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Semiotics is a way of seeing the world, and of understanding how the landscape and culture in which we live has a massive impact on all of us. Every day we are unconsciously interpreting the meaning of signs around us – from traffic lights to product logos, the shapes of cars, the architecture of buildings, and the design of cereal packaging.

'Dark Room Keep Out' sign on brick wall

Signs, Systems and Context

There are three main areas that form what we understand as semiotics: the signs themselves, the way they are organized into systems, and the context in which they appear. Visible Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics in the Visual Arts, explains and demonstrates key theoretical terms, looks at how to appreciate the layers of meaning in a sign and how readers interpret the way a sign is expressed.

Cameraman at work on movie set

Film Grammar - Telling a Story in Pictures

If a scene is to have the desired effect, the filmmaker needs to know exactly how the screen communicates and how images will be understood by the audience and will work upon their imaginations moment by moment. This is where semiotics is useful. A movie is a vast outpouring of signs. In The Language of Film, discover how to control and channel this flow of information in order to create the desired illusion and shape the audience’s experience.

Person using meal delivery service through mobile app

Interactive Design - The User Experience

An aesthetic user experience is one where the user’s concern for their own self is temporarily lost in an effortless involvement in the moment, and their sense of time within the interaction is altered. Interface Design shows you how visual communication basics can combine to produce positive interactive user experiences with practical advice on improving communication between designers and developers, and a tantalizing look at designing interactivity for all five senses.

CIRCA 1950s: Montage of outstretched arms.

Photography - Choice and Understanding

Photographers make a series of decisions to enhance or encourage a particular reading of their work: the choice of black and white or colour; how to compose the image within the frame – what to include and, equally important, what to exclude; what is the angle of view; what is in focus; and so on. Reading Photographs explores what it means to make a representation of the world and how photographing the world affects our understanding of it and of ourselves.

Child using a lightbox to draw on paper to make a flip book

Animation - Visual Language

Animation combines many of the formal compositional traits of traditional painting with the time-based properties of camera and film editing. Discover how symbols or objects, environments and composition can be used in an image to create narrative meaning in Animation in Context and how to translate these ideas into layouts, set designs and beat boards.

An Ettore Sottsass 'Carlton' bookcase, 1981, is on display

Product Design - Perception

Products communicate to us through visual language. Like spoken and written words and sentences, this language can be split into units and studied. On their own these signs would be meaningless but they become comprehensible when compared with other signs within a system. Explore the perception of form and some of the tools designers use to imbue their products with meaning in Thinking: Objects.

Research across the disciplines

Design research is about understanding real people in the context of their everyday lives and then using that knowledge to inspire imagination and inform intuition. Explore the many ways in which research can be conducted for creative disciplines and how to find the right research method for your project.

Paperwork and hands on a board room table at a business presentation or seminar.

What Makes a Good Research Topic?

It goes without saying that your research project should be based on a subject that really interests you and that you are capable of undertaking. This research can be used to introduce yourself to potential employers and will demonstrate up-to-date knowledge and findings that are pertinent to your expertise. With that in mind, deciding on a research topic can seem like a stressful decision, but it doesn’t have to be. Discover the best ways to ensure that your research topic is the right choice for you with a helpful checklist.

Shot of a man designing a skateboard on his tablet in the workshop

Design Literacy: Research Through Making, Iterative Approaches to Graphic Design, Problem Finding, and Problem Solving

Understanding the relationships between shape, colour, organization, and composition, alongside the cultural signposts embedded in graphic communication, is at the heart of effective design. Explore the role of design literacy in visual research through iterative making, problem finding, and problem solving.

Close-up of artist Joan Miro's sketchbook at the Fundacio Miro Mallorca museum, Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 1987

Compiling Your Research

Learn how a visual journal, workbook or sketchbook can act as a physical manifestation of your thought processes. It can be a space to play, a sounding board for developing different ideas and a place to track developments.

Graphic design on a tablet

Using Your Findings

There are many ways that research results can be looked at and understood, so it is crucial to take time to reflect on the information you have gathered, analyze your findings and then use the process of synthesis to narrow your focus and draw conclusions. Learn how data can be categorized, synthesized, reflected upon and analyzed, and how this can develop and inform your design practice.

Futuristic cyborg walking in desert with flying UFOs

Character Design

When designing a game, you may already have an idea of the personality traits of the character or characters you want to create. But how do you go about developing them into someone really unique? A good place to start is thoroughly researching the world the character inhabits and understand the context in which your characters’ lives play out. Discover the principles of character design, how to build a character profile and make your character real.

Closeup shot of a smartphone with business diagram


In a rapidly changing landscape with new digital services being created and adapted every minute, research is vital to understanding the needs of users and to help them achieve their goals. Explore the key challenges faced when undertaking this research through two unique case studies and find out how to develop robust discussion frameworks that enable a two-person research team to conduct rich research discussions.

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Sketching in the Visual Arts

Sketching often marks the first stages of work in the visual arts, it can be a way to record early ideas for further development, demonstrate key principles, explore design options, or even work through problems. It is typically carried out by drawing; whether by traditional means like pen, pencil, water colour, or by digital tools; but it can also involve working with 3D models to perfect a plan or concept. Discover how sketching forms a fundamental part of various visual arts disciplines, underpinning many different design stories.

