Updated: May 26
NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Creative Craft (601/3232/2) / Develop craft ideas (H/506/2672) / 1.2 Develop visual language to communicate craft ideas
Uma has been tasked with enhancing the product line of an organisation that works with a group of artisans. On her first day at work, Uma met with wonderful artists & craft persons. These phenomenal men and women had surreal expertise in crafts and most of them had been trained in them right in their childhood. The craft products they were making at the centre displayed unparalleled skill and hard work. However, most of these products failed to command a high selling price.
As Uma observed the customer’s reactions in one of the sale events, she realised that customers were appreciative of the hard work put in these craft pieces but stopped short of buying the stuff. What was that something that was not giving the final conversion push?
After lot of observation and deliberation, Uma realised that the products lacked that appeal that would make the customer feel compelled to buy the product. Without that appeal it was like, ‘it’s a wonderful piece of craft….but not useful for me....maybe!’. Uma decided to work on the visual language of the products to make them more appealing & buyable to customers.
Visual Language: Visual language can be defined as communication of an idea, concept or theme by using the right visual elements like colour, shape etc. Visual elements have the power to communicate without spoken language and across cultures. For example, pastel shades are associated with new born children and thus symbolise softness and innocence. Similarly, black signifies power, strength and indefinite depth.
Uma realised that training artisans in mapping the right visual communication elements with the product line could enhance the appeal & saleability of the product line. Here are some excerpts from the training that Uma conducted for the artisans:
What is Visual language in craft? How can you communicate a concept, theme or idea through visual language?
Visual language can be defined as a combination of visual cues that are put together to communicate a concept , theme or idea. The most generic example for this could be use of black colour for gothic themes. Since black is associated with death and unwavering authority, it is almost customary to use an element of it in all dark themes. Similarly, all the colours associated with flowers, i.e. pink, pastel red, yellow, lavender are used for themes around hope, happiness, softness etc.
It is important here to understand that colour is not the only element responsible for visual communication. In addition to colour; line, shape, form and texture together present a cumulative effect on the visual communication of the final product.
What are the visual elements that can help communicate the visual language?
The primary visual elements responsible for communicating visual language of a craft are colour, line, form, shape and texture. These elements combine together in a design to communicate various themes like softness, definity, authority, chaos etc.
What is the role of colour in communicating visual language in craft products?
Colour is one of the most powerful visual elements of communication. Colours can be categorised into cool & warm depending upon the side of colour wheel they are on. Colours could also help in depicting the mood, like pastel shades denote softness and vulnerability; dark colours could communicate authority, seriousness or even negativity sometimes and so on!
Also, colour could create impression of space, magnitude & intensity as dark colours are receding and light colours have an expanding impact. Strong shades like dark red, electric blue or bright yellow could intensify the visual communication when used at the right places.
Also, using particular colour combinations can have a huge impact on visual communication. While monochromatic colour planning can suggest consistency and continuity, contrast colour combinations can place emphasis on individual shapes & forms of different parts of the craft. Thus, contrasting colour combinations enhance the play of shapes in the end product.
What is the difference between shape & form? How can these be used for obtaining the right visual communication in products?
Shape is two-dimensional while form is three-dimensional. While a product will almost always have a 3D form, the role of visible 2D shape impacts purchase decisions to a large extent. This could be primarily due to the reason, that shape is often visible in the first instance while form takes a while to register with the audience. Also, in the world of e-commerce, it is often the shape (flat picture of the product) that gets a negative/positive response from the customer. Most generic example of using form or shapes could be the use of fish, mickey mouse face or other popular shapes in children’s products like pencil cases, reading pillows etc. Product designers today have to be extra careful about designing products that are not just good in quality & utility but also look good in online pictures. There have been ample examples of best of the products failing in e-commerce because there online picture reflected a shape that was offensive or not appealing to say the least.
What is the role of lines in bringing about the right visual communication in products?
Lines are one of the most interesting and often unnoticed area of visual communication. In a way line is the precursor to every design and the treatment given to lines in a product can hugely impact the visual communication of the craft product.
