Art & Design Employability



Visual Literacy

Contextual Statement

Visual literacy can be defined as a competency that implies fluency with, and command of, visual materials and contexts, which is metaphorically allied to established notions of numeracy and verbal literacy. The Anatomy of Employability project is underwritten by the idea that visual literacy should be ranked alongside numeracy and verbal literacy, skills that are already embedded in education and regarded as vital survival tools in modern life.

In the creative sectors and in the world of design in particular, a good grasp of visual literacy is now more crucial than ever, broadly due to two changes in culture. Firstly, globalisation makes it supremely important that designers can communicate to audiences and markets in ways that do not involve words. Secondly, download culture means that audiences have become used to increasingly rapid and instantaneous access to data in communication platforms that are ill-served by language. The internet, which is primarily a visual medium, has clearly led the way here. New ways of visually displaying data allow non-experts to grasp complex issues, from weather forecasts to election predictions.

As consumers, the twin drivers of globalising and accelerating communication fuel our appetite for a range of visual shorthands while also requiring an ability to decode them. In turn, we have become increasingly adept at sifting and filtering this information, customising it for our own use. The designer who cannot adapt and keep pace with these new means of communicating will be at a serious professional disadvantage. Educators are recognising the importance of helping students to develop their visual literacy in order to communicate and survive in a highly complex world.

Among the more obvious advantages of good visual literacy are the following:

  • Increased understanding of peers’ work and contexts
  • Richer design work, helping to make creative associations and inventive solutions
  • Better promotional materials

The definition of visual literacy can be traced to the 1960s and the establishment of cross-disciplinary work between commercial organisations and education contexts. The term is credited to John Debes, co-founder of the International Visual Literacy Association, who stated that ‘Visual literacy refers to a group of vision-competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences. The development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning’. (Jack Debes, Kodak, 1969)

The workshops shown as exploratory tools on the adjoining pages are examples of how visual literacy can be explored via simple practical exercises that are of professional value, such as the creation of calling cards and other reflective materials. NB: the original style and layout of these exploratory tools has been retained to reflect the nature of the materials as encountered by students at the moment of delivery.

Exploratory Tool

Outcome: New in Town workshop 1 (see download below)

Outcome: New in Town workshop 2 (see download below)

Video Workshop

Workshop: Visual Literacy

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