Open Your Eyes - Open Your Mind - Insights Into Visual Literacy, Infog
May 19, 2013 Teaching 2383 Views
When people talk about literacy they're usually referring to words not pictures. Being 'literate' means being well-read. And in formal education, it's easy to measure literacy with the traditional yardsticks of form, structure and textual comprehension.
Literacy usually refers to the written word, yet it's in pictures that we think, act and remember. From cave paintings to the 'head-up' displays in a fighter aircraft, the capacity for imagery or symbols to impart information is far more effective than that of the written word. It's what we call 'visual literacy'.
Visual Literacy is the ability to interpret and make sense of what you see, thus learning from it.
Professor Edward Tufte describes how using visual symbols is a better way to communicate because it "gives the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space."
This visual communication of information is a key component in improving knowledge, perception and understanding. The so-called technological revolution owes as much to a re-think of how information is communicated as to the clever gizmos that deliver it. Until Apple broke the mould in 1984, data processing was the domain of IBM programmers in air-tight sterile rooms. The introduction of personal computing, a 'language' of icons and visual shorthand and a new intuitive way of working meant that, for the first time, a computer could be as valuable to an artist as a scientist.
Infographics: improving data communication in bite-sized chunks.
The current trend amongst designers and marketers of creating ' Infographics ' is simply no more than an exposition of data visualisation. Its effectiveness is down to the way in which the data is visualised, is laid out hierarchically and the resonance of the chosen graphics to the target audience. Such visualisations save hugely on words; they compress data into bite-sized chunks. But most of all, they are able to present the information using visual memory-hooks, metaphors and interactivity, all of which are proven to increase recall and comprehension and deepen understanding.
The ubiquitous PowerPoint remains a very effective presentation tool, but quite often the presenter uses it in a visually illiterate manner, filling each slide with paragraphs of copy and lists of bullet points. Far better to present that same information using photographs, visual metaphors, film and audio clips and animation. Visual literacy involves visual thinking and intelligent 'mind-mapping' techniques to present information in the most memorable way. A good example of the use of a visual metaphor would be the roots and branches of a tree to illustrate concepts of production line working and interdependency.
A study by Professor Martin Eppler showed that managers who worked with visualisation tools experienced a 30% greater understanding and recall of a topic than those who did not.
In today's very visual age, successful learning is personal, visual and informal. Jay Cross has concluded that 80% of learning is informal; that is, outside the traditional classroom environment. For example, learners can 'live' in gaming environments, challenging their emotions and decision-making skills to the full. They have far more advanced visual thinking capacity because of vast increase in the volume of visual stimuli they're exposed to.
Add in the positive proof of neuro-scientific studies of brain function related to design and visual stimulus and it's easy to understand why designers and marketers are turning to more visually-led ways of communicating their messages. And why many educators have challenged the reduced presence of the Arts in a future curriculum.
It's in the Arts and in Visual Literacy that we are able to develop our imaginations, exercise our visual skills and emotional creativity. It's where we find our most innovative thinking and entrepreneurial ideas.