July 2008.


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Every pamphlet, brochure, booklet, advert, package, poster, etc that has ever been produced involved a visual choice made by a human being - even if the choice were restricted to ‘doing it like the last time’ or ‘copy this one’. Whether graphic designer, information designer, advertising executive, programmer, printer or the Managing Director’s wife, someone decided this picture, this type face, this layout etc rather than some available alternative.

How are visual choices made? And, in particular, how do professional graphic designers make choices between visual alternatives.

It was decided to probe this question by interviewing professional designers and looking at their work. The initial plan involved some sophisticated analysis of variables but it soon became apparent that such an approach was not possible.

Specific interview questions such as, “You decided to use a picture of an elephant. Why an elephant and why this particular one?” met with responses along the lines of, “It just felt right” or “It’s intuitive”. It became clear that although some designers can tell a story about their choices, most designers make use of their experience and the experience of others to arrive at a decision that is not the result of some carefully thought out decision tree or a calculus of competing requirements. It was felt by both of us that there ought to be a better way to describe this process of ‘just knowing its right’ than intuition. Eventually we came up with Purposive Pattern Recognition, abbreviated to PPR. One of us (M A-R) gathered the evidence from interviews, case studies and existing studies of Masters in Design (a title awarded by a US magazine, following a poll of its readership) The other one (J Z L) placed the notion of PPR in a conceptual framework using current thinking in neuroscience and in evolutionary memetics.

Graphic Design, Intuition, Neuroscience, Memetics.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (-)
Depositing User: Ann Betterton
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2009
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 14:04
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/461

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