Design first and foremost is communication. It’s a language that is easy to learn but infinitely difficult in its execution (Note: just ask anyone who has taken my design courses at UCLAx). As a form of communication it differs immensely from our spoken language. Not only from its obvious use of the senses engaged, but also in its inherent structure.

Vocal languages commonly only stress one side of an interaction. For example, “A stone is hard” describes its properties. It doesn’t convey anything more than a simple one-sided tidbit of information. The structure is very simple–remember your grammar and you’ll understand.

Design is all about a visual language that describes not only a component’s properties but how other things interact with each component in the composition. Each component itself conveys its own set of properties as well as its visual relation to other things around it–the composition also conveys another level of meaning. If done with careful consideration for Composition, Components, and Concept, the visual language of design can communicate and spur more levels of communication long after its initial contact by the viewer. Design can speak to the soul.

So, when you see anything created by humanity, listen to what it conveys. You’d be surprised with the conversation.



Often when critiquing design work, both professionally and academically, we have an intuitive notion of whether it visually works or not. This initial gut reaction is what any Star Wars fan calls “The Force”. In the Star Wars movies, the force is this invisible energy that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds all things. This force is referenced in almost all cultures and civiliations.

I often think of “the Force” when I ponder visual design communication. Visual communication can only happen when there’s something to be viewed, a viewer, and a medium that conveys the two. This communication carries with it conveyances (packets of information). Any component and its arrangement (composition) carries meaning that is interpreted by the viewer. When both components and composition of the viewed resonate harmoniously with the viewer, the work is successful. The opposite is also true. If both components and composition don’t resonate with the viewer, the piece doesn’t work and a harsh reaction occurs. Like The Force, there’s no meaning until it reaches the viewer.

The Force (communication conveyances) can be manipulated by designers. Composition, in particular is a strong way to deal with this force. It’s a quick and easy way to create harmony or disharmony. So, composition is one of the first things I deal with when teaching new design students. When we can manipulate this strong aspect of design on many levels, we can control the viewer—a magical aspect of design. The power of arranging things is documented in the study of Feng Shui.

Often beginning designers don’t realize the power that can be harnessed with composition. And, I know which students have it and those that don’t. I guess that makes me a “Yoda” in the design world. Hmmm… I’ll take that.


Foreground and Background

When you observe a great scene of a movie, a great classic painting, or even concept art, we interpret what we see as if we are actually placed in the scene. We see what our eyes and brain want us to see. But if we pay attention to the composition, our focus comes into play and components of the scene become separated into foreground and background.

This separation between what’s important to focus in on and what supports the context of the scene is essential to both art, design, and, of course, life. With this purposeful manipulation on the part of the artist and designer, the harmony of the composition makes things easy to follow and understand.

What if we applied this concept of foreground and background to our own lives. We start to prioritize our life. We find out what’s important enough to focus in on and what in our lives are just background context. The most important things in your life always come into focus in the foreground and the less important ones go the background and support the important things.

Like a classic painting, pay attention to the composition of your life and it will always lead you to the important things.