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Visual frame building strategies in war and conflict


Every aspect of our lives involves communication in one form or the other. A key facet of Communication Design is visual frame building.

By Jitin Chadha

Much of the information we send and receive in today’s day and age is visual in nature. Needless to say, visuals have a lasting impact on the way we not only perceive the world around us but also in the way we form narratives as individuals and subsequently as a larger society. These narratives then go on to affect the psyche of the populus, the structure and ethos of a socio-cultural milieu and ultimately play a significant role in the very course history takes. In recent times we have seen the outbreak of riots, violent episodes and wars across the globe. While unfortunate, it has also simultaneously brought to light the ways in which visual frame building tools are used and manipulated during such moments of conflict and strife. The consequences and impact of such tools, as a result, has become more evident than we may have previously understood. As the famous saying goes – a picture is worth a thousand words. This phrase is more valid today than ever before as we see such strategies being incorporated by different countries, political parties and social groups around us.

Frame building often involves using vivid images as captivating hooks to draw in audiences and keep their attention. These visuals work almost as propaganda tactics influencing the way we not only understand situations and events but also dictating how we react to these happenings around us. Considering this, it is fair to say that visual frame building has great reach and impact. It has it’s own set of advantages and drawbacks. While, at one level, it can be leveraged to convey vital messages and raise support for the right causes, at another, it is also equally important to understand the danger of such a powerful tool that can sway the minds of the masses. These visual frame building strategies are often used by both clashing sides in moments of conflict in order to spin stories in their favour. In light of this, it is essential to consume any visuals we come across with a certain detachment and awareness, to check our sources and to actively listen to both sides of any story before arriving at final conclusions and opinions.

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Understanding the importance of visual frame building, learning the skills and required tools and knowing how to implement these skills effectively is imperative for budding designers who will be required, at some stage, to explore ways in which to create patterns, structures and rhythms and more importantly to design solutions for the coming times. It is also crucial that future designers are equipped with adequate knowledge to understand the workings of such strategies and be able to deconstruct them to arrive at objective conclusions. This will usher in a new age of designers and individuals who are not only ready to face the challenges that may come their way but who are also ethical, aware and take a logical, rational and balanced outlook when it comes to gauging political and social conflicts.

Communication Design is one of the fastest growing design disciplines today. Every aspect of our lives involves communication in one form or the other. A key facet of Communication Design is visual frame building. As we work towards a more harmonious and peaceful society, the first step is perhaps understanding where conflict arises from and the tools that are used to fuel and aggravate such moments of violence. Providing a holistic, practical and hands-on teaching and learning environment for students is crucial. This offers them a strong foundation to develop and practice these skills and grow into not only adept and proficient designers but also compassionate and well-rounded individuals who strive to make the world a better place for all – one step, one visual, one narrative at a time.

The author is director, Indian Institute of Art and Design (IIAD).

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