vISual PErCEPtion

“We see with our eyes as much as with our mind”, this quotation is by an incredibly intelligent web designer called Steven Bradley. In his website he does a researched and detailed study on different crucial point related to “visual design” with articles that range from cognitive processes, to visual grammar, to the role of aesthetic, to the way we perceive colours and forms, to how memory works and semantic processes. Since I came across this quotation I’ve started thinking about it with more focus trying to understand and experience it in first person.

In order to fully understand the meaning of that citation we need to take a step back and analyze a bit more in detail the fundamental process behind the process of understanding the visual landscape that surrounds us. The act of seeing is natural and instinctive and doesn’t require active thoughtful decision even though decision and judgement are made every millisecond. We constantly perceive the surrounding visual scene in two different ways at the same time, we generally process all the nearby elements as a whole gaining an overall perspective of the situation around us. Then, out of this shallow reality effortlessly perceived we do concentrate on small important detail that we are momentarily interested in and focused on. The other elements on our field of view are still there, we still take them in but we simply don’t give attention to them. This process is determined and controlled by your brain since the eye take in everything around us but it is then our mind that process it and decide what to concentrate on.

Say for instance, that you’re working on a project on different door’s colour in your neighbourhood. While walking through the street your eyes would be caught by all the different shade of colours and tonalities of the different doors; differences that you would otherwise simply miss since your brain isn’t interested in that. Let’s say you are walking with your mate that is studying finance (supposed you can ever have one) and would never be involved in a project regarding door’s colour; he walks with you and perceive the numerous door that pass by but doesn’t put attention on the different colour because it is not what is focused on. Of course if you ask him what colour is a door he will then concentrate on that particular detail and come up with an answer.

Our eyes can only concentrate on a very narrow and small location at a time. In order to process an object or a subject the eye moves incessantly in order to get a three-dimensional understanding of the element. This ballistic movements are extremely fast and are called saccades. Right after the saccades there is a stationary periods called fixation that last for a tenth of a second. Saccades and fixation are the fundamental process by which the visual field in front of us is perceived.

Being a graphic designer and normal humans being we need to have a basic understanding on how our eyes work and process information from the surrounding visual landscape for the sake and beauty of knowledge. I’d like to conclude the article with a citation by Steven Bradley: “What we know, what we expect and what we want to do influence what we see”.

We tend to disregard anything that isn’t meaningful or useful at the moment

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