The Great Map Problem

Since quite early on in this project, I have had the desire to add an interactive map i.e. Google maps into my application, to be used in two different specific ways.  The first of which was to be a map which allows users to attempt to locate places with Viking names (i.e. ending in ‘by’, ‘thorpe’ or ‘thwaite’) near the city of York, which was an area of England that was densely populated by Vikings during the Viking age.

The second was a map showing the location of museums related to Viking heritage.  So users could then take their knowledge of the Vikings and any interest in the subject, from the application outwards into the wider world to investigate further.

My original plan was to incorporate Google maps, as I have prior experience of working with the Google maps API in my Hull History Viewer application.  Unfortunately a potential problem arose when it was announced that the Google maps API for Adobe Flash was been depreciated.

After searching for alternative map options, I noticed that a lot of people where recommending MapQuest as potential solution to the loss of Google maps for Flash.  I had a quick look at the MapQuest website and it seemed ideal; it said it had a Flash maps API and it uses the term Flash maps repeatedly across the website , so rather stupidly I bookmarked the site to come back to at a later time when I was ready to develop the section where the maps would be featured.  Recently that time arrived and I revisited the site in question, only to find out that all was not as it seemed.  On closer inspection, MapQuest is designed to be used within a piece of software called Adobe Flash Builder (formally Flex builder) and this is not the same software that I am using for my project, I am using Adobe Flash Professional which may sound like it does the same but that is not the case.

So what is the difference between Adobe Flash and Adobe Flash builder?

A good description has been provided by an individual going by the name of “heavilyinvolved” in answer to this question on the Stack Overflow website:

“Flash Professional doesn’t “do” what Flash Builder “does” (or vice versa)… however, there is some minor crossover in that they are both tools that enable designers/developers to compile swf’s.”

Both pieces of software have advantages in differing scenarios but the problem is that they are not really compatible, so ultimately the possibility of using a MapQuest map in my application was looking increasingly unlikely.  I contacted MapQuest directly to ask if there was an appropriate option that I could use within their product range.  In reply I was informed that “Most of our sample code for the MapQuest Platform is for flex” but I was directed towards the link below:

Unfortunately, despite there been a basic source code available on the MapQuest website for a “Flash map”, it is not the mobile version that incorporates the mobile functionality that people are used to using and expect to use on mobile devices.  This makes it not ideal for my app but with little other choice I decided to give it a go but unfortunately I have been unable to get it to work.  There are lots of tutorials and information available for the Adobe Flash Builder version but not for the Adobe Flash Professional version and I cannot find a solution to my problems, despite posting on forums and contacting MapQuest directly.

With the option of using MapQuest maps within my application now not looking like a feasible possibility, I decided to turn my attention back to Google Maps.  This once again was not a long term solution due to its deprecation but as a short term possibility for my hand-in and exhibition I though this may be the answer but alas again my progress was halted due to a difference between Adobe Air for Android and Adobe Air for ios.  Most functionality crosses both platforms but there is a problem with displaying Google Maps for ios

I have been unable to resolve this problem as well and unfortunately I have decided that this is now not a practical resolution to my map problems.

I have been searching for another solution to the “The Great Map Problem” but unfortunately I have reached a point where I need to concentrate on other things, in order to have a presentable application for my hand-in and exhibition.  I have not given up hope of adding these features to my application and this is beauty of the medium I am working in; my app can be released without these features, with the potential to be added at a later date via an automatic update, should I find a solution.  The updateable nature of the medium means that all aspects of my app can be changed in various ways, to incorporate new content, fix possible problems and improve aesthetics and functionality, in the event of new or improved skills, knowledge and ideas.

One issue that does concern me is the wave of momentum to move away from flash based technologies in favour of a move towards technologies such as HTML5 and Javascript, although I have a knowledge of these technologies, my preferred medium is Adobe Flash and Actionscript 3. I like the visual nature of the interface and the animation functionality, it suits me and the way I like to work and although I am relatively new to my practice I am in danger of becoming outdated in the near future, if recent developments are indications of the future.

As a new media practitioner there is a requirement for me to evolve and keep up with current technologies and one of my priorities upon the completion of my master’s study is to investigate, learn and re-enforce other methods of development such as HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.  Due to my recent iMac purchase, I can now also attempt ios native development using Apples Xcode software, in order to have more ways to be creative in my future endeavours.

Although it is extremely frustrating and disappointing to not be able to incorporate all the features that I have desired within my application as yet; there is still a possibility that they will be incorporated at some point in the future and I will do my best to try and make sure that my creative visions become a reality.



Jack of all trades

In a recent meeting, my external examiner said that he could not see what is masterful about my Master’s project.  This was a statement that I found to be quite painful to hear, especially as it was at odds with other appraisals of my work by my own tutors and my peers.  During my reflections and conversations after the external examiner’s damming thought on my work, it was suggested to me that his statement may have been a challenge to explain and communicate the value of my work to him, a challenge that I may have simply failed to meet.  It seems ironic that as a student who is studying the effective communication of information, in my meeting with my external examiner I may not have communicated effectively the nature of my Masters study.

My Masters study is wide and varied, with me looking at areas such as learning theory and practice, the role of new media in education and heritage, digital natives, Gamification, historical information relevant Vikings and illustration amongst others. It soon became apparent to me that it may be hard to see how all of the areas and theories I am investigating link together, I now understand how from the outside it may be hard to see the wood for the trees when looking at my Masters study, there is rather a lot going on but to me I can see the connections between the dots that maybe are not evident to those who are not directly involved.

There is of course another plausible explanation for what is going on, that are no connections and my perceived associative factors are part of my own delusion and I am in fact crazy?  Hopefully by the end of this post I will be able to effectively communicate the nature of my Masters Investigation, highlighting the connections between the different relevant parts, and you will be able understand my Masters study or officially diagnose me as being a delusional.

Through my Masters investigation, I have been looking at the effective communication of educational information through new media digital devices and as an example of my investigation I am creating an Interactive App for the Ipad, to provide educational information about the Vikings.

Whenever I start a project or individual parts of projects, I find it very useful to create mind maps to try to expand and record my ideas and this may be a very useful way of showing the varied nature of my enquiry and its many investigational strands.  See below:

Interactive Learning Enviroments Mind Map

Interactive Learning Enviroments Mind Map

The Vikings Mind Map

The Vikings Mind Map

These are just two of the mind maps I created and there are many more with differing strands of possible enquiry.  Hopefully this helps enlighten those who may be struggling to see how everything fits into my project, but if not the rest of this post may also provide an insight into my thought processes within my professional practice.

Through my approach I can see how it could be argued that my study does not make me a master of my practice but it may make me a well-rounded jack of all trades.

Through a conversation with my peer Gareth Sleightholme, I reached a realisation that surprised me.  There is a common theme to my master’s project that can be traced back to my B.A dissertation “Looking Towards the Principles of the Bauhaus as a Way to Improve the Relationship Between User, Designer and Digital Interface”.  Although my dissertation was focused upon the design of digital interfaces, when opened up to include my practice and my own personal approach within it, there is a commonality that I had not been previously aware of.

