Shapes of Communication

This section defines basic concepts in communication theory by looking at models of communication, message components, and the message cycle.

As visual designers, we use language as words and images to communicate with our audience. It’s important to understand how meaning is made through communication and to be aware of how our messages are being transmitted and received. 

By reviewing the media and readings below you will be able to gain some insight into the following ideas:

  • Messages take different paths between the sender and receiver and back again via different mediums: presentational, representational, mechanical.
  • Noise is the distortion in the meaning of a message, whether intended or not. It affects whether or not the message has successfully reached its destination.
  • Truth in communication. Where a message says it is from may be very different from where it is really from. It can sometimes be hard to determine the intention of the sender and that can affect how we receive the communication.

Careful analysis of the message cycle can help us to understand when our communication works and when it doesn’t and why. If we are aware of these concepts and the communication process, we can be more effective communication designers!

Take a look at the readings and media below to consider the following questions.


  • What purpose do these models of communication serve?
  • What are the different variables that affect communication?
  • Can you identify sender, receiver, noise, feedback in contemporary social media interactions?
  • Are there other problems besides “noise” or “feedback” that arise in contemporary digital communications?
  • How has language shaped communication design historically?
  • Can visual design accomplish things that language cannot? Why?

Models of Communication

Communication Models – COMMpadres Media

Shannon-Weaver Model of Communication

Shannon and Weaver Model- Davidson & Naffi, University of Ontario, Institute of Technology

The reading links below will automatically open Hypothesis, a web-based annotation tool. Use Hypothesis to annotate as you read the texts. See Using Hypothesis for details.

  1. Communication Theory & Social Media, Leah Sutherland, LinkedIn, July 6, 2015

Resources and other texts

  1. Shannon-Weaver Model for Communication by Odisha State Open University, Sambalpur, Odisha [YouTube video]
  2. Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design, Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, Princeton Architectural Press, 1996
  3. Tyler, Ann C. “Shaping Belief: The Role of Audience in Visual Communication.” Design Issues, vol. 9, no. 1, The MIT Press, 1992, pp. 21–29, [City Tech Library Card Required]