Rhetoric in design Essay

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer


Aristotle, the world’s illustrious genius is the one who discovered and put into perspective the three rhetoric devices namely ethos, pathos and logos. Rhetoric is credible art of making persuasive appeal to the potential audience through deliberate use of argumentative convincing language.

This essay puts in to perspective the use of rhetoric literal devices utilized in both verbal and written communication in contemporary art design work such as product design. The introductory section serves as the synopsis highlighting the key uses of the three elements of rhetoric. Further this paper will elaborately show the usage of these devices through pictorial examples appended on this paper. To wrap up, this paper will review why the rhetoric devices serve such a momentous role in the field of art and design.


Rhetoric brings out the oomph in a communication; it is the spice that seasons the words of a speaker enthralling the awaiting audience to yearn for more. As George categorically stated, rhetoric entombs the power of words, the energy in communication (1992, 1). The driving force behind the speaker’s words and the vigor remitted through is utterances in nutshell explain rhetoric.

Evidently, rhetoric empowers speakers to prey at the credulity of the awaiting audience swaying them to the desired state. Kennedy summarily, states that the ethos of a speaker exudes the speaker’s character credibility, logos comprise of the persuasive evidence presented to the audience and then pathos carries with it the emotional appeal that arouses the audience to feel and grasp the sentiments of the information send forth.

Dewey, adds into Kennedy’s perspective but takes it a notch higher by suggesting that rhetoric can be implemented in both language and design (1958, 46) Design comprises of wide range of products and artifacts, rhetoric can be utilized in both fine arts and in industrial production.

In a close rejoinder, John continues to say that,’ when approaching design from a rhetorical perspective the hypothesis should be that all products are clear arguments about how we should lead our lives” (Lawson 2004, 56). Consequently, the potential buyers are likely to purchase products in accordance with the degree of persuasion.

McKeon categorically stated that rhetoric is widespread device covering a wide scope of disciplines shared among myriad disciplines (1987, 186). Further, the author proceeds to say that rhetoric provides a conduit through which theoretical experiences are brought into solid practice (192). Buchanan states that “a statement that relates this to product design in that the designer’s work is to conceptualize and evaluate ideas, then make them tangible through products that are expected to have an appeal to the final user” (1988, 12).

To sum up all these ideas, the new rhetoric of our modern days has become a cementing factor fusing words and things. A creative art becomes the most ideal podium through which modern rhetoric can be extravagantly exhibited.

General overview of rhetoric and Rhetoric in design

In a critical review Hauser extended the idea that rhetoric is a communication which endeavors to coordinate social action. (1986, 2) In other words, rhetoric has a sole goal of affecting and influencing the decision making capability of the human mind. Rhetoric swerves the normal human thinking agility persuading it to make choice in a specific premeditated manner.

Rhetoric plays a significant role of creating a persuasive, instructive piece which veers the potential audience towards making a certain anticipated decision. Michael (1981, 45) quoting Aristotle, also adds that rhetoric is “the ability, in each particular case, to see the available means of persuasion.” He then goes on to describe three main forms of rhetoric. ‘These are Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.

What’s This? Richard (1998, 23-25) in order for rhetoric to take its root in the anticipated potential audience the person conveying the message should show integrity and should be a trustworthy source to the prospective audience. The credibility of a person is drawn from his proficiency and his past experiences; the person must have ethical appeal, should be humane and show consideration to the feelings of the potential audience.

The logos facet of the rhetoric devises appeals to the logic and the common sense of the audience. The information provided should be backed up with solid evidence in order to appease the reasoning of the awaiting audience.

Pathos, on the other hand has appeals on the emotional sentiments of the budding audience so that they not only use their logic but also their feelings in making decisions Michael (1981, 6), putting rhetoric devices in product designs states that ethos exude the touch of the designer bringing out the voice of the product. Logos persuades to the logic of the audience on the significance of design and pathos forms the personality of the manufacturer.

A different way of looking at logos in product design is that they entomb the intelligence, the refined thinking and the summary of the message the designers sought to send across. The message garnered in a product is highlighted in a simplified and highly acceptable manner using a logo.

When the person manufacturing or designing a product appeals to the audience, through his credibility and acquired reputation; the element of pathos is keenly brought into use in this case. In order for a designed product to be popular, people must be able to trust its manufacturer, the mode of its design and the reason for its usage. The three elements of rhetoric are thus brought into play.

Designs in relation to the theory of rhetoric

Gerard states that the rhetorical terms of logos, ethos and pathos can easily be mapped onto design in a straightforward way (1986, 9). The three elements compliment each other as they blend to exude a product that both appeals to the human senses and the logic. In the following cases, there are illustrative diagrams which highlight how the three elements of rhetoric namely ethos, logos and pathos come into interplay during product design.


Conall (2007, 9), states, that, ethos of a designer can be considered to be his or her broad reputation and standing; this also applies to a particular company or brand reputation or credibility. Some designers and brands have a great deal of credibility with certain audiences to an extent that some names are household words and are popular world wide.

This is influenced by the fact that the behavior of people is affected by certain brands which is the basic idea formulated by their manufacturers. They design their products in a special way that never fails to influence their thoughts and behavior on the brand in question. According to Conall (2007, 9), the brand speaks to the buyer who is finally persuaded to buy it due to its outstanding quality and practicability.

