A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Visual Rhetoric

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Visual rhetoric is the study of how document design (including the use of illustrations, charts and graphs, typography and layout) communicate, as opposed to aural or verbal messages. Visual rhetoric examines also the relationship between images and writing.



Aesthetic Experience and the Importance of Visual Composition  (link broken)

When considering the design of information and information structures, the focus tends to gravitate to general issues of content, information hierarchies, and in some instances, system usability. In discussions concerning system usability and human factors, the issue of the user experience, or overall aesthetic experience, with regard to a specific information structure is rarely addressed. Things such as the 'look and feel' of a website, for example, may get some attention by the designers and developers of the information structure, but the idea of 'look and feel' is essentially an issue of how to 'decorate' the information. Too often, when software developers or usability engineers discuss 'look and feel,' they do not consider it to be an integral part of the information design structure but an additive element applied only after the structure and content of the information have been resolved. What seems to be lacking in information design is a concern for the visual composition of information.

Greenzweig, Tim. Orange Journal, The (2001). Design>Web Design>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric


Analysis of a Diagram

Just because you like something you created, it doesn't mean it's any good or you have a big ego. But it can be useful to stop and ponder something you did that you particularly like--so that you can understand your own design priorities a bit better.

Hughes, Michael A. Humane Experience, The (2010). Articles>User Experience>Technical Illustration>Visual Rhetoric


An Analysis of Failed Queries for Web Image Retrieval   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This paper examines a large number of failed queries submitted to a web image search engine, including real users' search terms and written requests. The results show that failed image queries have a much higher specificity than successful queries because users often employ various refined types to specify their queries. The study explores the refined types further, and finds that failed queries consist of far more conceptual than perceptual refined types. The widely used content-based image retrieval technique, CBIR, can only deal with a small proportion of failed queries; hence, appropriate integration of concept-based techniques is desirable. Based on using the concepts of uniqueness and refinement for categorization, the study also provides a useful discussion on the gaps between image queries and retrieval techniques. The initial results enhance the understanding of failed queries and suggest possible ways to improve image retrieval systems.

Pu, Hsiao-Tieh. Journal of Information Science (2008). Articles>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric>Search


Annual Report Graphic Use: A Review of the Literature   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Corporate annual reports typically include a narrative section and a financial section. The narrative section is not scrutinized by auditors as the financial section is, yet many readers rely heavily on its graphs to estimate the firm's financial situation. However, the graphs often misrepresent the financial data. To better understand annual report graphs' important role, this article examines more than 25 years of literature related to these four areas: (a) the ways financial graphs are prepared, used, and misinterpreted; (b) differences by country; (c) regulatory influences for accountants; and (d) the parts formatting and media selection decisions play in communication interpretation and persuasion. Across the literature, the author notes consensus that annual report graphs are widely used in many countries and that there is rampant disregard for the guidelines for their accurate, non-misleading presentation. The article concludes with seven proposed directions for future research.

Penrose, John M. JBC (2008). Design>Document Design>Business Communication>Visual Rhetoric


Assessing Visualizations in Public Science Presentations   (PDF)

Natural resource agencies and other technical and scientific organizations face an immense challenge of when communicating complex technical information to diverse publics. The laptop computer, presentation software, and projection unit have emerged as one of the primary presentation tools in many technical and scientific fields. Advances in software functions enable presenters to capitalize on a wide range of multimedia functions thought to make presentations more appealing, interesting, and effective. Our presentation reports on a specific research project and then provides guidance for enhancing their presentations.

Zimmerman, Donald E., Carol A. Akerelrea, Jane Kapler Smith and Garrett O'Keefe. STC Proceedings (2003). Articles>Presentations>Visual Rhetoric


Attributing Meaning to Corporate Logos: A Cross Cultural Comparison  (link broken)   (Word)

Visual symbols are an essential part of corporate communication. The development of an appropriate corporate logo is an expensive and a time-intensive process. This study examines the meaning of visual form as perceived via corporate identity. Global economies demand that such symbols carry consistent meaning across cultures. 170 subjects from the U.S. and Hong Kong participated in a survey that identified positive business attributes associated with six logos. Another 60 subjects (30 from the U.S., 30 from Hong Kong) participated in focus groups and collectively discussed and collectively identified attributes as related to certain logos. Results indicate that there was agreement between and within groups on the perception of attributes with specific shapes. There were no significant differences between cultural groups.