Lines can manifest in products in various ways; the most obvious being the prints and textures on the surface of the product. The lines printed, painted, engraved, pasted on the face of the product could be broken, continuous, straight, angular/curved, slanting vertical, horizontal, zig-zag, radiating, closely spaced and much more. By taking different paths, these lines subconsciously control the movement of your eyes on the surface of the product. A clever product designer uses these lines to hilt to guide onlooker’s eye movement on the product. So, lines can be used effectively to ensure which part of the object the onlooker see’s first and then next!
Apart form eye navigation, lines have a huge psychographic impact on the visual language. While continuous lines denote confidence, haphazard broken lines can denote chaos & disorder. Similarly straight lines can suggest seriousness while curved lines could reflect casualness and comfort.
Imagine two plain A-line dresses in Cambridge blue colour, sleeveless and round neckline. Printing one of these with straight, unbroken lines and the other with curved, discontinuous lines can bring all the difference in these being labelled as formal or casual wear!
Additionally, lines manifest in product designs in functional features like outline shapes, collars, princess line, borders, lids, seams & more. Using the right style, direction, spacing and size of lines could go a long way in enhancing the visual appeal of a product.
What is the role of texture in visual communication?
Texture provides feel to the products. While all other elements of design / visual communication only appeal to sight; texture appeals to both touch /tactile and sight of the onlooker. The texture of the craft object / fabric could be rough, smooth, shiny, silky, pebbly, prickly and so on. Similarly, each of these textures will allocate its unique feel to the cumulative visual communication of the object. Textures could be obtained by using the right material or can be create by surface modification. In either of the scenarios, texture has the power to formally seal the final appeal of the draft product in a certain manner.
Apart from line, colour, texture, shape and form, what could be the other elements of design that can impact visual communication?
Most literature available on design classifies these factors into elements of design and principles of design. This often confuses the reader as most of these terms are related to each other. A good design takes care of right placement of elements maintaining balance, scale & space. Please read Graphic Design for Social Media to understand this further .
How can visual language in craft products promote sale conversions?
Shopping is an emotive experience. Much of commerce is generated by desires that satisfy a certain dimension of our thinking. It is important to understand these aspects for running a successful business in fashion / crafts. Right visual language, helps connect the buyer with the product intuitively and helps them cross the final psychological barrier that is trying to rationalise the purchase.
Use of elements from popular cartoon characters on children’s products & collectibles make even the average / low quality products sell at a higher price. The primary reason for this phenomenon is that children and even adults start identifying with screen characters and owning a product from the franchisee helps them strengthen that bond.
The phenomenon is not only valid for screen buffs; it is for similar reasons that black bags and shoes are highest selling colours for formal wear accessories. The concept of men not wearing softer colour clothes and accessories (at least to work) also stems form the fact that they would not like to look vulnerable at any point as reinforced by societal conditioning. We do not give a conscious thought to most of these purchase decisions but follow unsaid societal norms that ultimately stem out of these deep-rooted mindsets.
Designing products in visual language that confirms to customer’s beliefs and desires therefore enhances the appeal and saleability of these products.
How can a designer /craftsperson ensure correct visual communication in their products? What is appealing to one set of audience might not click with someone else!
The key to solve this problem is identifying your end-customer first.
'There is no right or wrong in design'. It's just that it has to be suitable for the prospective customer group.
1. Are you making this product line as per a specific theme? If yes, the theme will be your primary guidance in terms of design elements to be used!
2.Identify the broad demographics (age, eduation level, employment status, ethnicity, place of residence, income level, family details-single, married with children etc.) of your intended customer group.
3. Now note down the most apparent psychographics of this particular demography. This could be their interests, hobbies, favourite TV shows, preferred cuisine, most likely recreation activities, general lifestyle etc.)
4. Establish the end-utility of your product. Is it to be used for kitchen utility, apparel, living room decoration, lounge routine etc.
5. Mapping the above 4 factors will provide you a fairly good idea about the right use of colours, lines, and other principles / elements of design for obtaining right visual communication.
6. Confirm your shortlisted, intended colours & patterns with the fashion trends of the sale season
And that's all you need to make your craft products relatable and saleable by using the right visual language!