Consumers also love to buy items that remind them of important events in their lives other than them meeting their needs. This is what brings out the mutual connection between design and rhetoric and this is further explained in the various inventions that come up everyday making design evolutional.

For, example as stated by Nora (2009, 46), Scavolini brand, shown in the diagram below, ‘is a furniture company in Italy; the company that best succeeds in satisfying its consumer’s most varied and concrete demands in terms of styling, functionality, safety and durability’. It hence commands more credibility than most company’s in this area. This is evident from the number of loyal market it controls world wide.

Fig1. (Sample ethos) The ultimate kitchen by scavolini 2009,1)


Buchanan (1998, 24), states that ‘people will usually evaluate a design before buying it; this means that consumers make comparison. In order for a brand to stand out, its design and the presentation should make a hard sell to the consumer even before they use it. Creative manufacturers then go a step further to create brand loyalty that appeals to a specific niche of the customers.

The brand names, the color schemes and even the taglines used of products create the initial appeal on the customers impelling them to choose one product over the others. The various forms of communication and persuasion that lead to people being convinced that they want a particular product or a particular designer’s work constitute the logos,(Buchanan, 2001 ,24).The following is analysis of a sample logos by Capital Logo Design (2009):

Figure2: Capital Logo Design (2009)

A statement from Capital Logo Design (2009) states that this logo was designed for a Shell Oil wholesaler. In order to make sure that his customers gets to know from which company he obtains oil from, these client requested the Shell logo to be incorporated into the design. This is a clear way of how a logo tries to convince a customer about a particular product.


According to Buchanan (1998, 25), pathos to a designer is incorporating features that appeal to specific groups of individuals. This is the susceptibility of the consumer to a certain product. Conall (2007, 16) states that, fashion victims epitomize this dimension of design. This means that those that are fashion-conscious have a list of “must-have” brands that depends on their design. The picture below tries to further explain what pathos is to a consumer:

Figure3: ZilSOUND (2010, 24)

By going through the features provided in the mobile phone brand above in the picture, people desiring to have the latest mobile phone or other could be swayed in to buying it.

Conall (2007, 16), ‘in his study suggest that, rhetoric is increasingly seen as a comprehensive tool for evaluation.’ This can hence give designers a means of dealing with consumer values and requirements. Conall (2007, 16), proceeds to say that, ‘the new Rhetoric as portrayed in design can facilitate areas of human activity which entail a synthesis of ideas and competing values in order to arrive at a best outcomes.

Tancred (2004, 22), then adds that, “it has then been established that rhetoric is not concerned with any single delimited kind of subject but is like a language and a useful art”. Lawson continues to state that, “it is clear that its function is not persuasion but rather the detection of the persuasive aspects of each” (2004, 53).

As Postman and Weingarten (1969, 23) have pointed out, Rhetoric is a form of communication, and the main purpose of communication is to affect the behaviour of others; design influences behavior in a special way: In today’s consumer design the object must speak to the potential purchaser to persuade him or her to buy.


In order for the modern designers to retain their credibility in the highly competitive world mired with cutthroat competition; they must be able to renovate and change with times. The ability to adapt to changes, embracing new tactics and skills in the highly dynamic industrial world is the only way contemporary designers can survive and retain their relevance in the art and design field.

Design is in itself evolutional and designers are faced with the task of being on their toes at all times in order to counter the changing demands that characterize the design industry. To achieve this, they must keep abreast with the newest trends in the market and carry out surveys on their clientele base to understand their needs.

This way, they stand a better chance to give them practical designs which will also reflect their values. Ethos, pathos and logos come in hardy to give a finishing touch to the art designs in order to give them the desired appeal. These principles make rhetoric a worthy and valuable skill that helps designers sway their audience who in return show loyalty by making these brands their preferred designs.

Reference List

Buchanan, Richard. 1998. “Branzi’s Dilemma: Design in Contemporary Culture Design.” Design Issues 14(1).

Capital Logo Design.2009. “Logo design samples”. March 19. Web.

Hauser, Gerard.1986. “Introduction to Rhetorical Theory”. June 14, http://science.jrank.org/pages/8057/Rhetoric.html#ixzz0yAa0B9

John, Dewey.1958. Art as an Experience. New York: Capricorn Books.

Kennedy, George. 1992. “A Hoot in the Dark”. April 16. Web.

Ó Catháin Conall. 2007. Is Design Research simply rhetoric? Design Studies. Belfast, N. Ireland: Queen’s University 3(3).

Postman, Cannon Weingarten.1969.Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York: Doubleday.

Reed, Nora. (2009). “Online home furniture magazine”. 2 July. Web.

Richard, McKeon. 1987. Essays in Invention and Discovery. Woodbridge CT: Ox Bow Press

Shugrue, Michael. 1981. The art of rhetoric. Design and the New Pennsylvania State University: University Park, PA.

Tancred, Lawson. 2004. The Art of Rhetoric: Translated with an Introduction and Notes. London: Penguin Books.

ZilSOUND. 2010. “Mobile phone”. 25 Aug. Web.

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