What is Visual Language?

Visual language refers to a writers’, speakers’, knowledge workers’ . . . use of design elements, design principles, design tools, and data visualization methods to compose and communicate.

For artists and writers, when composing, whether in alphabetical discourse, multimodal compositions, or art, visual language may be a medium of expression.

Related Concepts: Design; Invention; Semiotics; Visual Brainstorming

Visual language has been a central concern for researchers across multiple disciplines, including Linguistics, Design, Design Thinking, and Design Studies.

Art, Composition Studies

For artists and writers, visual language may be a form of inspiration and a medium of expression. Creators speak of being inspired by an ineffable image, a felt sense.


The concept of visual language is deeply rooted in linguistics and Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept of Semiotics: Sign, Signifiers and Signified.

For Saussure, literacy, communication, and interpretation evolve around the writer, speaker, knowledge maker’s ability to associate a signifier (e.g., a word, mathematical formula, computer code, image) with a concept (signified):