Defining the Abstract

Aashrita Indurti
10 min readOct 27, 2020


Communication Design Studio — Project 2

This project involves studying complex and abstract concepts based on their nature — big and small, decoding why they are important and how they work and bringing alive these concepts in a video-based format.

Week 5 — Telling the Tale of the Rainbow

Decoding the Phenomenon of the Rainbow and its significance.

“It takes sunshine and rain to make a rainbow. There would be no rainbows without sunshine and rain.”
Roy T. Bennett

The Rainbow appears as a multicoloured circular arc consisting of seven hues. VIBGYOR is a common mnemonic used to describe the seven hues. For the formation of the meteorological phenomenon, there are two necessary actors that come together to paint a rainbow, namely the sun and raindrops.

Picture Credits — Unsplash

The Teamwork Tale of the Rain and the Sun
The scientific reason behind the emergence of a rainbow is the reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets with the sun on the opposite side and sunlight spreading across the sky to form the spectrum of colours. The arcs of the rainbow are usually centred along a line from the sun to the observer's eyes.

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain or the VIBGYOR
The colours of the rainbow are Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red. Red has the longest wavelength and is thus the primary colour seen on the rainbow and moves on to the sequence of having violet at the end which has the shortest wavelength. The sequence remains standard from red to violet and is spotted in this pattern of colours any and every time a rainbow is formed.

An interesting fact is that the rainbow is made up of millions of spectral colours that are not visible to the human eye and hence it is consistently seen as a bad of these seven colours.

The Occurrence of the Rainbow in Mythology — Noah’s Story (left), the Irish Tale (Centre), The Bow of Lord Indra (Right) Image Credits — National Geographic, Sanatan Society and clipartkey

Significance in Mythology
In the Book of Genesis, Noah’s story holds the rainbow in great relevance. The rainbow was a symbol of god’s promise to prevent floods on earth. The Norse mythology portrays the rainbow as a bridge or the ‘Bifröst’ connection between the world of men and the realm of god. The Irish legend talks of leprechauns and the rainbow as a safehouse or a secret hiding place for their pot of gold which is usually hidden at the end of the rainbow. A leprechaun, if spotted mending shoes is forced to lead the onlooker to the pot of gold. Hindu Mythology patronises the rainbow or the ‘Indradhanush’ as the bow of Lord Indra, the God of Thunder and Lightening. Chinese tales further describes the rainbow as a slit in the sky that is mended by a goddess using stones of different colours. For the Greeks and the Romans, the coloured arcs of the rainbow were a representation of the fleet-footed messenger and goddess Iris.

The Wiphala (left) and the Rainbow Flag, a symbol of the LGBT Community (centre) and the seven chakras (right) — Image credits: National Geographic and lgbtq+experiment,

- Wiphala, in its rainbow hues, is a symbol of respect and diversity for the indigenous communities, native to the Andes area (Ecuador to Chile)
- sign of hope and promise of better times to come in the Western Culture.
- Symbol of the Cooperative movement in the German Peasants’ War
- gay pride and LGBT social movements
- South Africa post Apartheid was known as Rainbow nation
- Political coalitions/parties known as rainbow coalitions
- Seen in tech logos (Apple)
- Sign of thank you, hope and solidarity during the pandemic (COVID-19)
- Rainbow of Life or the Chakras in Indian Philosophy represents discs or points of energy in the body that make up physical and mental well-being

Types of Unusual Rainbows

  • Circumhorizontal
  • Circumzenthial
  • Double Rainbow
  • Red Rainbow
  • Fogbows
  • Moonbow

Week 6 — Gathering Information

Vocabulary of Comics
Mc Cloud’s ‘Vocabulary of Comics’ is a go-to guide on the difference between icons and symbols and the contexts that employ the former or latter in an effective manner.

McCloud’s Vocabulary of Comics — Icons and Symbols

An icon is any image used to represent a place, person, idea or a thing. Categories of icons come together to form a symbol. A symbol is used to represent ideas, concepts or philosophies.

McCloud’s Vocabulary of Comics —Scales of Representation

The author further stresses on the scales of representation that an artist or a designer might incorporate based on the context of representation. The level of abstraction of an icon or a symbol could range from

  • Complex to Simple
  • Realistic to Iconic
  • Objective to Subjective
  • Specific to Universal

“ Our’s is an increasingly symbol oriented culture.”
- Scott McCloud

Symbols — A Form of Universal Communication

Iconography post the twentieth century has evolved to become a form of universal communication and we humans as McCloud describes rely on symbols to identify information around us.

Blood in the Gutter
McCloud in his chapter 3 talks of the importance of closure or perceiving an idea or a concept as a whole. Any representation can bring out the aspect of closure using multiple techniques.

The Closure Clause

The author also highlights the use of time and motion to attain closure while depicting a sequence of events. Some of the transition techniques used to incorporate motion are moment to moment, action to action, subject to subject, scene to scene, aspect to aspect and non sequitur methods of transition.

Transition and Motion Techniques

The Representation Rationale
Davis Norman stresses on the role of representation as a method that helps a user form a perspective about the idea being conveyed.

