The importance of visual grammar

According to the Gestalt, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”. If we accept the mantra of the German school, we are doomed to accept that the aesthetic construction contains a grammar of its own, some basic elements that in their conjunction form a whole with its own entity, but dissolvable and flexible. In the linguistic meaning of the term grammar we find the terms, norms and rules to build a language efficiently. In the visual this meaning is enriched since the visual language is polyhedral and not only is due to the oral or written communication; for that reason the visual grammar has a more complex meaning.

For me the term process is the key. Unlike other communication systems, visual communication implies a process of perception that plays a fundamental role in effective communication. The way in which we face, perceive and process an aesthetic construction is the very basis of visual language, hence the importance of those mental processes that underlie the visual system and that are composed in its DNA of this visual grammar.

Man has always had the need for proportion and harmony, not only to contemplate it as mere spectators but also the need to understand it, to discover the norms that compose this harmonic beauty. The first Greek philosophers already debated harmonic forms and proportions and deified the abstract objects that today are the basis of the “objectual” conception of visual grammar: the line, the point, the surface, the dimension. But perhaps the most intentional approach to the study of visual grammar as a discipline with its own entity did not take place until the early years of the twentieth century within the school of Bahuaus: Vasily Kandisky and Laszlo Moholy understood the need for the creation of a grammar of their own. Specifically, Kandinsky stated that “like the words of language, the plastic elements must be recognized and defined. And as in grammar, the laws of construction must be established. In painting, the composition treatise responds to grammar”.

In today’s society, each and every one of the actors that make it up are consumers of visual messages

During the 20th century, visual grammar has been the subject of intense study. Susan Sontag defined this modern society as “a society lacking in morals that brutalizes sensitivity and dulls the ability of the majority of people to do good, but that puts within reach of a minority the consumption of an astonishing range of intellectual and aesthetic pleasures”. This is why authors such as Rudolf Arnheim, Fabris Germani, Justo Villafañe, Gyorgy Kepes, Herbert Read and many others have devoted themselves to the study of this grammar underlying all aesthetic construction and its implication in the development of the visual society.

As a designer, undoubtedly one of the most interesting readings for the visuals of grammar dissection, and which I recommend to any designer to refresh those terms and relationships that we sometimes take for granted, is the work of Christian Leborg “ Visual grammar” by Gustavo Gili Publishing House. In it the author proposes through a mixture of treatise and visual dictionary the basic elements that compose a visual grammar like the abstract objects (point, line, dimensions,…), the concrete objects (shape, size, color,…), the structures that contain the relation between those objects (gradation, distribution…) and the structures that contain the relation between those objects (gradation, distribution…),…) and what I find most interesting when it comes to understanding the construction of this visual grammar is knowing the processes and relationships with which these structures interact, such as attraction, symmetry, balance, weight, position, etc. Without a doubt, this publication represents a necessary approach for handling visual language from a technical and formal point of view.

We need to handle this language because this formal syntax is what efficiently communicates us with our client through our aesthetic work. It is, in fact, the basis of the construction of our relationship. There is a concern to understand a communication that is possibly one of the characteristics of today’s society and we must respond to this need. Just as oral or written language is a communicational resource that we have naturally and has undergone an evolution from its original form, the same evolution must undergo the entire process of construction of visual objects and for this the knowledge of this syntax, this visual grammar is paramount and necessary.

In today’s society, each and every one of the actors that make it up are voracious consumers of visual messages. That is why we, as creators of these messages, have the responsibility of knowing and applying the basic elements of visual language in order to establish an authentic, critical, efficient and productive dialogue with our consumers. As we have seen, any language is in constant movement and our syntax must also be in constant movement, adapting and growing according to the needs of that consuming mass eager for new visual stimuli.


Al Rodríguez

UX Designer




Al Rodríguez

UX Designer





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