The Visual Language Cards: a method for visual design

The Visual Language Cards (VLC) are both a learning  and teaching tool. The VLC proved to be extremely useful as a design-help. Using the cards tends to stimulate and guide one’s creativity without the fear of getting stuck in conceptual obstacle-thinking.

The cards were developed as a basic component in the playful learning experience (VLCgame) which was developed in the research project (Master of education in Arts, HKU.  2016). As a conditional-design method the cards assist the designer in finding the precise message she wants to concoct or express.  The set of cards  is divided into 5 categories of visual aspects concerning construction; elements; and the meaning or emotions that a visual work might have.


The 5 categories of cards are:

1. The Principles (11 cards)

Principles describe the basic concepts and foundations in design: Balance, contrast, proportion  etc.

examples of Harmony and dissonance; the small triangular element matches with the big element in terms of shape. The circular element on the right does not.

2. The Characteristics (12 cards)

Characteristics cards are all about the value given to elements, connected to ideas or emotions. Characteristics are all about possible semiotic meaning of constructs. For instance Hanging, dripping form-constructions and elements might show sadness and decay.

anne-wenzel-Requiem of Heroism (wreath), 2010. (detail on the right)

3. The Laws of Gestalt (8 cards)

The gestalt cards are describing how we see and perceive the whole before starting to dissect the image into separate elements… Its the relation between the elements and the effects it causes. Regularities, unitary forms or groups of forms. The relation between elements may cause the effect of being a group that makes sense in the overall image.

Gestalt examples of common region and proximity

4. The Composition (10 cards)

Composition cards describe the overall construction of all elements in an image. Composition is the strategy of disposing all the elements in the image in order to  have a certain impact or emotion on the viewer. “ How they are placed and according to which (invisible) lines they are composed”.

The hidden pyramidal lines in the raft of Medusa. T. Gericault, 1819.

5. The Mission (6 cards)

The fifth category concerns the Mission Cards (6), developed especially for game-play. The mission cards contain the goal of your team in creating an image. For instance, creating amazement to show the greatness of an object. One of the mission cards is a dark-play card: the amateur. His mission is to sabotage the game by making an apparently professional high quality art work, while at the same time having all his cards (and arguments) wrong.

Read all about the game here –>

On most of these categories a lot has been said and written. Sometimes approaches differ, sometimes meaning overlaps. We believe that the distinctions made for the Visual Language Cards are adequate for the purpose of playful – experiential – learning about visual Literacy.  However, we do fully appreciate additional suggestions and contributions in the enrichment of definitions.

Interested in reading more on visual elements and concepts of design?

Interested in contributing, or using the cards in your practice? send us  a message!