The following is an edited extract from my Masters thesis at the Royal College of Art, titled: ‘Could visual communication, combined with a new understanding of simplicity, improve our capacity to navigate in a world increasingly challenged by complexity?’.

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We are currently challenged by navigating through a profoundly changing world, whether we are looking at societal patterns, global climate change, or innovation. Faced with the increasing incomprehensibility that the complexity of today’s globalising information age creates, people are having to choose from more products, processes and services then ever before. As a result, conventional tools of communication are overloaded, affecting our decision-making capacities, not just on a consumerist level but in the everyday running of societal, environmental and economic affairs. This, in turn, affects our personal lives and our understanding of the world as a whole.

In our post-modern society, complexity provides challenges on a scale and of a quantity not previously experienced, and because of the nature of complexity and of post-modernism, the dynamic of a single solution trajectory is no longer relevant. Perhaps the employment of new navigation tools, predominantly through the development of visual communication, is required. If we are to create an effective decision making environment, a fresh understanding of simplicity is required. In this context, the term ‘visual communication’ refers to an applied art: it has a utility, and its role is not passive but active. This opens up questions about its use, its effect on viewer or user, and about its medium – what it has been ‘applied’ to. The field of visual communication illustrates issues of complexity and simplicity because of its role in translating complexity into a newly manifesting simplicity.