January 23, 2012

Visual Symbols in My Life


(Chinese characters in evolution, picture from internet)

In today's society, we can see visual symbols everywhere, conveying a variety of information to people via the line, light, color, strength, performance, balance, form and other symbolic elements. The most typical visual symbol in my life is Chinese character. Written language is one of the most important medium to disseminate information and knowledge among people. Unlike English letters, which are alphabetic, Chinese characters are pictographic. Even though through undergo constant evolution, Chinese characters has been changed from traditional ones to simplified ones for reading and writing convenience, kids in China are still taught in visual way when they are beginning to learn and remember Chinese characters.  The Chinese textbooks for low grade students typically show the pictures and the characters of objects at the same time. With the contrast, it’s easier for kids to understand and remember the composition of corresponding characters. As soon as they have built a imagination between characters and objects, they can easily recall how the characters look like without rote learning.

People always reflect expeditiously to visual stimulation because it is intuitive and easily obtained by human brain. In this information age, human beings are entering a high-speed, near-offset disorderly living environment. They are no longer satisfied with exchanging message by written language. People urgently need a most convenient, fastest and most efficient way to pass the information to others. At this time, visual symbols are undoubtedly the most appropriate choice. Research shows that the prime way for human being to perceive the world is watching. There is more than 80% information people obtaining from vision, in comparison, the information get from other senses together account for less than a total of 20%. One – third of the human brain is dominated by the visual nervous organ.  Nowadays, dissemination of visual culture phenomenon appears in all aspects of our lives. American movies, TV-series, Variety Shows, Japanese animated movies are hot around the world; pictures in newspapers and magazines have greatly exceeded the space devoted to text; ads throughout every corner, dress, architecture and so directly in sight. Popular culture is increasingly dependent on visual symbols of communication. Because of busy life and intense work, people are reluctant to read texts but prefer to see visual symbols. Visual symbols convey much more information than text do, as well as easy to be accepted and understanding. It explains well why some online social networking services with large part of visual elements such as Youtube, Facebook are so popular all over the world.



(Snowing on UNI campus, photo by Min Zhang)


I am not a designer of visual symbol, but I love to see excellent visual symbol in my life, from logo design to building design, from advertisement to Hollywood blockbuster. Like most young people, I love to record my life and express my idea and thought through posting pictures and videos to my blog, Facebook and Youtube to share my happiness and sadness with my friends and family and communicate with others. In the interactive communication environment, everyone is both audience and producer of visual media, getting and disseminating information and resources. Visual symbol tend to give more room for imagination, that’s why we often see different people have different understanding of the same visual design. Visual symbol gives rise not only in the form of visual association, more importantly, it can evoke thought association and, thus, empathy, achieve emotional resonance.

Along with intensification of globalization, efficient and effective communication around the globe becomes increasing important than ever before. The ultimate goal of visual symbols in the cross-cultural communication is to achieve global sharing of information and resources, alleviating the limitations of communication among people from different cultures and backgrounds. At the same time, visual symbols enable people from different cultures to demonstrate their unique value, forming an open, free, balanced, diverse international cultural communication order. As Edward T. Hall said: Culture is communication and communication is culture.

As one of the most direct and effective way to pass the message in 21st century, Visual symbol is ubiquitous in all walks of life. Learning how to take advantage of visual symbols to teach students in an easier and more engaging way is a required course for all educators.

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