In my 2011 thesis I explore different disciplines including Usability, Psychology, Human Computer Interaction, Cognition, Ergonomics and Aesthetics, in order to see how they can be brought together to inform the design process of digital interfaces.  I draw on the example set by the Bauhaus in the early twentieth century:

“After the Werkbund period, an attempt to narrow the gap between the arts and crafts of the early twentieth century was made by Walter Gropius, a German architect who founded the Bauhaus; an art and crafts school that operated in Germany between 1919 and 1933. The Bauhaus originated a unique approach to bring together artists and craftsmen, to form a new breed of craftsman for a new time:” (Shakesby, 2011: p18)

Walter Gropius believed that narrowing the gap between what was known then as the arts and crafts would have a positive effect, on both sets of practices he saw how they could influence and enhance each other:

“Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist!” (Gropius (1919), cited in Shakesby, 2011: p19)

In 2011, I saw the similarities between the divided practices that Gropius identified and the fractioned design practices that exist today:

The arrogant barrier that Gropius mentions is similar to the divide between interface designers; those who follow particular design philosophies often have such confidence in their chosen viewpoint that it may obscure other possible theories. A joining of theories in order to create a utopian balance requires openness on all sides, to listen and learn from each other, in order to affect change.” (Shakesby, 2011: p19)

Gropius believed that by bringing the Arts and Crafts together to combine their knowledge in a pedagogy to be passed on to a new generation, the result would be a more well rounded generation of producers who had the knowledge to amalgamate Arts and Crafts theories into a more balanced practice.  My 2011 piece discusses how interface design needs a modern day equivalent to the Bauhaus method of teaching, providing students with knowledge of many practices.

“Students at the Bauhaus were taught by masters of form and also by masters of craft, the Bauhaus was attempting to teach an all round production philosophy, well balanced in terms of aesthetics considerations, production values and functionalism, in order to create the new breed of practitioner, the craftsman of a new guild envisioned by Walter Gropius.

For Interface design to progress there is a need for designers to be students of different masters or theories, a well balanced design orientation is required in terms of aesthetics considerations, production values and functionalism, these new designers could be a new breed of practitioner that are equipped for the challenges and changes of the twenty-first century.” (Shakesby, 2011: p20)

In 2011 (p.23), I argued that through this type of union of design awareness “a new design theory could arise, suitable for today’s technology, bridging the gap between designers and users in the same way that the Bauhaus helped bridge the gap between producers and consumers in the twentieth century.”  At the time I did not see the bigger picture in regards to my argument and now I would argue that not only would this approach benefit interface design, it would actually benefit my wider practice of interactive multimedia design.

The pace of technological advancement since the early 1990’s has had a massive effect on the world and it has changed our everyday lives, both professionally and personally.  Computers, the Internet and mobile devices are just some of the technological advancements that are pervading society and becoming integral to the way many people live their lives.  These new technologies present new challenges, and knowledge of differing design practices is required to have the information to work out the design equations, to find the appropriate solutions to the new possibilities that we are afforded by the technology.  If you don’t understand what is possible, how can you be confident that the decisions you make are correct?

There is one problem with attempting to have knowledge of more than one discipline. There is a common saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”.  This is a term used to describe people who are competent with many skills but is not necessarily exceptional in any particular one and it is often used in a derogatory way to devalue these people.

The potential problem for a “Jack of all trades” is that they may be seen as the saying goes, as a “master of none”.  Outside perception may be that a specialist may have the ability to produce a higher standard of work.

This of course does not mean that your work will be inferior but there is a greater risk that a lack of knowledge may arise at some point causing a potential dilemma.  This risk element is one of the main reasons that some people are put off by the “Jack of all trades”

Wagner describes the negative perception of the Jack of all trades“Being considered a “jack of all trades” has always had a negative connotation. It implies that you dabble in bits of everything, but never achieve the expertise needed to be good at any one pursuit.” Wagner, (2009),

Jeroen Van Geel explains how a little knowledge can lead us to become overconfident in our abilities:

“When we think we have an understanding of how things work, we have the feeling that we can impact everything. Of course this is great and we all know that curiosity should be stimulated, but at the same time this energy and endless search for knowledge can be a curse. Before we know it we become the jack of all trades, master of none.” Van Geel, (2013),

By following a “Jack of all trades” process, you will need to require a proficient knowledge of the practices you wish to work within and although you may be willing to put in the hard work and dedication needed to acquire this knowledge, others may not have the same level of professional commitment and this can lead to situations where work is carried out at a substandard level, tarnishing the reputation of all who follow the multi-disciplinary approach.

There are positives aspects of the “Jack of all trades”/multi-disciplinary approach and according to Wagner the judgment of people with a broader range of knowledge may be unfair, he offers an alternative point of view:

“Maybe a successful generalist should instead be considered a “Renaissance man” (or woman).” Wagner, (2009),

Wagner’s alternative description places the “Jack of all trades” as an individual whose skill-set spans a considerable number of different subject areas; it is a positive reference that recognises the capability of some to be able to work at a more than proficient level across differing practices.

“Being a jack of all trades doesn’t mean that you are doing a million things at once. It means that you make sure that you are knowledgeable about and capable of doing the basics of any new innovations within your professional field of choice.”  Dixon, (2012),

The earlier negative views of “Jack of all trades” underestimate the capabilities of people in general, Heinlein explains:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”  Heinlein cited by Wagner, (2009),

Every day we prove our capacity to master more than one task and history has many examples of people who were masters in more than one field, the most famous being Leonardo da Vinci “Few would argue that DaVinci should have stuck to one subject.” Wagner, (2009),

By being a “Jack of all trades” you can actually become more valuable, Wagner believes “If you do it right, being a jack of all trades should be considered a strength.” To turn the negativity surrounding the “Jack of all trades” into positivity, a balance is needed between a significant level of knowledge in one area and a small amount in others. Wagner agrees “To really be successful, I suggest you strike a balance between generalist and specialist.”  Wagner, (2009),

In football a player who can play in more than one position is a valuable asset to the team, that versatility increases that player’s value within a team but only as long as he is proficient in each position.

In design the same proficiency is required within any areas you may decide to incorporate into your skill-set, Wagner believes you need to “Go beyond “enough to be dangerous” This requires learning beyond the basics of subject areas, so that you can be proficient to a level where you can solve most problems and be capable of engaging in communication with specialists, if you do encounter any problems in order to identify a solution.

By being a “Jack of all trades” “You can be the person who sees the big picture and understands how all the parts interrelate.”  Wagner, (2009),

There is another approach that allows us to bring together the knowledge of different design practices, this is collaboration.

Wigan (2009: p63) describes collaboration as “The act of working with others to create something.”

One advantage of working collaboratively is that there is less risk of problems due to lack of relevant knowledge; collaborations can feature specialists in the appropriate capacities/roles.

Sometimes, collaborations may produce a result like an attempt to mix oil and water but others can produce mixtures that complement and enhance, like the ingredients in a good recipe.  Over time practitioners can identify and form collaboration’s that are recipes for success rather than disaster.

Working collaboratively can be frustrating, as each practitioner may have their own methods and beliefs and these differences of opinion need to be mediated.

Compromise would be one possible solution in this situation but a successful outcome for this circumstance cannot simply be the ability to make a decision, it needs to be the ability to come to the appropriate decision for the task at hand.

