Visual Communication

Language, Literature & Performing Arts
Course Code
CMNS 3401
Semester Length
Max Class Size
Method(s) Of Instruction
Typically Offered
To be determined


Course Description
This course introduces students to the theories and techniques of visual communication. The course examines the physical properties of perception and its application in the broader context of communication studies. It explores the scope and possibilities of imagery in modern technology and culture. It also includes an introduction to methodologies for studying visual conventions and analyzing visual media. Students will apply these methodologies to both formal and vernacular examples ranging from presentation graphics to information design to graffiti.
Course Content

1. Principles of Visual Perception

Students will become familiar with basic principles including

  • form, as defined by shape and depth
  • figure/ground relationships (positive and negative space)
  • visual dynamics
  • balance (symmetry and asymmetry)
  • composition and framing
  • visual weight (importance), including subject matter, value, shape, structure, colour, location, depth,
  • size, texture, and isolation

2. Evolution of Visual Communication

Students will consider the evolution of visual communication and its characteristics, including

  • writing systems (with an emphasis on the differences between ideograms and phonetic alphabets)
  • symbols, glyphs, icons, and logos (with reference to semiology and an examination of the advantages and constraints of symbology)
  • pictorial analysis and critique
  • colour (with an analysis of expectations and choices, an introduction to colour terminology, and an assessment of physical, cultural, and political responses)

3. Contemporary Iterations of Visual Communication

Students will identify and discuss contemporary formal and vernacular iterations, such as

  • corporate identity programs
  • information design
  • data visualization
  • branding (including body decoration/tattooing)
  • graffiti (tagging)
Learning Activities

Some or all of the following methods will be used:

  1. lecture/discussion
  2. group work
  3. peer review
  4. independent research or project
  5. instructor feedback on students’ work
  6. individual consultation
  7. presentation (individual or group)
Means of Assessment

Students are expected to be self-motivated and to demonstrate professionalism, which includes active participation, good attendance, punctuality, effective collaboration, ability to meet deadlines, presentation skills, and accurate self-evaluation.

Evaluation is in accodance with the Douglas College Evaluation Policy and will be based on this general format:

Presentation: Image analysis 20%
Photo essay 15%
Midterm exam 20%
Essay or project 30%
Professionalism/participation (as defined above) 15%
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to

  1. identify and understand a wide range of visual principles and techniques
  2. assess imagery and design within varied forms of media
  3. evaluate visual content from physical, cultural, and social perspectives
  4. compare and contrast the effectiveness of visual communication with text, oral, audio, and kinetic media
  5. identify, understand, and discuss distinct visual practices (for example, digital versus embodied media)
  6. analyze and discuss new developments in visual communication
  7. critique visual media analytically and persuasively, and communicate clearly and competently their views and opinions
Textbook Materials

Texts may include:

Bo Bergström, Essentials of Visual Communication
Harry Jamieson, Visual Communication: More Than Meets the Eye

Coursepack of required readings



Acceptance into the Post-Degree Diploma in Professional Communication


A minimum of 45 credit hours including a university-transfer course in English, Communications, or Creative Writing with a grade of B or higher


Permission of the Professional Communication program coordinator


No corequisite courses.


Courses listed here are equivalent to this course and cannot be taken for further credit:

  • No equivalency courses

Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for CMNS 3401
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU CMNS 325 (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU CMNS 3XXX (3)
University of British Columbia - Vancouver (UBCV) UBCV ARTS 2nd (3)
University of Northern BC (UNBC) UNBC HUMN 3XX (3)

Course Offerings

Summer 2023