The way in which designers put visual elements together to form solutions is due in large to everyone’s learned experience, both objective and subjective.

The easiest way to illustrate this is of course graphically, so take a minute to go through the basic exercise below.

1. Which form best represents anger, which best represents harmony?

2. Which colour/s best represent anger, which best represents harmony?

3. Which form best represents loud, which best represents quiet?

4. Which form best represents pain, which best represents comfort?

My answers:

Exercise 1. I would choose a triangle for anger because it is a sharp pointy shape that reminds me of knives and sharp teeth – weapons to attack out with. Harmony, I choose the circle because it is soft and flowing without any hard edges.

Exercise 2. I chose red and black for anger: ‘you see red’, red is fire and heat. Black is strong and unyielding. For harmony I chose blue and green because they are associated with nature, blue for a clear sky and water to purify. Green for earthiness to ground oneself.

Exercise 3. I interpret the largest square to represent loud and the smallest to represent quiet. Although they are both identical but for size it is simply the idea of volume that directs my choice.

Exercise 4. For similar reasons as in exercise 1 the triangle to me is pain – a sharp item piercing the skin like a shard of broken glass. The circle is obvious as comfort because it has no edges or points and reminds us of a cushion or tyre (shock absorbing, try square wheels for ride comfort).

The above examples require the reader to decode the answer using a certain amount of subjectivity and lateral thinking.

Of course these interpretations are not absolutes, but one would argue that in Australian western culture, my selections would be the common choices. So as a designer this reasoning allows us to make logical decisions within subjectivity. However some decisions are based purely on objectivity as in the exercise below:

5. Which colour represents go and which represents stop?

I, like you will choose red for stop, green for go. We learn this as a fact growing up – traffic lights; stop signs; stop start buttons on machinery and emergency stop buttons. There is no room for interpretation here because lives may depend upon it.

The same goes for your communication, it is essential to send the right message.