Who would be qualified to make such a decision, if each practitioner has a differing opinion on what is appropriate?

In interactive media, the person responsible for making these decisions would be the ‘Project Manager’.

“The Project Manager is responsible for the successful planning and execution of a project. He or she decides what work needs to be done, who will do what, and when it must be finished.”  Creative Skillset, (2013),

As part of their role, the ‘Project Manager’ will be responsible for the organisation of the project as described below:

“The project is usually divided into a number of stages that are often dependent on each other; the Project Manager must work out a schedule and ensure that the right people are available when needed so that each stage is completed on time and does not hold up any of the others.”  Creative Skillset, (2013),

The ‘Project Manager’ will have to plan the project, taking into account any potential issues that may endanger the success of the project.

“A large part of the job involves identifying risks and assumptions that might adversely affect the project, and working out ways to ensure they do not – for example, by making contingency plans and by being rigorous in ensuring specifications and deliverables are properly documented.”  Creative Skillset, (2013),

One issue that the ‘Project Manager’ needs to be aware of in a collaborative effort, is the potential interpersonal disagreements that may be spawned from both personal and professional differences of opinion, “He or she may need to brief and manage specialists, ensure open communication between team members and resolve interpersonal conflicts.”  Creative Skillset, (2013),

My master’s project is an individual pursuit and thus I can see how my personal approach may be seen by others as a “Jack of all trades” styled methodology but it could also be argued that my approach is a wider reflection of my industrial field.

In 2012, as part my Professional Practice module I wrote a piece entitled “A Perspective of a Deeply Ingrained, Integral but Often Misunderstood Practice in the 21st Century.” Within this essay, I highlight the difficulty in defining my professional practice, saying:

“I have experienced people attempting to pigeon hole my practice into a definition that only includes part of my practice; it sometimes feels like I am a square peg being pushed into a round hole.  My practice involves elements of other practices and this is what in my opinion causes a lot of the confusion, Creative Skillset also recognise the overlapping nature of interactive media practice with other practices, their website says “The interactive media industry is a very fluid sector with many overlaps with, and blurred distinctions between, other sectors”.  (Creative Skillset, 2012,”

Due its multi-disciplinary nature, Interactive media is hard to define effectively but there is a definition provided by the authors England and Finney in the ATSF White Paper—Interactive Media UK 2002:

“Interactive media is the integration of digital media including combinations of electronic text, graphics, moving images, and sound, into a structured digital computerised environment that allows people to interact with the data for appropriate purposes. The digital environment can include the Internet, telecoms and interactive digital television.”  England and Finney, (2002: p2),

Since that definition in 2002, the mediums and possibilities have further developed but even then the multi-disciplinary environment within the field was more than evident.  As an interactive designer, there is a requirement to have a broader diverse range of knowledge to be effective and I believe this validates my approach when looking into what others may call specialist disciplines.  To be a master of my discipline requires me to have a high level of knowledge of different areas.

To be a Master of interactive media you need to be a master “Jack of all trades”, a “Renaissance Man”.  There may be some specialists who see this as an encroachment on their practice but this is not the case, it is a requisition for my practice to acquire this knowledge and any feelings of distain towards the perceived intrusion, should not lead to them denigrating practitioners of multi-disciplinary fields through terms such as “Jack of all trades”.  By using urban terminology I would say to these aggravated practitioners “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game” and for those who don’t understand that saying, there is a definition below:

“Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure.” Urban Dictionary, (2005),’t+Hate+The+Playa%2FPlayette+Hate+The+Game

Technological advancement has created new possibilities, genres and practices; this is part of an evolution and others practices may need to evolve too, in order to not become obsolete.

Everybody has the right and the ability to expand their own knowledgebase but this does not mean you must become a “Jack of all trades”; expanded knowledge is a powerful tool, especially to those in the creative industries.

Combinatorial creativity is a theory that believes “To create is to combine existing bits of insight, knowledge, ideas, and memories into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos.”  Popova, (2012),

The 20th Century Fox Television show Touch (2012), features a young boy described below:

Jake possessed an extraordinary gift – the ability to perceive the seemingly hidden patterns that connect every life on the planet” 20th Century Fox, (2012),

The show also features other characters that have the natural ability to see connections in different elements of life, connections that the rest of us are oblivious to.  I personally fall into the latter bracket, I am unaware of any natural ability I may have to see patterns that others don’t but I am naturally inquisitive and I do look for patterns, answers and reasons when sometimes others blindly accept.

Popova explains that throughout time illustrious creative’s, scientists and inventors have embraced the building blocks of combinatorial creativity:

““Stuff your head with more different things from various fields,” Ray Bradbury encouraged students in a 2001 address. “You should stay alert for the moment when a number of things are just ready to collide with one another,” Brian Eno advised. “Creativity is just connecting things,” Steve Jobs proclaimed. “Science,” Darwin recognized, “consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.” “Substantially all ideas are second-hand,” Mark Twain observed, “consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them”” Popova, (2012),

These people could see how new juxtapositions can be created through a bricolage of existing practices and philosophies, combined in ways that are different to the intended purposes of the individual original.

Combinatorial creativity is a process that combines the existing elements to form a new, but this means that nothing is truly created but instead repurposed or remixed:

“Implicit to this idea of combinatorial creativity is the admission is that nothing is truly original, at least not in the sense of being built from scratch, and that can be hard. There’s a lot of resistance in the creative ego to that idea.”  Popova, (2012),

Popova provides a paradigm of this idea that nothing can be truly original because it will always be informed by our previous knowledge, in the form of an anecdote about Picasso and an interview with Paula Scher on the creation of the famous Citi logo, in summery of these examples she says:

 “Both of these stories captures something we all understand on a deep intuitive level, but our creative egos sort of don’t really want to accept: And that is the idea that creativity is combinatorial, that nothing is entirely original, that everything builds on what came before, and that we create by taking existing pieces of inspiration, knowledge, skill and insight that we gather over the course of our lives and recombining them into incredible new creations.” Popova, (2012),

Lego is an example used by Popova to illustrate how the combinatorial creative process works:

“The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become. Because if we only have one color and one shape, it greatly limits how much we can create, even within our one area of expertise.” Popova, (2012),

Popova also offers an alternative description “We can, however, optimize our minds for combinatorial creativity – by enriching our mental pool of resources with diverse, eclectic, cross-disciplinary pieces which to fuse together into new combinations.” Popova, (2012),

The gathering of information is an important part of the combinatorial creative process.  All information can be considered useful in one way or another but when you have specific goals or desired outcomes, it is important show restraint and not run around like the proverbial headless chicken, gathering every bit of information you can find.  A conscious decision is required to tame inquisitive desires and focus upon the area that is more likely to yield the informational results you require.

 “Curiosity without direction can be a taxing and ultimately unproductive endeavor. Choice is how we tame and channel and direct our curiosity, where we choose to allocate our time and energy, and ultimately, what we choose to pay attention to” Popova, (2012),

Popova is explaining that to truly create, to connect the dots, see the patterns, find the answers of even the right questions, then the relevant knowledge needs to be procured.  At that point a cross-pollination of ideas from a range of disciplines can occur through recombination’s that become new creations in their own right.

