Image Selection

Selecting an image involves not just looking at the visual experience. It needs to activate the overall setting. Bruno munari in his book, in the darkness of the night, creates not just a book but an object that evokes the sensory experience. While working on my first commercial editorial design project for an educational institution, I was provided with 300 images and 3 spreads. I had to pick at-least 8 of them to be used.

Often when designers are asked how or why they selected a particular image or in fact any design choice, often the lazy answer is intuition. After enough prodding, you will know that this intuition is perfected over time. The intuitions are determined by visualizing the end setting of the story you're trying to tell. Every single image has something to say with certain key formal attributes attached to it which are often on different wavelengths. An intuitive designer identifies the narrative that she wants to convey and tries to create or find a pattern through the collection of images.

I have worked on personal editorial projects before. Where I create the content, edit the content and design the content. Often times, these three stages are jumbled to create the desired outcome. Selecting an image here is sometimes more a matter of choice. I often go back and shoot the images how I want depending on the concept and layout styles. But this is not possible when you are dealing with, lets say, a newspaper. How do you select an image or a collection of images that have been provided to you to convey the text? Printed newspapers usually have a headline, the single cover image and the caption below it. Isolating all the three parts may give us three different perspectives. A picture is worth a thousand words. And a thousand stories. How do you make sure, that the base story is not distorted in the transmission.

To be honest, you cant. Everyone responds differently to a picture. John Berger in his book, Ways of Seeing, asks us to look at a painting by Van Gogh which has birds flying over a wheat field. He asks us to look at it for some time and then on the next page, shows us the same painting, with a sentence written below which says: This was the last picture he drew before he killed himself. But obviously, now the painting has a different meaning for us. Now the image illustrates those words. An image (or a painting) has its own narrative. When we are able to understand the painting, its not the painting we understand, but the world we live in. We project the surrounding we live in on to the painting.

So does this mean a designer has no role in the process? Can we shrug our hands away from the outcome of an image?

Jarrett Fuller in his essay the Myth of Neutrality talks about the inherent associated power of graphic tools and techniques. He argues against the theory put forward by Beatrice Warde in her 1932 essay ‘Crystal Goblet’ that design (the glass) should be an invisible vessel that contains the content (the wine) and states that design can never be objective. He says:

I think about what this means for the interaction designer; for the designer who isn’t simply designing static messages but is designing interfaces meant to be interacted with, manipulated, experienced. Like advertising, interfaces are often designed to encourage particular interactions—to sell, to advertise, to prompt an action—and through the design choices made—the defaults, the selections, the navigation—the designer pushes the user through the desired interaction.

This is a work in progress and a formal invitation for feedback.