Visual and Verbal, Communication BFFs

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Out of this week’s readings, the concepts that spoke to me most were contained in Chapter 4, “Information Design” by Salvo and Rosinski. In this chapter, the authors approached much of the information design roles technical communicators have in terms of, not surprisingly, design.

I found the lines between traditional, historical roles of the technical communicator as writer and those of visual designer were blurred by the authors and this ties in closely with my observation that these types of information design roles will require cross-over proficiencies in practitioners as job roles and expectations are consolidated in the future. As noted by the authors, a base of historical genres and usability studies is a good starting point when applying both verbal and visual communications to new technology (pg. 106-108). Technical writers will need to develop aesthetic, visual design sense and visual designers will need to develop strong writing and reading comprehension skills in order to integrate both of these equally important, but traditionally separate, communication strategies into effective messages. Because writing is communicated visually, and visuals often use words to convey meaning, verbal-visual skills are inextricably intertwined, and ultimately most effective when used together (see image, http://www.jocelynwallace.com).

It was a difficult choice for me after high school to decide whether I wanted to go into writing or design. I was awarded a big journalism scholarship in high school for college, but after one year decided to try graphic design instead. Because of my interest and proficiency in written communication, I feel I’ve had an advantage to many of my designer colleagues. Being able to contribute or entirely create copy and writings for design clients is a distinct advantage over designers who don’t, requiring the client to create written content themselves, or hire a writer at additional cost. Even for designers who aren’t as interested in writing as I am, there’s no underestimating the value of being able to fully understand and analyze a design’s text components, and applying that understanding to create a visual design that is harmonious and appropriate. Basic literacy skills such as vocabulary and semantics, spelling, and syntax can save a lot of time, money, and hassle as well.

I’m currently researching for a midterm paper in a grad-level Design Education course about this very issue, the benefits of emphasizing writing and reading comprehension skills as a vital part of undergraduate design curriculum. To me, it’s just another skill to acquire in order to be the best communicator possible.

So on this same note, I’m interested in the writer’s perspective. How do you feel about utilizing or acquiring visual design skills as part of being an effective communicator? Do you see it as a valuable skill? Is it something that comes naturally to you? If not, do you plan on learning more about it to better market yourself or make it easier to talk with designers in the workplace?

About Michelle Mailey Noben

I'm a graphic designer and graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Stout in Menomonie, Wis. I'm in my second year of the School of Art + Design's Master of Fine Arts in Design program. So far, it's been a great experience, although challenging at times to come back to academia after working in the industry for several years. When I'm done with my studies, I'd like to teach at the adult level. I work for the University as Graduate Assistant in the University Library, where I work with the Public Relations committee on promoting library events. This year, I recently started in an office assistant position in the School of Art + Design's program office. I'm looking forward to becoming more comfortable with emerging media to make the most of this amazing technology. Thanks for reading!

Posted on October 5, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I think that becoming literate in visual design is almost a necessity these days. I think back to 2010 and the documentation that my company was creating to communicate with clients and I am embarrassed. To think that a billion dollar company didn’t have one senior leader that had the knowledge, education, or experience to notice the garbage, and that is exactly what it was, that we were giving to our clients makes me angry. I think of how much more successful each individual could have been which would have led to the company being even more successful. While I don’t think that being able to breakdown Helvetica and other fonts on a creation level basis is essential to being successful, having a basic knowledge of visual design and knowing that everything you put in front of a client or fellow employee is communicating a message to them whether it was intended or not is a must for any technical communicator. I also believe that as the baby boomer tech writers retire, an understanding of visual design will probably become a requirement for incoming tech writers.

  2. Great post and I appreciate this point in particular:

    Even for designers who aren’t as interested in writing as I am, there’s no underestimating the value of being able to fully understand and analyze a design’s text components, and applying that understanding to create a visual design that is harmonious and appropriate.

    I’m glad you highlighted this reading and that (perhaps) it can be of assistance with your other coursework.

    I hope more of your peers answer the questions you posed at the end of this post!

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