It is my belief that to flourish as an interactive designer requires an element of the jack of all trades persona; it requires a level of curiosity that drives enquiry beyond the obvious, in order to be informed to a level where it is possible to find connections and correlations that others cannot.  The ability to be innovative requires thinking not only inside and outside the box but also thinking through the box.

Projects like mine are appropriate for collaborative approaches but they are also appropriate for interactive designers who have taken the time and effort to investigate and acquire the knowledge to produce such works, without the need for collaboration but there also needs to be a realisation that situations may arise, where a higher level of knowledge is required in a specific area and willingness to collaborate when appropriate is needed.  Pride is the enemy of many designers when it comes to collaboration, collaboration is not an admission of the inability to perform a certain task, it is an admission that some things can be done better by working with others.

Interactive media is a multi-disciplinary practice and as a practitioner of this field I am required to have knowledge of more than one practice.  Interactive media is also a developing field that is in a constant state of flux, due to the pace of technological development and thus, the ability to adapt to the possible and potential developments and affordances that may arise is also essential to prosper in this field.

Combinatorial creativity suggests that my attempt at accumulating knowledge through my investigational process should aid me in my creative endeavours, both now in my Master’s study and in my future practice.

There is a saying that “Knowledge is power” and I believe that the knowledge that I am procuring during my masters study, will strengthen my proficiency within my practice.


Wigan, M. (2009) The Visual Dictionary of Illustration, UK: AVA Publishing SA

20th Century Fox, (2012), Touch [online] Available at:, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Creative Skillset, (2013), Project Manager – Interactive Media, [online] Available at:, [accessed 20th April 2013]

Dixon, R. 2012, The Art of Been a Jack of All Trades, [online] Available at:, [accessed 21st April 2013]

England, E. & Finney, A. (2002) Interactive Media – What’s That? Who’s Involved? [online] Available at:, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Shakesby, P. (2011) Looking Towards the Principles of the Bauhaus as a Way to Improve the Relationship Between User, Designer and Digital Interface, [online] Available at:,%20Designer,%20and%20Digital%20Interface..pdf, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Popova, M. (2012), Combinatorial Creativity and the Myth of Originality, [online] Available at:, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Urban Dictionary, (2005), [online] Available at:’t+Hate+The+Playa%2FPlayette+Hate+The+Game, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Van Geel, J. 2013, Jack of all trades, master of none: Danger for interaction design [online] Available at:, [accessed 20th April 2013]

Wagner, M. 2009, In Defense of the Jack of all trades [online] Available at:, [accessed 20th April 2013]

Communicating visually

My master’s enquiry revolves around the best way of communicating information via my medium of choice, which is a digital application for the iPad.  Illustration is an ancient method of communication.  It is just as relevant today in a world dominated by new media, as it was when the first illustrations were produced.

What is illustration?

On his website Wigan’s World, Mark Wigan is described as an “International artist, illustrator and writer” Wigan’s World, no publication date,

Wigan has exhibited all over the world and he has authored a number of books on illustration and creative thinking.  In Wigan’s book The Visual Dictionary of Illustration, Wigan (2009: p9) offers a description of the function of illustrations:

Illustrations visually communicate content for reproduction in imaginative, distinctive, and highly personal ways while solving problems, decorating, entertaining, adorning, commenting, informing, inspiring, explaining, educating, provoking, beguiling, enchanting and storytelling.”

He goes on to further describe the importance of illustrations, “it is also a vital dynamic and contemporary means of expression, interpretation and communication which conveys ideas and messages with compelling imagery created in any media” (Wigan, 2009: p9)

As Wigan describes, illustration has a number of purposes and within my application I have used illustration in a number of ways.

The image below shows how I have used illustration to decorate, adorn, inform and communicate.


Illustration example

  1. Illuminated Letter

My illuminated letters are an example of illustration. To find out more about my use of illumined letters (see here)

  1. Border

The patterned border is used to frame the content part of the application, drawing the attention inwards. The pattern is based upon Viking symbols.

  1. Content Border

This border is used to separate the map from the text.

  1. Map

Maps are a form of illustration drawn to represent geographical locations.

  1. Button Rim

The rim of the button has been illustrated to resemble the metal rim of a Viking shield, to tie the navigation into the thematic design.

  1. Current Button Marker

This is an illustration used to show the user which is the current part of the application.

  1. Illustrated Background Featuring Symbols

This thematic background features illustrations relevant to the Vikings and their beliefs; its purpose is to decorate whilst also informing the user of the nature of the applications theme.

Illustration has been around for a very long time; early examples of illustration are cave paintings and hieroglyphics.

Wigan (2006: p30) discusses both of these early forms of communicative illustration, starting with cave paintings he says:

The earliest surviving examples of this art form can be found in Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain. These cave drawings date from c. 12,000 BC. Pre-dating written language, the exact function of these sophisticated drawings remains a mystery. Although their purpose could be religious or ritualistic, these hunting scenes demonstrate the primal need to communicate and to draw from life. Stylised conversions have always been employed in drawing.”

It is interesting to think that so early in human evolution, man developed not only the skill and materials needed to create illustrations but they had the creative ability to unknowingly develop an effective communication medium that is still widely used today.  We do not know exactly what they were trying to communicate, or why they did it and we definitely do not know if it was effective for the purpose they desired but we do know that this innovation has become an effective communication tool, which has developed throughout the ages.  Egyptian hieroglyphics are another example of illustrative communication employed by Ancient civilisations, Wigan (2006: P30) discusses Egyptian hieroglyphics, saying:

The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics integrated phonetic and pictographic signs with both abstract and observational drawing. Colour was used symbolically, heads were depicted in profile, torsos were viewed from the front and legs in three-quarter view (examples include illustrated scrolls such as the Book of the Dead and the Ramessseum Papyrus). Symbolic conventions are evident in the diagrammatic drawing of Mesopotamia and in the use of space, colour and visual hierarchy in Islamic art

Wigan describes “Symbolic conventions” that are evident in Egyptian hieroglyphics, “Symbolic conventions” and designed symbols have become an important part of communicating through illustration.

Symbology” is the study of symbols.  The function of a symbol is to communicate a relevant meaning.  A symbol can be an artefact or illustration that represents, suggests and communicates an idea, a process or a physical entity.

Illustrative symbols come in many forms, one of the most common is written language.  There are many types of written language but essentially they are all systems of communicating visually, through illustrative symbols that have been assigned some sort of applicable meaning and when combined they are given further meanings.  The free dictionary provides the definition of written language:

written language – communication by means of written symbols (either printed or handwritten)”   The Free Dictionary, (2013)

Oregon State University offers a similar explanation of written language that describes the historical and technological importance of this communication medium:

Writing is the visual representation of language through the use of an established selection of markings. As a means of communicating ideas and storing information, written language is the single most important and far-reaching technology available to humans and has served as the foundation for virtually all other information technologies from early etchings in clay to the world of digital access that we enjoy today.”  Oregon State University Library, no publication date,

Another great example of illustrative communication through symbols would be the Arrow.  The arrow as a symbol can indicate direction or point to a specific place or item.  Colours can also be symbolic, to many people green may be a colour that indicates a start or movement i.e. a green traffic light indicates that it is time for a driver to go but green can also be used as a symbol of freshness amongst others. Red is a colour that is often used to symbolise the notion of stopping, as used in traffic lights but red also indicates anger, or in china it is a colour that symbolises good fortune.  This is the problem with all symbolic communication; all communication requires an understanding between the communicator and the audience, if either party does not understand the intended meaning of the communication being delivered, there will be a communication breakdown.

