It’s All About the Composition These Days

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.27.18 PMYou know that feeling you get when you are reading something for class and then you flip to the next page that happens to be a two-page spread of pictures and images? It’s a good feeling, right? That wonderful sense you get that your reading is almost over…and then you realize you have a lot more to do–but that’s not the point. When you see this, you probably think you’re in luck because the authors of the book just didn’t have anything else to put on the page, like they messed up, right? Wrong. Turns out, everything behind a message is scrutinized until it can’t be reviewed anymore. So listen up, because there is a lot behind the composition of a multimodal message, as told by Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen in their chapter on “The Meaning of Composition” in Reading Images.First off, there are three main principles of composition that represent the way the elements in a message all relate to each other.

  1. Information Value. This is the placement of elements and the ability it has to relate the viewers to the product.
  2. Salience. This is the ability an element draws attention to itself to different degrees (i.e. placement of factors in foreground or background such as its size, tonal value, colors, and more). It also is the main fundamental function of integration codes that serve to produce text.
  3. Framing. This is the presence or absence of framing devices that brings identity and individuality to a message or product.

These principles relate the representational and interactive meanings of the images involved in a message to each other through these three systems. One of the main points we can take away from this text is that there are many factors that go into a composition, but it is the way that all of the elements are arranged that make certain messages stand out. For example, one method Kress and van Leeuwen talk about is the value of left and right, or in more specific terms, “Given” and “New”. These ideas of two different sides depicts a message that separates factors that are familiar to viewers and those that are not familiar. The “Given” segment usually consists of a picture or image (something that we as viewers are familiar with), leaving the “New” portion to give viewers new information, usually through text. Of course, “New” can become “Given” with time.

The next concept these designers discuss is the idea of top and bottom, or Ideal and Real. The Ideal component, or the top, demonstrates the promise of the product and emanates the glamour component. By contrast, the Real component, known as the bottom, displays the product itself and is more informative and practical, making clear the true distinctions between the two.

As you can see, there are a lot of components that go into the composition of a message/design. However, many different cultures perceive composition in various ways, so it is important as a designer to learn the ways to compose your designs to ensure the message gets sent to your viewers. Like I said, everything is about composition these days; it’s what get’s messages across.


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