Persuasion – What is it?

Today we spent the day with Wendy Keay-Bright, being introduced back to the Subject module, for our new project, ‘Persuasion’.

Firstly, what is persuasion?

Persuasion attempts to influence people’s beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviours in relation to an event, idea, or object. Persuasive communication achieves five things: stimulation, convincing, call to action, increasing consideration, and tolerance for alternative perspectives. Graphic design is a potent tool for good or bad, as we can see in war propaganda or political promotion. However, even with all of the awareness and understanding we now possess as beings, we have still failed to eliminate things like, cruelty, oppression and war. Practically every decision we make as designers has an ethical dimension, requiring us all to balance the forces in our own small way as responsible individuals.

A designer’s social responsibility

As designers, one of our purposes is to communicate messages, so we have something to say – we have a perspective. Things that we need to ask ourselves before starting the message: Who you we working for, who are we trying to communicate with, and how do we chose to do that? – What kind of tools do we use – even the paper we use is a statement and that’s before we’ve even put anything on it. We designers often imbue our work with meaning, over and above what is required by the client or perceived by the end user. Our work can be a form of artistic self-expression, a manifestation of a political religious belief, or an expression of social engagement. We always need to ask ourselves: How does our work impact on other people?

A designer’s responsibility to persuade

Clients will look to designers to put across their message most effectively and having agreed to a commission, this is exactly what we should do. However, we should be mindful of what we are actually persuading people to do. We might, for example, not wish to participate in creating desires for certain things that people might not really need. Alternatively we may see demand as necessary for a successful capitalist economy. Another example is that, we may not be happy persuading in favour of a cause or reason that we do not agree with or feel is right/appropriate.  It is up to us, as an individual, to decide.

Conflicting principles within a design

The choice of font, the crop of an image or the relative size of element on a page can all influence interpretation in different ways. This responsibility should not be undervalued. Modernism advocates aesthetic neutrality, implying that design should facilitate the conveyance of messages, but not be part of the message itself. The counter argument is that this is impossible to achieve – trying to conceal the role of design is lying in itself.

Mini workshop:

In pairs, we got given two juxtaposing words between us, which we then had to explore the meanings of through the use of text, image and composition.

The words that my partner and I were given, were: hazy / straightforward. We began by looking through a thesaurus to find other synonyms for the words in order to help us get a better understanding of the definition of each word.

Hazy = clouded, dim, dull, opaque, unclear, vague, indefinite, blurry, foggy, fuzzy.

Straightforward = direct, truthful, sincere, unconcealed, level, like it is, unequivocal, forthright, candid, genuine.

To show the words through text, we made ‘hazy’ hard to read and unclear by overlapping the word several times and adjusting the colour and opacity. We also overlaid a block of black tint to add to the blurriness. For ‘straightforward’, we kept it simple, unconcealed and easy to read with bold red text on white.

To show the words through image, we used the idea of mapping out a journey from A to B. For ‘straightforward’, the journey is clear and direct making it easily navigable, whereas for ‘hazy’ the journey is muddles and unclear with multiple options of making the journey – this would most likely lead to a longer and more confusing route.

To act the words out as a composition, we used the journey idea again. The character acting out ‘straightforward’ took the simplest, quickest and easiest route, whereas the ‘hazy’ character took the long way round and couldn’t find or see where they were going clearly at all.

This metaphor could relate to the way in which we choose to work – some people will work in a ‘straightforward’ manner, getting to their final outcome quickly and efficiently, whereas others prefer to take the ‘hazy’ way round in which they may branch off into several side paths before eventually ending up at the finish line and final outcome.


Published by

Amber Lloyd

Graphic Communicator

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