Gaur (1992: p14) says:

In the case of writing, the information is stored mechanically, on an independent object, and can be retrieved and used at anytime, in any place (in the case of moveable objects such as books etc.) by all those who are able to consult and decode it.”

It is vitally important when communicating any information illustrative or otherwise, that the deliverer understands the audience that he/she is attempting to communicate with, so the information can be delivered in a way that can be decoded by the audience it is intended for.  Knowing your audience is vital to ensuring communicative success.

Although written text may actually be an example of an illustrative communication form, it has become a medium within its own right.  The written form offers its own problems though, one of which is described above; it must be decoded by the reader and unlike some other written languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics (which used more visual symbols that related to specific artefacts, places or ideas e.g. an illustration of the sun actually represents the sun), the English written language featured in my application, is based upon phonic sounds found in the spoken English language and this requires a more substantial understanding of the code required in order to decipher the information.

Due to this problem with the written form of communication, illustrations separate from the text can be used to try and communicate information, in a way that the audience can understand through a different deciphering process.  An illustration of a man walking across a road may be easier for some people to understand, rather than just a piece of text that say’s “A man is crossing the road”.

Illustration has been central in the provision of visual communication for a long time, Wigan (2006: p88) explains the important role that image has played over the years:

Pictures have always been used to tell stories. An early precursor of sequential and narrative illustration is the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, which contains a linear narrative depicting the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Another great example is Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

He also believes that image has improved the experience provided by mediums such as print, that previously may have relied upon text as their only form of communication:

Many great works of literature have been interpreted and enhanced by pictures; there have been wonderful combinations in history including Delacroix’s drawings for Goethe’s Faust, Tenniel’s interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s books and George Cruikshank’s illustrations for Dickens.”  (Wigan, 2006: p.88)

I agree totally with Wigan’s appraisal of the role that illustration has played in the development of print media.  Illustration has provided not only an alternative form of communication but text and illustration combined provide a strengthening of the communicative process that underpins information delivery, or as Wigan (2006: p88) puts it “Illustrators have shed light on and elucidated literature”.

Children’s literature is a genre that specifically is enhanced by illustration.  Illustration not only provides the possibility for colour and decoration but children are almost certainly the target audience that needs alternative forms of communicative media. Children are in the process of learning about the world far more so than adults, as they have less experience to have formed preconceived knowledgeable experience from and in many cases, children will not have developed a level of understanding of the written language needed to express all of the desired concepts or ideas.

The illustration of children’s literature is the closest genre in my estimation to that of my application.  Wigan (2006: p88) describes the practice “The illustration of children’s literature covers a number of areas from pop up, novelty, information and educational books to illustrated fiction and picture books. Often childrens books are both illustrated and written by the same person.

Wigan (2006: p88) also describes the need for understanding your target audience in relation to the information you wish to convey “Visual narratives need to contain a fluid union of words and images paced throughout the story and it is also important to bear in mind the target age group and the particular function of your book, e.g. entertainment or educational.

Wigan also describes the need for not only knowing your audience and their possible needs but the need to have an understanding of the function of your book, or in my case application.  The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children featured an article entitled ‘Playgrounds for the Mind‘, the author Wendy Lukehart (2010: p33) discusses the functionality of children’s picture books saying:

How do picturebooks work—particularly those of the last decade? There is a fundamental issue at the very heart of this matter, raised by David Lewis in Reading Contemporary Picturebooks. He asked, “If words and pictures are different, what difference does the difference make?”

By examining how picture books work Lukehart seems to be addressing the issue I was discussing earlier, text and illustrations communicate information in different ways.  Lukehart (2010: p33) delves further into this question “This leads one to consider all manner of related ideas. What do words do that pictures cannot, and vice versa? What effect do words and pictures have on each other?”

Wigan (2007: p6) discusses both forms of communication and how they can relate to each other :

Text and image are two forms of representation; two visual signs that can integrate and reinforce one another to communicate messages, emotions, ideas or visual commentary. Words and pictures can be employed to challenge one another, separating and countering meaning; text subverting the image and vice versa.”

Essentially as I described earlier when discussing Symbology, text and image are very similar methods of communication, a very similar field to Symbology is Semiotics, the free online dictionary provides this definition of Semiotics “The theory and study of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language or other systems of communication, and comprising semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics.”

The Free Dictionary, (2013)

In his paper ‘Revisiting the Relationships Between Text and Pictures’ Lawrence Sipe (2012: p5) describes both forms of communication from a semiotic point of view:

From a semiotic point of view, we can conceptualize these two languages as systems of ‘‘signs.’’ For semioticians, everything and anything can function as sign; in picturebooks, the two most obvious sign systems are the words and the pictures, though within each of these broad sign systems, there are clearly sub-sign systems. For example, within the sign system of visual images, there is the sign system of colors, where different colors may be associated with different emotions or feelings.”

Sipe believes that the easiest and most natural way to examine the relationship between word and text is to draw on metaphors.  The free dictionary defines a metaphor as “A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare).” The Free Dictionary, (2013)

Sipe (2012: p5-6) explains how metaphors are implicit to the relationship between text and imagery:

We can hardly avoid metaphors when writing about word–picture relationships (or anything else, for that matter). Simply to say, for example, that pictures and words ‘‘work’’ together in various ways is already to be drawn into metaphorical thinking: if there is work involved, it is clearly not between words and pictures, but in the reader/viewer’s mind, and it is the mental processes involved that constitute the work

Sipe discusses a number of artistic and scientific metaphors used to describe the relationship between text and image.  There were two metaphors that I particularly correlated with the first is below:

Another of the arts that writers draw upon in discussing the relation of words and pictures is drama. Wyile (2006) provides an extended metaphor using the idea of a picturebook as a play The words in a picture book are like the script of a play. In both cases the facts and clues of characters’ feelings are not usually explained because the pictures or the actors can express them much better…The words in a picturebook come alive in relation to the pictures, as they do in relation to the action in a play. The effectiveness of words is related to their placement on the page in conjunction with the placement of the pictures, which is a form of artistic direction like the elements of direction and blocking in a play. The narrative tension is further created and/or enhanced by the pace of the production that is set by the timing of action, lighting, and sound effects in a play and by the combination of page layout and page turn in a picture book—typically the words pull us forward because we can read them faster and the pictures hold us back as our eyes scan for details (see Nodelman, ‘How Picture Books Work’) (p. 177).” (Sipe, 2012: p6-7)

I can see how the placement of each is important but the thing that I realise most is that in my application I have tended to keep text and imagery as two separate items, my main body of text is almost a narration to events depicted in my imagery, the only times I have combined text and image directly is as speech, as part of a narrative or as instruction.