Martinson, Barbara and Sauman Chu. University of Alberta (2003). Design>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric>International


Backpacks vs. Briefcases: Steps Toward Rhetorical Analysis

Students are digital natives who spend their days saturated in rhetorical messages that they have learned to decode quite well – for example, they can easily size up an instructor within moments of walking into the classroom. As students look at various messages from fashion advertising to political campaigning, they often decode and make sound rhetorical conclusions about these messages. This chapter helps students understand the rhetorical skills they already possess, transfer these skills to classroom projects, and become familiar with basic terms of rhetorical analysis used in the academy.

Carroll, Laura Bolin. Writing Spaces (2010). Articles>Rhetoric>Visual Rhetoric>Education


Being Good for Goodness' Sake: Corporate Social Responsibility Imagery

It sees you when you’re sleeping. It knows if you’re awake. 'It' is the world, and it knows if your company has been naughty or nice. The digital revolution has put a photographic device, be it a camera or camera-phone, in the hands of virtually everybody everywhere—so you can be sure someone besides Santa is constantly watching your company’s behavior. For that and other good reasons, corporate photography is looking very green this season.

Salvo, Suzanne. Communication World Bulletin (2007). Design>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric


Beyond the Screen: Visualizing Visits to a Website as an Experience in Physical Space   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article describes an applied investigation into a concept of information visualization where data are not rendered as graphs, charts or diagrams on the screen but as a sensual experience beyond the screen in physical space. It introduces predecessors such as calm technologies and ambient displays among a number of poetic and applied examples from related backgrounds to establish the context and relevance for communication design and graphic design, and presents a current research undertaking in which the social activity of visiting a website is visualized in multiple sensorial modalities in real-time in the form of a kinetic and sensual display.

Hohl, Michael. Visual Communication (2009). Articles>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric>Log Analysis


Blind and Low Vision Users

When we come to accessibility of web design, we will say that accessible web design is a sign of good web design. A lot of the information on the Web is not accessible to people with disabilities because of poor design. While many web site managers and developers accommodate various browser constraints, most of them do not realize that they are developing sites that people with disabilities have difficulty in navigating, or in many cases, cannot navigate at all.

Hung, Edward. Universal Usability. Design>Usability>Accessibility>Visual Rhetoric


The Blue Background in PowerPoint  (link broken)

Why is the default color of PowerPoint dark blue? People prepare the best slides man can create - and yet they leave the default color stay dark blue.

Fuchs, Amo. TC-FORUM (1999). Articles>Presentations>Visual Rhetoric>Color


The C30 Project   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This C30 Project visual essay is a record and interrogation of a process that began in March 2007 and continues into 2008. Building on previous local artists in schools projects, artists David Andrew and Marcus Neustetter collaborated with learners, students and teachers at the P.J. Simelane Secondary School in Dobsonville, Soweto, South Africa, on a series of on-site interventions.

Andrew, David and Marcus Neustetter. Visual Communication (2008). Articles>Education>Visual Rhetoric>Africa


Canonical Abstract Prototypes for Abstract Visual and Interaction Design   (PDF)

Abstract user interface prototypes offer designers a form of representation for specification and exploration of visual and interaction design ideas that is intermediate between abstract task models and realistic or representational prototypes. Canonical Abstract Prototypes are an extension to usage-centered design that provides a formal vocabulary for expressing visual and interaction designs without concern for details of appearance and behavior. A standardized abstract design vocabulary facilitates comparison of designs, eases recognition and simplifies description of common design patterns, and lays the foundations for better software tools. This paper covers recent refinements in the modeling notation and the set of Canonical Abstract Components. New applications of abstract prototypes to design patterns are discussed, and variations in software tools support are outlined.

Constantine, Larry L. Constantine and Lockwood (2003). Articles>User Interface>Interaction Design>Visual Rhetoric


Clarifying Abstract Concepts Through Multimedia: Principles for Technical Communicators   (PDF)

Multimedia can sometimes convey meaning in ways that text and graphics alone cannot. This paper offers two principles for understanding how multimedia can clarify abstract concepts. The first principle is that multimedia is excellent for conveying any kind of change, such as change in quantity, size, shape, or relationship. The second principle is that multimedia can help present complex concepts by providing information in both the visual and auditory modes simultaneously. These principles can guide technical communicators in evaluating whether multimedia is a cost-effective way to present their information.

Garb, Rachel and Claudia M. Hunter. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>TC>Multimedia>Visual Rhetoric


Color in Motion

An interactive experience of color communication and color symbolism.

