by Rose Burt
There are a lot of different kinds of literacy that are important, that we actually teach or talk about teaching in school. Today I’m advocating for a kind of literacy that I don’t hear discussed a lot: Visual Communication.
Really, we could broaden this to digital communication, because that’s a whole area that also is not getting enough love. How many formal letters have you written in the past five years? How many emails have you sent in the last five days? We should be teaching our kids proper email etiquette.
But back to my initial point - visual communication as a basic literacy. I’m primarily concerned with the design of visual communication materials, not so much the reading and analysis, but mastery of any form of expression must entail reading and analysis. Here’s my main complaint - there are simple, reasonable design principles that can make any piece of visual communication more readable and thus more effective. But, we don’t teach this stuff to everyone, just to the ‘art’ kids. This is a huge oversight.
Think about all the types of material you generate that are presented visually. Papers, reports, flyers, websites, emails, resumes, presentations. How many of these types of things have you seen before that were too cluttered, hard to read, unclear, unfocused, plain old frustrating? A lot. Bad design is everywhere. But it doesn’t have to be.
We should be teaching our kids basic design skills because information presented well is always better received. Poor visual design is like wearing dirty jeans to an office interview. It’s unthoughtful and inappropriate.
Here’s my pitch: you can teach visual design in any setting where some part of the output of the project is an object that communicates visually. Papers, reports, presentations, emails, websites, you name it. Now, you might say, I’m not a designer! How am I going to teach good design? To which I would say, learn together with your students. Familiarize yourself with some basic design principles, and seek out references and resources that can help both you and your students to become better visual communicators. Find and make opportunities to have your students deliver objects that challenge them to create a visual communication objects, and take the time to lead discussion around what elements and arrangements are most effective, less successful, and why.
Good visual communication is more engaging, successful, and satisfying than poor visual communication. It’s also fun, and tremendously valuable. It’s worth learning, and worth teaching your students.
I want to see a future where there is no terrible design, where a crappy powerpoint template is looked upon as poorly as bad grammar or a misspelled headline.