Mixed Modalities: Communication Design, Overt Messages and Latent Social Narratives

By:
Prof. Keith Owens
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Communication design concerns itself with giving tangible form to mental constructs in order to create communication. To that end, it engages in three roles: identifying, instructing, and promoting. Operating in its third role, the discipline often facilitates communications between corporate entities and consumers with whom they wish to engage. These subsidized forms of communication are expected to be persuasive rather than dialogic. Involved parties: clients, designers and consumers are each conscious of the overt content and commonly understood goals of these narrative types.

However, communication design — in whose knowledge should lay a deeper understanding — often fails to recognize many of the less obvious message bearing qualities exhibited by its artifacts. Many times, the discipline focuses on overt content while simultaneously disregarding an artifact as a thing in the world, a token of a class or a formal presence. In so doing, the discipline overlooks latent, normative social messages embodied in this ‘designed’ aesthetic.

This presentation will examine whether society and/or the discipline should be concerned by communication design’s failure to recognize the latent social narratives arising from its commercialized artifacts. To do so, the presentation will first identify a number of overt messages and latent narratives jointly embodied in three paradigmatic communication design forms: annual reports, automotive sales literature and internal corporate newsletters. The latent narratives will then be explicated in order to expose communication design’s largely unreflective aesthetic attempts to influence normative social or cultural expectations.


Keywords: Aesthetics, Communication Design, Design, Designed Artifacts, Materiality, Semiotics, Social Narratives
Stream: Aesthetics, Design
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Mixed Messages


Prof. Keith Owens

Assistant Professor, School of Visual Arts, The University of North Texas
Denton, Texas, USA

Appointed in 2003, Keith Owens is an assistant professor at the University of North Texas School of Visual Arts. In addition to teaching, Mr. Owens concerns himself with and writes about design ethics. Before joining UNT, Mr. Owens owned Rebus Design in Dallas, worked as a senior designer at Davison Design in San Francisco and a designer at Strickland Design in Houston. Between his time working in Houston and San Francisco, Mr. Owens spent five years as a visiting instructor teaching communication and packaging design at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. While teaching there, he also obtained a masters degree at West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas. Mr. Owens is an honors graduate of Texas Tech and West Texas State Universities. He is a member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the current education committee chair of its Dallas, Fort Worth chapter.

Ref: H06P0424