Sound Metaphor

Sound Problem Assignment:IMG_2623

• Graphically represent six of the nine sounds listed below.

  1. The sound of whispering
  2. The sound of the forest
  3. The sound of a hot summer night
  4. The sound of magic
  5. The sound of the highway
  6. The sound of time
  7. The sound of technology
  8. The sound of anticipation
  9. The sound of theft

• Write a phrase to accompany each image, which metaphorically describes what that sound, is like.

Your goal is to poignantly, concisely, and accurately capture the essence of each sound and present it to us in a visually unique way.

Although literal problem solving has its place in design, a graphic vocabulary must be expanded beyond this simple narrative voice. The intent of the sound problem is to
spur the designer past the initial predictable response of literalism; to investigate other avenues of problem solving and more sophisticated approaches. An extensive graphic design vocabulary is better equipped to solve complex problems using metaphor, symbolism, abstraction, or typography; the conditions of this problem will encourage you in this direction.

The relationship between the written phrase and image becomes integrated in each solution as the two elements play off one another to capture the viewer’s attention. Any necessary information not supplied by the phrase or the image is contributed by the viewer comprehending the piece. Encouraging this interaction between the viewer and the visual piece is a primary objective of the Sound Problem.


  • Do not approach the problem in a direct, literal or cliché manner. If your image looks like something you might expect to see in “real” life, then you probably aren’t creating a image metaphor yet. If you aren’t motivated by the image to “hear” a sound, then you probably aren’t focusing on that specific aspect enough yet.
  • Each image should be 6 inches by 6 inches (not including its accompanying phrase) on an 8.5 x 11 sheet.
  • You may use any medium or technique.
  • If you use color, use it symbolically.
  • Utilize writing as a means of tapping into a deeper, more meaningful, i.e. effective level of visual awareness.


First exercise:

After choosing the six sounds that you intend to interpret, write a continuous stream-of-consciousness paragraph about each one. Make no judgements concerning spelling, grammar or whether or not the paragraph even makes logical sense. Simply put down in words as much information about the place, object or environment as you can think of. The only requirement of your paragraph is to describe or list at least one thing that affects each of our five senses (taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing). Use word association and your memory to trigger your writing.


Second exercise:

In separate lists write down the following words:

  • 5 objects
  • 5 colors
  • 5 actions (verbs)
  • 5 places or environments
  • 5 sounds
  • 5 tastes

Compose five phrases from these lists. You may need to change the tense of specific words or add modifying words such as the, a, or, and, etc. to form a complete phrase.

Add a comparative word such as the word like or as.

Following the comparative word, insert a second phrase.

Look for combinations, which are unusual and by their juxtaposition, seem to conjure up new mental images, thoughts or ideas.


Third exercise:

Analyze the qualities of Sound in terms of:

  • Tempo/beat
  • Rhythm
  • Melody
  • Harmony/dissonance
  • Frequency/pitch

Try to discover a relationship between these formal qualities of sound and those of visual design:

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Value
  • Color
  • Texture

Is the sound that you are seeking to interpret through visual metaphor dominated by a single sound quality? If so, can this quality be translated into your visual metaphor as a dominant visual element?

Example: A sound dominated by a pulsating beat might be translated into a visual form dominated by repetition of some kind.

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