In this type of communication, representations may be evaluated as insightful, revealing, credible, compelling or convincing.
- Davis Norman

The other type of representation according to Norman is that which appeals to the emotions and encourages the user to make a decision, propelled often by want rather than need.

The style of representation, its elements and the compositions often have a larger connotation that they depict and is used as an analogy or metaphor using literal contexts.

Some important factors that constitute a good communication style are the choice of signs, their ordering and their effectiveness in representing the idea/context. Communication artefacts are a combination of useful, usable and desirable based on the context being depicted in order to be classified as successful communication.

Retelling the Tale of the Rainbow
Using the ideas put forward by McCloud and Norman, the task at hand was to use combine the effective use of icons, symbols, effective representation styles and transitions to communicate the purpose of a rainbow, how it exists in nature and depict its importance in the world. This would form the first step towards creating a storyboard to narrate the tale of the rainbow.

The Tale of the Rainbow

Having created a draft version of the storyboard, we did a series of peer review sessions at the studio session in order to decipher and understand the fuzzy areas that peers could not follow as we made our respective presentations.

Week 7 — Create, Iterate and Repeat

The initial concept of depicting the working of a rainbow incorporated the three scientific principles of physics — dispersion of light, refraction and reflection of light. I decided to pursue the concept of personifying the seven colours to explain the concepts and bring out the larger symbolism of rainbows and their association with diversity and respect.

Exploration of the Storyboard through Visual, Aural and Temporal Channels

Exploration of the Visual Medium
Exploring the Temporal Channel

Exploration of the Aural Channel — Drafting the Script

First Draft of the Script

Moodboard — Setting the Visual Tone

The next step marked exchanging our scripts for peer review. The intent of this endeavour was to decode if the script was seamless and effective in conveying the essence of the theme and the scientific concepts.

Week 8

Changing Narrative

From depicting the physics phenomena of light as simple characters personified to creating a long and detailed conversation between a parent and child as a method of explanation of the rainbow formation, the challenge lay in shortening the script to keep it crisp, concise and engaging. The initial narration touched upon the scientific concept or the ‘how does a rainbow function’ in a superficial manner and did not bring out the intricacies of reflection and refraction. The narrative revolved around the significance and focused on how the rainbow plays a vital role in today’s world as a symbol of unity and diversity.

The revised narration incorporates a dialogue based conversation between a mother-daughter duo where the child questions various scientific aspects of the rainbow. It transitions seamlessly into the two colours fighting, a story weaving into the initial conversation.

The gloomy weather fades and the rain has stopped, sunlight in its white and pristine form spreads its shine on Earth again. A young girl with her mother watches the rainbow with the utmost wonder, as the coloured bows leave her mesmerised.

Narration — Image 1, 2 and 3
Narration — Image 4 and 5

Week 9 — Presentation

Story of the VIBGYOR Colours — noise of the component lights bickering*

As part of the presentation, the requirement was to showcase the initial draft of the concept videos and give everyone a sneak peek of what the rainbow curtails.

The feedback incorporated some appreciation for the storyboards, the flow, the narration and the visual language set and the overall look at feel. Some action points that could be addressed were the use of black to depict sunlight. While the use of black was synonymous with depicting a ray of light — a black line, it came across as a contrast to the pristine white light. The rainbow at some instances was seen in stark contrast in a sharp and outlined manner. A more soft, rounded-edged camouflaged form would be apt in depicting the perfect yet imperfect nature of the rainbow. Repetition of the explanation of the refraction of light using a layer of white seemed verbose and moved away from the transition style with the introduction of another white screen.

The next steps involve working on the feedback to incorporate the changes, adding life to the transitions and taking baby steps towards completing the remaining scenes.

Week 10 — Peer Review

We kicked off the peer review sessions during the course of the week where all of us had to review the videos of three of our peers and receive and incorporate the feedback we received.

As the stress of using after effects seemed to take a toll on decreasing our productivity, my video on the rainbow was half finished with a little more content introduced for submission.

A generic point of concern was around the use of the normal line to explain refraction, my peers felt it was irrelevant and seemed an additional element. The unfinished sequence of refraction added a sense of ambiguity in terms of defining a clear ending. Matt, however, was not convinced with the aural use of the chirping of the birds.

Some of the aspects of the video that were appreciated was the storytelling format adapted as a conversation, the visual style and depiction and the use of distinct narrative elements.

Week 11 — Final Presentation

The gloomy weather fades and the rain has stopped, sunlight in its white and pristine form spreads its shine on Earth again. A young girl with her mother watches the rainbow with the utmost wonder, as the coloured bows leave her mesmerised.


The project helped me understand and dive deep into abstract concepts and represent it using an effective form, motion and aural portrayal. While using after effects was a challenging and time-consuming task, the course of the project saw iterations and reiterations with respect to the script, the representation techniques and refinement of transitions. The readings played a vital role in understanding transitions and the role of subtlety in contrast to stark movements and animations and overall helped me break down the complex concepts of physics to meaningful and easy to grasp themes with the help of the visual, aural and temporal mediums.



Aashrita Indurti

Interaction and Service Designer | Graduate Student at the School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University