Visual Literacy in Businesses

I took a Photography class because I wanted to fulfill my Arts requirement but I also heard that the teacher was one sharp cookie. She is a big believer that art is a language that you are either literate in or not. She believes that images and photography is going to be the most important language to know in the coming years. Be it the point of view of a photojournalist (and how people always forget that photojournalists have biases just like regular journalists do), or the ramifications of camera phones and all the visual media that anyone – like bloggers – are creating, the language of visual literacy has some interesting angles to explore.

She has some provocative challenges. Bring her a photo album of your family and she will tell you more about your family that you can yourself. Put up a plain old photograph and if everyone in the room agrees it’s “good” there may well be a cultural consensus for why that’s so. Finally, she thinks that any company that hasn’t brought in someone like her trained in the field to talk about interpreting and understanding visual images is nuts.

I’m not a big arts guy, but these ideas seem to be much deeper than just “a picture is worth a 1000 words.” Shouldn’t EVERYONE be trained in this language, not just advertisers? Are you?

4 comments on “Visual Literacy in Businesses
  • After three years of photo classes, I still can’t believe the subtle details Gale notices in photographs and in life. I am now so much more aware of my visual surroundings. What a useful skill.

    If everyone could deconstruct images, would advertising become obselete? Or would we still respond subconsciously to the signals?

  • Edward Tufte of Yale has made a mint out of doing seminars based on his book, “The Visual Display of Information.” He makes the point that the way that you display data makes a huge difference in the persuasiveness of your arguments. One chilling example is the inability of Morton Thiokol engineers to convince NASA to scrub the Challenger launch. The data showed that shuttle launches in cold weather conditions tended to have problems. But the engineers showed the data chronologically, allowing NASA to ignore the issue. Had they presented the data and sorted it by temperature, the correlation would have been obvious.

  • I agree with Elena that corporate advertising would not benefit from having a visually literate consumer, but I don’t think that it would stop the way images effect us. I have taken loads of photo courses and still find myself entranced by certain photographs. Fashion photographers are very good at what they do; subtly creating images that compel us to keep wanting more of it (buy the product and feel like you get the image), while at the same time making it seem like the decision is ours. Glossy images are the real currency of the corporate world because they drive the most basic goal, interest in your institution. In my opinion, a person working in a business model that requires any level of customer interest needs an adequate photographic education. (Ben, you should take photo II)

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