Cortés, Claudia. mariaclaudiacortes.com (2003). Design>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric>Color


Color Theory For Designers, Part 2: Understanding Concepts And Terminology  (link broken)

If you’re going to use color effectively in your designs, you’ll need to know some color concepts and color theory terminology. A thorough working knowledge of concepts like chroma, value and saturation is key to creating your own awesome color schemes. Here, we’ll go over the basics of what affects a given color, such as adding gray, white or black to the pure hue, and its effect on a design, with examples.

Chapman, Cameron. Smashing (2010). Design>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric>Color


Color: The Newest Tool for Technical Communicators   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Asserts that color must be used to make information clear, lucid, powerful—faster; its logical application must be controlled by the editor. Provides a comprehensive checklist to help editors use color effectively.

White, Jan V. Technical Communication Online (2003). Design>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric>Color


Comic Books: An Evolving Multimodal Literacy

As comic books have struggled to be considered seriously alongside more conventional forms of literature, the nature of literacy itself has changed. In recent decades, theorists like Gee, Brandt, and Heath have steered away from notions of literacy as a set of fixed skills and proposed an alternative view: literacy as a culturally and contextually situated set of multimodal practices. What complicates our concept of literacy necessarily complicates our concept of literature. A reevaluation of the comic book in relation to new literacy studies is long overdue.

Quimby, Taylor. Xchanges (2010). Articles>Publishing>Visual Rhetoric


Comment Intégrer les Visuels

En matière de visuels, même si la plupart des acquis des médias traditionnels restent valables, tels que les rapports sémiologiques entre le texte et l'image, certaines règles spécifiques devraient pouvoir s'appliquer à Internet.

Hardy, Jean-Marc. Redaction (2004). Design>Web Design>Visual Rhetoric


Communication as Participation  (link broken)   (Word)

A discussion of the relationship between visual language and participation is important in light of globalization and the homogenization of the visual landscape, forces that breed marginalization and diminish invention.

Bowers, John. University of Alberta (2000). Design>Graphic Design>Community Building>Visual Rhetoric


Copywriting or Design: Which Gets the Best Results?

Designers believe that if something isn’t working well, and it comes down to changing the copy or the design, it’s always the copy that should be changed, reduced or sometimes nearly completely eliminated. How can I convince my designer co-workers that succinct, simple and memorable words can be just as important as the visuals?

Chartrand, James. Men With Pens (2009). Articles>Graphic Design>Writing>Visual Rhetoric


Creating Appropriate Graphics for Business Situations  (link broken)   (members only)

Charts and graphs are ubiquitous in business documents, and most students in my business communication courses are well aware that they need to be able to create many different types of data representation. Most of them have had a great deal of experience working with spreadsheet applications, and they know how to manipulate data and present it in the various forms permitted by their software.

Katz, Susan M. Business Communication Quarterly (2008). Articles>Graphic Design>Visual Rhetoric>Charts and Graphs


Creating Effective Poster Presentations: An Effective Poster

An effective poster is not just a standard research paper stuck to a board. A poster uses a different, visual grammar. It shows, not tells.

Hess, George, Kathryn Tosney and Leon Liegel. North Carolina State University (2006). Design>Presentations>Posters>Visual Rhetoric


Creating the Vision: Developing Graphic Strategies   (PDF)

Making documentation more visual is a two phase process. First comes the brainstorming, where ideas bubble up: the weird the funny, the wonderful, the breakthrough, the lame brain — no idea discriminated against, all equally enjoying the bright, spring air of the creative process. Once You begin to brainstorm you may find putting concepts into graphics is easier than you thought. Then comes the second phase: the hard realization that even if you throw out all the crazy ideas, you still have to pick and choose. You have to develop a strategy for graphic use, one that goes beyond the basic visual unity a good graphic designer can give a document. You have to see the graphics in light of the user's need.

Malone, Jacquelyn. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>Documentation>Visual Rhetoric


A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Visual Literacy Challenges for Technical Communicators   (PDF)

Many emerging nations have pre-technological cultures. These nations are striving to develop a new technological literacy that is heavily dependent on visual literacy, or the ability to 'read' images. This paper discusses some challenges for technical communicators in presenting technical graphics to users who are not fully functional in learned Western conventions and skills of pictorial representation, pictorial literacy, and pictorial perception aspects such as conceptualization, perspective and depth, scale, and analysis of component details.

Ausburn, Floyd B. and Lynna J. Ausburn. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>Communication>Visual Rhetoric



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