The Primary and Secondary Elements of Effective Visual Aid

By on August 16, 2013 — Updated on March 6, 2016

If you are new to this series, I recommend that your read the Part 1: The VC-Compass, Part 2:  VC-Funnel, Part 3: VC Building Blocks and the Part 4: The VC-Square.

Visual aids are not only  found in the classrooms. Visual aids are found in the markets, streets, buildings, shopping stores and even in your house. Businessmen call it “marketing communication materials” but it doesn’t change that fact that those material are visual aids.

Once a material is used to convey ideas and information in forms that can be read or looked upon, it is considered as visual aid. Now, here are the elements of effective visual aid.

Primary Elements of Visual Aid

VC-Square-Primary1. Space is where everything is placed, and is where you can find your subject. Basically, space is boundless, but when you are inside your room or inside a building, you are in a limited or enclosed space, and when you are outside with no boundaries, you are in the open space.

In  Photography, the area around the subject is referred as space. In Graphic Design, the area on the design that is empty is called white space. In Visual Merchandising, the location where you set up your display is what we referred as space.

2. Dot is the smallest element which be put into the space. It is the beginning of every visible element. A group of dots can form a recognizable object. Two dots makes up a line segment. Three dots makes up a shape. Four dots makes up a form.

Have you experienced the connect-the-dots exercises during your childhood? Visual artists produce visual materials by starting their job from an activity that is almost similar to that.

3. Line is a path through two or more points. It could be a path made by a pen or pencil; a wrinkle marking on your face, hand or any part of your body; sequence of people or object and any path or direction that is formed by anything.

In Geometry, we define line as a series of points that forms a straight path which extends in two opposite directions. A straight path with two end points is a line segment. In other words, curves and zigzag are not considered as line in mathematics.

Though the way we define line in Geometry is quite abstract compare from how we perceive it in Arts, line is still a path. It is a path that connects two or more dots to create a figure that can be easily understood.

 4. Shape is a two-dimensional figure that is produced by connecting three or more dots. The example of shape are circle, oval, square, rectangle, triangle, polygon, irregular shape.

In Photography, there times that shapes are not seen as what we expect. Sometimes it can be seen in the formation of the objects within your frame or sometimes in your background.

Going back to basic, while line can help to convey an idea, shape can do better.

5. Form is a three-dimensional figure that is produced by connecting four or more dots. The example of form are sphere, cube, pyramid and cylinder.

The difference that you can quickly spot between shape and form is the dimension—shape is two-dimensional while form is three-dimensional.

Since form is 3D, it is provides the audience a more detailed and more recognizable figure compared from the prior-mentioned elements. However, you must always remember that 3D also starts from a dot.

Secondary Elements of Visual Aid

VC-Square-secondary6. Measure refers to how small or big, narrow or wide, long or short, heavy or light is an object. One of the techniques on showing the measure is by comparing your subject with other comparable objects in its surrounding which the size commonly known to everyone.

Your viewer could easily imagine how big is the wooden statue when you photograph it with real man standing beside it—than taking a photograph of the statue alone.

7. Direction refers to where the subject is going—left, right, up, down, north, south, east or west. Direction is often associated with motion.

Int terms of showing motion on the image or photograph, it is advisable to provide “extra space” to the direction where your subject is going.

8. Texture is the softness or the roughness of a surface. In drawing, roughness can be introduced by putting dots or jagged lines on the surface of a figure that you are trying to make.

In Photography, many photographers love to shot highly rough surfaces in macro to depict rhythm and pattern—the symbol of auto macro setting in your camera is like a tulip flower with two leaves.

9. Colors are what make our world beautiful. Red, yellow and blue are the first primary colors which I know during primary school until I was introduced to red, green and blue, and later on to cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

In physics, we consider white as the presence of color and black as the absence of color but we will not focus on it because in visual communication we consider black and white as colors.

Value this is the lightness or the darkness in some parts of your subjects caused by light. In the principle of colors, value is obtained by adding white or black to “hue”. Then, the light part is called tint, dark part is called shade. In a more advance setting, hue plus white is called tint, hue plus grey is called chrome and hue plus black is called shade.

While in digital photography, the value depends on the intensity of light and shadow. It can be capture well by manipulating by carefully controlling the light before it can hit the image sensor.

The Secondary Elements Enhances the Primary Elements

It doesn’t mean that because the next elements are “secondary”, they are of lesser importance. We only put them into two groups so that it would be easy for you to identify which element is to use first and which is next.

The secondary element can be applied to the primary elements just like what you can see on the illustration of a kitchen above. Check the following how the secondary enhances the primary:

  • Small yellow circle
  • Long green line
  • Rough blur cylinder
  • Series of red dots to the left

Please stay tune for the next part of this series.

Images: By Elektron (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons | By Elektron (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons



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  1. Pingback: The VC-square, Tool to Making Effective Visual Aid | Creativity Window - Creativity Window

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