NON VISUAL LANGUAGE -Issues for Design -6

Post 610 by Gautam Shah



A Design incorporates expressions of many different types. The expressions are acutely abstract and so are ancestral or personal. Expressions come into being for many different purposes, but mainly to reinforce the societal and functional relevance of the designed entity. The expressions, unintentionally show the designers likes and dislikes, compulsions of technology and cultural traces, but always show a strong geo-spatial character. The expressions are dominantly of visual language, but do include many non-visual clues.


TWA Flight center at JFK International airport 1956-62 by Eero Saarinen > Wikipedia image by AudeVivere

The design expressions occur in holistic form, and also through components or details. Visual and non-visual expressions as signs are drawn graphics, totems or emblems. Buildings are holistically formed or shaped as micro-macro replicas with pseudo or real details. Alternatively images are replicated in geometric, scalar, postural or combinative variations. These replicated individual items through their siting, mutual relationship and composition as a whole, form signs.


13 th Trecena of the Aztec Calendar > Wikipedia image

The design expressions due to their brevity of form, convey the content faster and efficiently. ‘It is like a word representing a sentence’. Such abstracted expressions come into being as signs. The signs were primarily meant for enriching the meaning, but over a period of time began to be explored for substantiating what was not possible to express in visual expression or description. Signs depend for their meaning upon form, setting and location, and so the signs are circumstance specific spatial entities.


Samsung Galaxy Multi touch > Wikipedia image by Bin im Garten

Wired Soft Robot Glove

Non Visual clues offer a mixed experience, and so it becomes difficult to identify the source or classify the typology. Mixed clues offer associations that are easy to remember and recollect but impossible to create exactly. Smells and taste, Odours and the environment, water and season, fresh air and well being, are some of the combined images that occur with very little visual connection.



Non-visual clues in designed entities are as old as human culture. These are metaphoric signs that offer clues like bright-dark, colours, sounds taste, odour, complex concepts and acts. Sounds like opening or closing of a shutter (even if technically not a necessity) adds to the acknowledgement, a metaphor for change. Video games and simulators for learning-training add such non visual clues for reinforcement. Automobiles have blipping lights and sound signals to indicate turning directions. Mobiles can have keys striking sounds (though not a necessity). We encounter warning signs of graphical nature being supplemented by lights, colours, textures, sounds or odours. In game play-tools and mobiles the sense of direction is experienced by tilting the unit. Can such non-visual clues be used in architectural design? The angle at which a door knob or stair rail is grabbed must alter the user experience. Can the perception of a building form be made independent of illumination (angle and intensity) and colour tone?


El Gouna Turtle house by German architect Kurt Voltzke > Wikipedia image by Naamsvermelding vereist

 Non visual clues are also used as a ‘silent language’ in space planning and occupation. The spatial arrangements present signs that enforce ‘culturally determined’ styles of interactions. The spatial privacy and intimacy are functions of non-visual clues like distancing, duration, body posturing, body heat, odours, likelihood of physical touch, and audibility.



Visual and non-visual clues mature as real and as abstract signs. The signs as expressions also thrive on mutual distancing. The interludes or the interruptions in the sequence of the signs, allow a refreshing break, and so meaning from the earlier experience. The sign sequences or signals form a language. Groups of signs a matrix rather than as a temporal or spatial sequence reflects a cultural identity. Symbols are more comprehensive but restrictive like a horse shoe, a red Hindu Bindi on the forehead, white dress for marriage, cross or star.


 In Whitehead’s opinion, ‘symbols are analogues or metaphors standing for some quality of reality that is enhanced in importance or value by the process of symbolization itself’.


This is the 6 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN

4 thoughts on “NON VISUAL LANGUAGE -Issues for Design -6

  1. Pingback: Links to Blogs on ISSUES of DESIGN | Interior Design Assist

  2. Pingback: BLOGS LINKS about PERCEPTION | Interior Design Assist

  3. Pingback: LINKS to My BLOGS on Sound, Hearing and Acoustics | Interior Design Assist

  4. Pingback: ISSUES of DESIGN -List of 34 Blog articles | Interior Design Assist

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