Fashion sketches with tape measure

What makes an outstanding fashion sketchbook?

The sketchbook forms a very personal but also public part of the creative process within fashion design. It is a place for playing, reworking and risk-taking. For those seeking a career in the fast-paced fashion industry, the sketchbook can be a quick way to display your creativity and originality. Discover what sets the best fashion sketchbooks apart, from organization and presentation, to visual examples, and interviews with fashion design professionals.

Someone sketches a person on the subway

Live and sketch: the tools of the trade for reportage artists

In the field of visual journalism and reportage illustration the methods and materials employed for sketching are crucial. These tools support the artist’s ability to ‘draw on the spot’ as a situation unfolds, so they can capture and report a subject in an engaging and accurate way. But has technology and digital media helped or hindered this process? The nature of a reportage artist’s equipment list depends on their personal preference and the unique situations in which they’re working, so explore practical exercises and a case study to begin developing your own style.

A person draws on a tablet with a stylus

Presenting ideas in graphic design

When it comes to meeting a design brief and presenting ideas to a client, a simple drawing may be as effective as a grand presentation if you cover the right points and are clear about what you are saying. How do you go about presenting ideas successfully? Use of digital technologies such as augmented reality can immerse clients in your vision, but a sketch is much quicker and more flexible than a digital rendering and goes a long way to explaining the thinking behind an idea at later stages.

Someone paints a colourful character

Drawing for animation

The art of capturing movement is pivotal to all drawing and in particular to drawing for animation. Animators often need to use memory in tandem with direct observation to draw a dynamic action, such as dancing or playing sport, rendering a continuous action in single pictures. Discover how sketchbooks can help capture everyday observations, and build up a bank of sketches for reference, adaptation, and inspiration for future work.

A sketch of a table

The art of ‘Thinking Drawings’

‘Thinking drawings’ and ‘visual thinking’ are terms taken from the field of psychology that can usefully be applied to interior architecture. Thinking drawings in interiors are early design drawings where disparate ideas are arranged on a page so that they can then be worked out, thought about, drawn, tested, rethought, redrawn, retested, until they slowly take form. Take a look at examples of both analytical sketches as well as sketches to remember and observe, in the context of interior architecture drawing.

A sketch of a series of smartphone screens for user experience design

Getting sketchy with user experience design

Pencil sketching is a really effective way to quickly externalize ideas when developing user experience design. Sketches on paper can be captured using a digital camera or scanner, edited, stored and shared online, alternatively a number of tablet devices offer a similar experience to sketching on paper using a stylus or finger drawing. Read about the advantages to these approaches and the wider context of their use in UX design.

Images above and on the homepage are courtesy of Getty Images.

Color in the visual arts

"Color aesthetics may be approached from these three directions: Impression (visually), Expression (emotionally), Construction (symbolically)." ~ Itten Johannes, The Elements of Color (1970)

Color is central to each of the visual arts. Selecting just the right shade can mean the difference between harmony and discord, between a satisfying design and going back to the drawing board. Discover some of the ways color can impact on your work and how creative practitioners incorporate it into their work.

Dining-room group in yellow, black and white, designed by Hayes Marshall for Fortnum & Mason Ltd., London', 1937

Color, psychology and interior design

Interior designers often use color theory to enhance both the physical and psychological properties of their work. Color can physically communicate how space is organized by highlighting spatial zones and areas of circulation; color through this process can clearly be used pragmatically as a visual marker. But color can also radically alter mood and be central to challenging our perception of a given space – this introduces color psychology into the realm of interior design.

A woman passes circles in a circle by russian painter Wassily Kandinsky on the wall of barbican centre

Kandinsky’s color theory in painting and cinema

Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) was hugely influential in developing an abstract art that invoked color as a major component. Having extensively studied the history of color theory (by writers ranging from scientist Sir Isaac Newton to the poet Goethe), Kandinsky explained how we experience color. Kandinsky was writing in 1910, before color film, but his impact can be seen in cinema as diverse as Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and Minority Report (2002).

Colorful sunrise on a foggy day over Tipperary mountains and fields

Painting with light

The word ‘photography’ has its source in two Greek words, phos meaning light and graphis meaning stylus or paintbrush. Thus photography is often described literally as painting or drawing with light. Learn how taking the time to look around and really notice the way light works can benefit your work. Study how it reflects from different surfaces, how it creeps in to the shadows and how it appears dressed in every color of the rainbow.

Full Rainbow of Paint Color Chart Fan Deck

Color palettes

Choosing a color palette requires a mixture of analysis, understanding basic principles of color theory, trial and error, and personal preference. For some projects it will be appropriate to create a palette using several different hues, but in other situations a limited color palette will be more successful. Designers often excel when working within specified constraints, so it can be helpful to limit the number of colors you will work with before you begin a project.

