Visual Grammar

     Reading images THE GRAMMAR OF VISUAL DESIGN second edition was published by Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen in 2006. Reading Images focuses on the structures or ‘grammar’ of visual design – colour, perspective, framing and composition – provides the reader with tools to understand reading images and makes it a must for anyone interested in communication, the media and the arts.
     The Chapter 6 is devoted to the discussion of meanings; meaning of composition, “the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art, as distinct from the subject of a work.” in specific. Here the writers discuss the role of technology and further elaborate the function of colours.

The three properties focused on most are:

  1. Information value
  2. Salience
  3. Framing

According to Kress and Leeuwen, these three elements apply not just to single pictures but also to composite visuals, which combine text and image and, perhaps, other graphic elements on a page or on a television or computer screen. When you read a text in print or online, there should be a layout. In fact, you are reading this post through the layout right now. So, let’s look at how each element works in well-designed texts.

Information value

It is the place of elements that endows them with the specific informational values attached to the various ‘zines’ of the image: left and right, top and bottom, center and margin.
When pictures or layouts make significant use of horizontal axis, the elements on the left are presented as Given and the elements on the right are presented as New. Given information is something the viewer already knows and familiar. New information, on the other hand, is unfamiliar and prompts special attention from the reader.


It is the elements that are made to attract the viewer’s attention to different degrees, as realized by such factors as placement in the foreground or background, relative size, contrast in tonal value (or color), differences in sharpness, etc.


It is the presence or absence of framing devices (realized by elements which create dividing lines, or actual frame lines) disconnects elements of the image, signifying that they belong or do not belong together in some sense.

The notion that Given and New, that is, what is known and what is known now is important in this chapter. As I have mentioned in my posts so far, digital media, journalism, and sometimes blogs are required to tell people what they didn’t know before. This format is so useful that you can convey mass information to large audience.

discussion questions:
1. Do layouts influence people’s understanding regardless of the language?
2. What is the best ratio of Given and New?

related story:
Guide to “Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design”

Infographic project

  • Logo designfontscolours
  • Effect of colors
  • Power of Pinterest

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