The Second metaphor I was drawn to was:

Curley (2007) compares the word–picture relationship to the Victorian invention called the stereopticon: ‘‘when focused, an image leaps from flatness into startling depth. It takes two camera lenses, set at slightly different angles, to create this magic. Now imagine an artist and a writer. Like the lenses of the stereopticon, they focus, from individual vantage points, on a narrative’’ (p. 7). In this metaphor, Curley emphasizes the different ‘‘vantage points’’ that words and pictures may take on a narrative, as well as the ability of the combination of words and pictures to create a more profound representation of literary reality as three-dimensional: more interesting, more complex, more nuanced.” (Curley, cited in Sipe, 2012: p8)

This description is one that I can also describe through my own metaphor, In the numerous children’s science fiction literature there are examples of individuals combining their powers for the greater good, to create a more powerful entity or force, and this is what I am seeing in my mind’s eye as read the above statement, the powers of text and image are combining to create a more powerful form of communication through a balanced relationship that does not depreciate the value of the meaning contained within the individual items but instead helps support and solidify the intended messages.

For me and my application, I have further considerations to those of text and illustration when it comes to communicating visually.  I consider my application to be similar to a children’s book but the medium in which I am working has different possibilities and considerations.

Lukehart (2010: p33) poses this question “Then there is the digital realm. At what point will visual electronic storytelling make us ask, “Is it really even a book?”

My answer to this question in relation to my application would be “no it is not a book” but it is an evolution of the children’s educational book genre, delivered using the benefits of digital technology.  The main differences between my application in comparison to a book are the technological possibilities afforded by the format, these include the ability to add animation, interaction, audio and video, my application is an example of digital multimedia.

Multimedia devices allow for the creation of software like my application that takes advantage of the technological capabilities and possibilities, in order to evolve and improve the communication of information.  The Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (p32) describes what multimedia is and how it can benefit the communication of educational information:

The most common buzzword used in education is Multimedia, which is the integration of text, audio, video, graphics and animation into a single medium. Instructional multimedia is the integration of various forms of media in the instructional process. It is the technology that combines print, radio, television, animation, photographs, and other forms of illustration. Integration of different media multiplies the impact of a message.”

In the past, multimedia capable devices have not always been used to their full potential.  Media designers and producers are often creating media that does not take advantage of the technological capabilities, Lukehart (2010: p34) explains “For the latter, even with the introduction of iPhone apps, the titles were mostly what Scott McCloud calls “repurposed print”—scanned books, their electronic pages turning, often with sound and a little movement.”

Multimedia has the potential to do so much more than simply reproducing traditional media in a digital form, it is a field that can make real changes to educational information delivery but it is not a case of just using the technological possibilities because they are available; careful consideration is needed as to what technologies will enhance learning in a specific situation, the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (p37) believes:

It is important to match the learning objectives and decide the media to synchronize the design and learning from it. Each media can offer either the whole or part of the content with or without referring to one another. For example, dissection of a frog can be shown through animation and also through a video programme. But as multimedia offers interactivity, learners can actually feel the dissection if it is animated and the multimedia programme runs like an actual dissection.”

Making decisions about the best way to deliver educational information using multimedia requires knowledge of educational theory and technological possibilities combined with skills to produce the desired content.

Combining the different mediums also needs to be done in a way that makes sense to the user, otherwise the user may be left not knowing what the product is, Lukehart provides an example:

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Nick Wingfield critiqued an electronic picturebook, saying, “This app can’t decide whether it’s a book, a movie, or a game.”” (Wingfield cited in Lukehart, 2010: p34)

I would suggest the “electronic picturebook” that Wingfield is critiquing possibly has tried to just add multimedia to a traditional media design, without the careful consideration for each element and its purpose.  We are dealing with new media here and as yet people are still experimenting with the new possibilities, trying to find the most effective way to deliver their information or story.  This is why I have been investigating pedagogical theory, Gamification and other areas in search of the knowledge required to make informed decisions, not trying to emulate traditional media but trying to create something new.  Wingfield believes that approaches like mine are the path to better products that make the best use of digital technology, Lukehart (2010: p34) discusses Wingfield saying “He wagers that the best book apps will be built from the ground up, taking full advantage of the digital environment.”

My research into visual language is part of my process of investigation into the most appropriate methods of educational delivery using digital technology.  I focussed earlier on the practice of illustration, which is a field that has been a major part of traditional media production for a very long time and there are those who believe that illustration may be a practice which will be lost during the evolution towards digital technology.  During the ICON 6 illustration conference, questions were raised regarding the future of illustration, Michael Dooley describes some of the debate saying:

“A variety of controversial notions were proposed, such replacing the term “illustrator” with something more, um, appropriate to the times and blaming art directors for the job decline. But the tension in the room was palpable as a one-word description of illustration’s future was raised and repeated: “animation.”” Dooley, (2010)

Illustration’s closest relative genre in my opinion is animation; the Free Dictionary defines animation as “The act, process, or result of imparting life, interest, spirit, motion, or activity.” The Free Dictionary, (2013)

Wigan (2009: p28) gives this definition of animation “The optical illusion of movement employed by persistence of vision

Animator Norman McLaren describes animation, “animation is not the art of drawings that move, but the art of movements that are drawn.” (McLaren, cited in Wigan, 2007: p101)

Dooley 2010 poses the question “Is Animation the Future of Illustration?” the reason for this question’s proposition is due to the change towards digital technology.  Traditional mediums such as books could not facilitate animation, so illustrations and photography where the widely used mediums when it came to providing visual content, digital platforms can feature animation or photographical equivalent video and some believe that these are more appropriate visual mediums for digital platforms.  Dooley asks many of the conference attendees for their views on whether animation is the future of illustration.  Scott Gandell is a print maker and illustrator, whilst also holding the post of President of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles.  Gandell notes that this was also a hot topic of conversation between people informally at the conference and in his opinion the “the transformation from 2D editorial illustration to an animated hybrid online is the future”.  He believes “illustrators need to be capable-ready to produce an eye catching, click stopping, reader grabbing piece of genius … that moves.”  Gandell, cited in Dooley, (2010),

Illustrator Steve Simpson said:

The ICON audience seemed split on the issue. Some thought this a great opportunity to get into animation, others were horrified at the prospect of learning new packages and skills – would the extra work mean more money? There was also the suggestion we should dump our outdated title, “illustrator,” and call ourselves visual communicators or creative visualists.”  Simpson, cited in Dooley, (2010),

Illustration historian and artist, Jaleen Grove notes the discussion worried some illustrators saying “The discussion provoked controversy because it suggested that if illustrators didn’t embrace change and make their work move and groove, then they might as well retire now.”   Grove goes on to explain that this may not be the impending apocalypse of illustration “illustrators have been told to reinvent illustration with every new advance in technology. And each time, that’s what they have done.” Grove, cited in Dooley, (2010),

Illustrator and designer, Carolyn Endacott agrees that the publishing industries movement into the digital realm is going to allow it to reach larger audiences and it has the potential to do so in new innovative ways but she also sees a position in the market place for the “printed magazine” and the static – non-animated – image. Saying “In a world of constantly moving images and “in-your-face graphics,” the beauty and strength of illustration lies in the idea-concept and the ability for a moment, however brief, to have the viewer pause and think.”  She goes on to say “There is a place for both the digital and static image and quite possibly, a relationship may develop where the two strengthen each other.”   Endacott, cited in Dooley, (2010),