Actress/model Qin Lan and actor/designer Leo Ku Kui-Kei walk the runway during the Solo Celeb. & HTDG show on day five of Shanghai Fashion Week 2019 A/W

Fashion and color trends

Color often appears in catwalks a few seasons before it tips over into mainstream, so the catwalk is a great place to understand the future direction of color trends, and retail is a perfect place to view mainstream color direction. Have a look at some of the most recent catwalks from different cities to see if there is a common color that appears in all of them. How long will it take before it appears on your high street?

Images above are courtesy of Getty Images.

Sustainability in the visual arts

"The first rule of sustainability is to align with natural forces, or at least not try to defy them." ~ Paul Hawken

The thorny issue of sustainability is of fundamental importance across the visual arts as designers, makers and artists seek to adopt more environmentally friendly practices. Discover the practical solutions and ethical approaches employed by practitioners in order to meet the challenges of creating a more sustainable, circular economy across disciplines.

Dining-room group in yellow, black and white, designed by Hayes Marshall for Fortnum & Mason Ltd., London', 1937

Landscape activism – the art of change

The types of activism that come to mind when considering ways to provoke action and tackle sustainability issues may not immediately include landscape art. Social, environmental and political activist pieces which use or engage with the landscape can however be some of the most powerful catalysts for inspiring critical thought and connection with the environment. Explore evocative examples of land art, and the fine line between pastiche and the profound.

A woman passes circles in a circle by russian painter Wassily Kandinsky on the wall of barbican centre

Sustainable interiors – making space for the future

How do we make best use of existing space? ‘Reduce/Reuse/Recycle’ is especially relevant to interior architecture, as the reuse of an existing buildings to accommodate new use constitutes a very sustainable approach. Find out more about confronting the overall lifecycle of a building and explore fascinating examples of sustainable adaptation, reuse, and green design as well as the practical processes which underpin them.

Colorful sunrise on a foggy day over Tipperary mountains and fields

The ‘S’ Word – beyond fabric bags!

When it comes to balancing human progress and environmental needs globally, the importance of nuanced, measurable models of sustainability cannot be underestimated. While on a more local level, the simplification of sustainability down to more digestible, single-issue concepts - such as reducing carrier bag usage - can cause individual complacency and even distract us from seeing the bigger picture. Read more about sustainable development; from the three pillars of sustainability to why we might be overusing the ‘S’ word.

Full Rainbow of Paint Color Chart Fan Deck

Implementing sustainable practices and the role of the designer

Combining professional success in the design world with ethical beliefs can seem daunting when beginning your career. Breaking up the process into practical steps can be helpful for creating sustainable, low-impact practices in the workplace and within freelance work with clients. Take a closer look at frameworks and methodologies for adopting sustainable practices.

Actress/model Qin Lan and actor/designer Leo Ku Kui-Kei walk the runway during the Solo Celeb. & HTDG show on day five of Shanghai Fashion Week 2019 A/W

Landscape photography: powerful tool or aestheticization of issues?

Photography can arguably help people to visualise our changing physical landscape and understand the urgency of the environmental crisis - from the famous ‘Earthrise’ image taken from lunar orbit in 1968 which evoked Earth’s fragility, to the photographers exploring rising sea levels due to global warming. Explore photography’s potential to generate meaningful awareness but also to aestheticize the issues, so that the collective sense of urgency is eroded.

Actress/model Qin Lan and actor/designer Leo Ku Kui-Kei walk the runway during the Solo Celeb. & HTDG show on day five of Shanghai Fashion Week 2019 A/W

The life cycle of a garment – sustainability for all seasons

Stella McCartney is known as one of the most ethically aware designers in fashion, incorporating sustainable principles into her use of materials and her business as a whole. She has also been a key figure in opening up a wider debate around sustainability in the design industry. Find out more about ways to apply sustainable strategies to each stage of a garment’s life cycle.

Images above are courtesy of Getty Images.

Finding Inspiration

“Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a question that haunts anyone working in the creative industries, as artists, designers and makers look for that spark of inspiration that will bring their work to life. Explore some of the answers creative practitioners have given to that perennial question.

Many different goods like typical Indian spices and curries are presented in bags for sale at the weekly flea-market.


Visual artists often look outside of their own discipline for ideas. Developing a Fashion Collection explores how fashion designers use historical, cultural, and environmental movements as inspiration for their collections. In Art History for Filmmakers you can see how directors like Martin Scorsese and Peter Greenaway have borrowed the visual language of composition, colour and lighting from artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt to help their storytelling. Similarly, Creating Interior Atmosphere shows how the staging techniques of theatre and cinema can add drama to even the most humble real-world interior design.

A view of Fiji water bottles during the 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards on February 27, 2016 in Santa Monica, California.

Creative Thinking

If the creative muse doesn’t strike when it’s needed, then designers and artists fall back on the creative thinking techniques discussed in Gavin Ambrose’s Design Genius. In Making Photographs Mike Simmons shares techniques for producing original, meaningful photography by actively engaging with the creative process. And, of course, inspiration isn’t the exclusive domain of artists and their quest for self-expression – it’s also vitally important to every commercial brand on the planet. In Brand-Driven Innovation you’ll learn how to balance strategy and structure alongside creative visionary ideation and imagination.

Images above are courtesy of Getty Images.