As an illustrator and educator at CSU Fullerton, Cliff Cramp has a more optimistic view on the topic, explaining how new technologies have always influenced arts like illustration but not necessarily in a negative way:

The key word for me that night was “possibilities.” New technologies provide varied possibilities for the delivery of our content. The fax machine allowed illustrators to fax comps to a client rather than drive them over. Product Illustrators produced line art of merchandise for wholesale companies so that catalogs could be faxed to retailers. The Internet has allowed the illustrator to have a global audience, shrinking their world while broadening their possibilities. Email and social media have allowed the illustrator to have more opportunities to connect with their peers. For some, new technologies will mean new ways to produce art. For others, new technologies will mean new uses for their art.” Cramp, cited in Dooley, (2010),

Illustrator Teri Farrell-Gittins also sees the potential offered by new emerging technologies, with the point of view that these technologies will always need creative people capable of producing visual communication, so providing more jobs and more opportunities. ZFarrell-Gittins, cited in Dooley, (2010),

I do not believe that digital platforms mean the end of illustration, and those that believe this I fear may be being blinded by the technological possibilities.  With multimedia you do not have to use all the mediums because they are available but you do have the ability to use them when they are appropriate, one medium may be more effective than another in certain situations.  Illustration is a medium that has a place in multimedia applications, animation also has a place and in my opinion animation should only be used when it can communicate more information than an illustration, or communicate the information more effectively to the viewing audience. These decisions on medium appropriateness require knowledge of the communicative possibilities within each specific medium, so that informed decisions can be made when designing the communication process.

The design of the communication process is an important part of visual communication but there is another part of the process that is vitally important and that is the technical production of desired media.  A certain level of proficiency in the medium you are producing is needed to create effective results; when it comes to illustrating and animating it’s not simply a case of drawing pretty pictures, a design process is used by practitioners of these fields to methodically produce designs appropriate for their purpose, research is a key area of any design process.

Wigans (2006: p93-97) features a discussion with illustrator Marc Baines who describes the research process he used for a comic book series entitled ‘The Romans in Britain’. Baines describes how he read a book the 1945 Pelican classic ‘Britain’s Under the Romans and Rome 753BC-AD180’,  he also watched films such as the 1945 ‘Ceasar and Cleopatra’ starring Claude Rains.  Baines also visited museums and used Google image search. This process is very similar to the process I have undertaken throughout this project.  I also started off looking at pre-existing children’s literature relating to my Viking theme (see here), I also looked at the portrayal of Vikings in film and popular culture (see here), I visited museums and galleries and I also have made good use of Google image search as you can see in the mood boards I have created below: Wigan 2006

Viking_houses_mood-board_01 The ability to create consistent, effective and eye-catching imagery is also important when it comes to communicating visually, especially when the audience are children. Wigan (2006: p88) agrees, he says “Characters in children’s illustration need to be appealing and represented consistently throughout.

In the past, the production of visual communicative media has relied upon drawing. The Free Dictionary defines drawing as “The art of representing objects or forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines.” The Free Dictionary, (2013)

Wigan (2009: p86) defines Drawing as “The act of applying direct marks or lines across a surface by using tools such as a pencil, pen and ink, charcoal or crayons

Drawing is fundamental to the fabric of illustration. Once you have changed many of the perceived notions of ‘what drawing is’… you can get on with the task of exploring a visual language. Our answers are found in manipulating a medium: they can often start with a pencil and a piece of paper. Drawing the world around us lets us see the world.” (O’Shaughnessy, cited in Wigan, 2006: p33)

Wigan (2009: p86) says “Drawing is the foundation of all forms of visual art and pictorial representation

Often in the past I have been criticised for my lack of traditional pencil/pen and paper work. Yes, they are tools I often avoid as I struggle to transfer my thoughts using that medium.  I don’t like writing on paper nor do I particularly enjoy drawing with a pen or pencil but that does not mean that I don’t like to put down my thoughts in words nor does it mean that I don’t like to be creative visually.

At school before the time of easy access to computers I struggled with written work, my hand writing was poor and I didn’t like doing it.  In my art lessons I was never a great at drawing but I did enjoy and seemed to very creative and proficient when it came to printing, modelling and other creative art processes.  I am not ready to describe myself as an illustrator but I have been looking at illustration theory, techniques and I am creating my own digital illustrations.  The digital nature of my work suits the medium on which the illustrations will be displayed but Wigan explains that illustrations “can be created in any medium.” He then goes on to explain that my choice of medium is important but not to others, to me.  He says “It is important to experiment with a broad range and choose the type of medium that is most appropriate to you.” Wigan (2006: p120)

Although Wigan’s statement is contradicted by the views of other illustrators featured in his book, Mick Brownfield, Cited in Wigan (2006: p126) believes students need to “learn how to draw properly and not rely on technical aids (the computer)”, Laura Smith, cited in Wigan, (2006: p126) has a similar point of view “I would advise students to understand that computers are just another tool and not rely on them at the exclusion of all else.

My approach may seem to be one that excludes non digital tools but this is not actually the case, I have attended life drawing classes and I have copious amounts of learn to draw books that I use to try and improve my drawing skills but it is a medium that I do not use as often as others.

I remember a former tutor of mine explaining that it is the quickest method to work on ideas but this is something I would dispute.  It is the quickest method if you have the required amount of skill to reproduce what you are seeing in the eye of your mind using those tools, if not it can be a frustrating and embarrassing method of communication. I would never say one method is better than another but it is fair to say that some mediums are more appropriate for certain situations and it is also fair to say that some illustrators/designers are more suited to specifics tools and mediums.  This in no way should devalue the quality of anybody’s work but instead we should remember Wigan’s statement “It is important to experiment with a broad range and choose the type of medium that is most appropriate to you.” (Wigan, 2006: p120).

The main focus of my exploration into illustration is to understand how to communicate visually.  This is a very important part of my master’s study, as I am looking to communicate information in the best possible ways through my application and communicating visually through illustration and animation will play an important role in my application.  When Wigan asked illustrators from all over the world what they felt illustration students needed to learn visual communication was a common theme in there replies, Peter Grundy (2006: p128) says “An ability to entertain and communicate.” Gina Triplett believes “Students of illustration need to know how to communicate visual ideas in a manner that sets their work apart from their peers.” Anthony Burrill says “How to communicate with other people visually and verbally.” (2006: p131)

I am attempting to learn to communicate more effectively through visual and interactive media, this is essential not only to my master’s project but to my overall practice as an interactive multimedia designer.  Wigan (2006: p12) says “Learning to think visually is a skill that must be practiced daily.”  I believe he is right but I do not believe this is simply drawing or producing every day, researching past, current or potential methods of visual communication is also, in my opinion a great way of “Learning to think visually” but this does not just mean sitting in a library, reading a book, magazine or newspaper or trawling the internet; it can be as simple as walking down the street and watching how the world connects, looking at the advert on the side of a bus as it passes or watching how people interact with each other or artefacts of both digital and non digital nature.

Wigan (2006: p12) says “In order to communicate, elucidate, give insight to and illuminate, the illustrator must be interested in humanity and in literature. Intellectual curiosity, hard work, ambition and passion are all essential”.

To be a successful visual communicator it is important that you are interested in communicating, to have the passion to look beyond the simple dynamics of life and delve deeper into the nature of communicative experiences.  The desire to learn more and the ability to motivate yourself to actively pursue this quest for knowledge is needed, in order to keep coming up with effective communication processes relevant for differing audiences, through differing platforms, regardless of technological innovation.

The knowledge of how to juxtapose differing visual mediums, in order to communicate on a level beyond that of any single medium is going to be essential in a future containing digital multimedia.  So it will be essential to have a knowledge of more than one medium but the ability to not get consumed by the lure of the “doing thing because you can” scenario is also essential, creative’s should practice restraint when it comes to new technology and make decisions based upon effectiveness. Communicating visually will always be a vitally important process whether it is pencil and paper, chalk and board, 2D or 3D, static or animated, digital or non-digital.


Gaur, A. (1992) A History of Writing, United States: Cross River Press

Wigan, M. (2006) Basics Illustration 01: Thinking Visually, UK: AVA Publishing SA

Wigan, M. (2007) Basics Illustration 02: Sequential Images, UK: AVA Publishing SA

Wigan, M. (2007) Basics Illustration 03: Text and Image, UK: AVA Publishing SA

Wigan, M. (2009) The Visual Dictionary of Illustration, UK: AVA Publishing SA

The Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia, no publication date, Instructional Design for Multimedia [online] Available at:, [accessed 8th April 2013]

Dooley, M. (2010) ICON Reax, Part 1: Is Animation the Future of Illustration? [online] Available at:, [accessed 7th April 2013]

Lukehart, W 2010, ‘Playgrounds for the Mind’, Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children, 8, 3, pp. 32-35, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 21 March 2013.

Sipe, L 2012, ‘Revisiting the Relationships Between Text and Pictures’, Children’s Literature In Education, 43, 1, pp. 4-21, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 8 April 2013.

The Free Dictionary, (2013) [online] Available at:, [accessed 8th April 2013]

Oregon State University Library, no publication date, Treasures of the McDonald Collection – A Brief History of Writing [online] Available at:, [accessed 7th April 2013]

Wigan’s World, no publication date [online] Available at:, [accessed 5th April 2013]

Improving my navigation

I have been aware of an issue with my current navigation system for a while and I have had a plan in mind to deal with it, so over the past couple of days I have implemented my plan.

So let’s start with the problem, my current navigation has a relationship between the bottom layer of buttons and the top layer and up until now that has not been entirely evident.  In other words the bottom layer of buttons is the primary navigation and in effect the top buttons are the secondary sub layer.  This allows me to have 15 different buttons available to the user but with only seven buttons on the screen at one time, so making better use of the available space.

There are many different menu systems being developed across both mobile and other digital technology systems that try to make the best use of visual space, include sliding menus, menus that open and close and menus that spin but for the reasons I explained in a previous blog (see here)

I still stick by those choices but improvements were needed to create a better overall user experience.

The image below shows the problem with the current navigational menu.


To make the relationship between these different layers of buttons more apparent, I have colour coded the sections, so the user can see that by pressing the bottom blue button it opens a full top layer of blue buttons and the same for the red and green buttons.

See image below:


Another issue with the old navigation was that it was not always evident to the user how the current page relates to the navigation, although there was visual feedback in the form of a screen heading, see image below:


Within the new menu, I have improved the level of visual feedback regarding the current page by adding a gold border that appears around the current screen button, so re-enforcing the existing header title feedback, see image below:


There has been another issue with the old menu that I have been struggling to make a decision on and that is typeface.  It has been apparent to me for a while and it has also been pointed out to me that my application may have too many typefaces and in particular the difference in typeface between the sans serif used within the main text and the serif typeface used within the navigational elements.  The typefaces in question are the devices default sans serif and serif fonts because embedding typefaces would slow the application down too much.

Making the decision between changing the main document text to a serif typeface and changing the navigation to a sans serif has been difficult.  Although arguments can be made about whether children find it easier to read one over the other, children’s applications tend to feature sans serif typeface as explained by Catalina Naranjo-Bock:

“While research studies have expressed divergent findings about differences in children’s ability to read serif or sans serif typefaces, [2] [3] it is common practice to use sans serif fonts in applications for children, because of their fresh look and simplicity.”

This article does explain that there are some exceptions to this common practice but I cannot help but feel that these exceptions have been made for the same visual reasons that are making me want to use serif fonts across my entire application but this desire for aesthetic value needs to be weighed against the practical nature of a typeface style, that as described may or may not be easier to read but has become a design convention for applications aimed at children.  Ultimately I have opted to change the navigation typeface to the devices default sans serif, see the image below:









A more visually biased designer, may have opted for a style over substance approached but once again I have been swayed by my practical bias in terms of a solution that I feel will be easier for the user to read but unfortunately it does not fit as well with the visual style of my application.  This was one of those situations where neither conclusion would have left me 100% happy but I have made a decision based upon logical reasons, a decision that I can live with.

[2] Walker, S. Reynolds, L. Robson, N. Guggi, N. et al. “Typefaces.”Typographic Design for Children. Retrieved May 31, 2011.

[3, 4] Bernard, M. Mills, M. Frank, T. & McKown, J. “Which Fonts Do Children Prefer to Read Online?” Software Usability Research Laboratory, Wichita State University. Usability News, January 2001, Volume 3, Issue 1. Retrieved May 31, 2011

Application Overview Video’s

Today I am just posting a couple of overview video of my application that I probably should have posted before now but better late than never.

See videos below:


Interactive Viking House

Today I have been putting together the interactive for building a Viking house, the aim of this part of the application is to reinforce the textual information about the materials the Vikings used to build their houses.  This interactive will also provide the user with a basic interactive visual representation of the Viking house building process.  The user can make decisions about which materials they wish to use to build a Viking house, resulting in six different possible versions of a Viking house.

Viking Settlements

I have just completed the Viking settlements part of my application; I have chosen to concentrate on Viking settlements in:

  • England & Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Greenland
  • Iceland
  • America


To accompany the text in the England & Scotland part of the app, I added a fading animation that changes states between illustrating how the country was divided and where the main Viking settlement in the area are, see video below:

For the Ireland section, I added an illustration of a piece of Viking metal work to accompany the text and I also illustrated a Norwegian fjord to reinforce the textual information, see image below:

vikings in Ireland

To illustrate Greenland I have used an image that I created early on in my research, as I was experimenting a bit more with Photoshop but it fits well with the scene, see below:

vikings in iceland

To reinforce the text information that Iceland was very cold, I decided to make my Iceland scene very wintery, see below:

vikings in greenland

For the section regarding America, I wanted to reinforce the fact that Vikings where at conflict with the Native American Indians.  I needed some American Indian characters, so I started by creating a mood board, see below:


I then drew two characters, see below:

Indian Characters

Next I placed them in a scene which I hope depicts the conflict that I intended to illustrate, see below:

vikings in america