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5. Using Images

  • Institute for Infology, Tullinge, Sweden


Traditionally the concept of “literacy” was restricted to the ability to read, write and use arithmetic. In a multicultural world with fast technological advances people in all societies need abilities and skills to manage many kinds of systems for communication and information provide in imag-es, symbols, and texts. We all have to learn to interpret visual messages accurately and to create such messages. Interpretation and creation in visual literacy can be said to parallel read-ing and writing in print literacy.
Using Images
Rune Pettersson
Using Images
The illustration on the cover is part of an image from my video
program “Life Patterns” presented at the first international ex-
hibition “The Video Show” in London, may 1975. My “multime-
dia project” was one of two invited contributions from Sweden.
Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this
work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee pro-
vided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or com-
mercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full
citation on the first page.
Institute for Infology
ISBN 978-91-85334-39-1
© Rune Pettersson
Sweden, Tullinge 2022
Information design is a multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary,
and worldwide consideration with influences from areas such as
communication disciplines, design disciplines, information dis-
ciplines, language disciplines, cognitive disciplines, art and aes-
thetic disciplines, business and law, as well as media production
Traditionally the concept of “literacy” was restricted to the
ability to read, write and use arithmetic. The definition of tradi-
tional literacy has changed and been extended several times dur-
ing the last decades. Many have seen a need for a broader defini-
tion and proposed new categories of literacy. Traditional literacy
is not enough anymore. In a multicultural world with fast tech-
nological advances people in all societies need abilities and skills
to manage many kinds of systems for communication and infor-
mation provide in images, symbols, and texts. We all have to
learn to interpret visual messages accurately and to create such
messages. Interpretation and creation in visual literacy can be
said to parallel reading and writing in print literacy.
Since my retirement I have edited and revised sections of my
earlier books, conference papers and reports about information
design, message design, visual communication and visual liter-
acy. Parts of this book has previously been included in my book
Image Design. Previous editions of this book were published in
2019, 2020, and 2021.
Tullinge, Sweden
Rune Pettersson, Ph.D.
Retired Professor of Information Design
Preface 3!
Contents 4!
Visual communication 8!
Study of visual communication 8!
Early studies 8!
Areas and fields 8!
Many technologies 9!
Communication models 10!
Some definitions 10!
Functions of visuals 11!
Still pictures 12!
Moving pictures 34!
Intended image functions 37!
Information and instruction 41!
Teaching and learning 45!
Disinformation design 54!
Image functionsconclusions 58!
Visualisation 60!
Effective visuals 60!
Visualisation of data 62!
A total teaching aid 72!
Visual language 79!
Old traditions 79!
Historical view 79!
The term 85!
Cultural differences 86!
Structure of visual language 87!
Content 88!
Execution 88!
Context 88!
Format 89!
Perception 90!
Qualities of visual language 90!
Visual language exists 92!
Visual language is holistic 93!
Visual language must be learned 94!
Visual language may improve learning 95!
Visual language is not universal 96!
Visual language often needs verbal support 97!
Objectified images 98!
Combined verbal and visual language 99!
Image design 102!
Varying levels of meaning 102!
Basic elements in image design 104!
Dots 106!
Lines 108!
Areas 110!
Volumes 110!
Development of visual language abilities 111!
Visual complexity 112!
New literacies 113!
Visual perception 115!
Perception 115!
Perception of visuals 117!
Interpreting visuals 119!
Ambiguity 119!
Visual rhetoric 120!
Visual semiotics 121!
Understanding visuals 123!
Memory for visuals 124!
Providing simplicity 125!
Readability of pictures 126!
Readability of signs and symbols 133!
Readability of maps 135!
Readability of colour 136!
Image associations 138!
Associations from advertisements 138!
Associations from photographs 139!
Image association study 144!
Kinship diagrams 148!
Visual learning 151!
Theories of learning 152!
Visual spatial intelligence 153!
Verbal and visual representations 153!
Visual thinking 155!
Visual literacy 158!
Some early problems 159!
An interdisciplinary concept 161!
Visual literacy theory 176!
Some early visual literacy theories 177!
A new visual literacy theory 179!
Research in visual literacy 182!
Nonverbal communication 182!
Three waves of research 183!
Qualitative research 183!
Research articles 184!
Abilities 185!
Composition and composing 186!
Ability to construct meaning 186!
Ability to read photographs 187!
Competencies 188!
Media culture 188!
Reading pictures 191!
The general population 193!
Outcomes 194!
An emerging shift 196!
Critical visual literacy 197!
Digital competence 198!
Visual information literacy 199!
Skills 200!
A skill to be learned 201!
Textbooks 206!
Digital textbooks 207!
Preschool 209!
Elementary school 209!
Visual awareness 211!
Museums 212!
Theory of mind 214!
Middle school/Junior high school 215!
High school 218!
College and university 222!
Library exhibitions 239!
Developing communities 239!
Many definition problems 241!
Early days 241!
IVLA 243!
There are many definitions 244!
ID Library 263!
References 264!
Appendix: Main concepts 348!
Visual communication
At about 1960, educators realised the impact visual messages had
on communicating, learning, and thinking. In contrast to spoken
and written languages, pictures have no general and distinguish-
ing elements that are not bearers of data and information. Visual
languages attempt equivalence with reality. Visuals are iconic
and they often resemble the thing they represent.
This chapter includes the following main sections: Study of
visual communication, Functions of visuals, and Visualisation.
Study of visual communication
This main section includes the following sections: Early studies,
Areas and fields, Many technologies, Communication models,
and Some definitions.
Early studies
In his book Language of Vision György Kepes (1944) argued that
visual communication is international and universal. Visual
communication knows no limits of grammar, tongue, or vocabu-
lary. This book was used as a college textbook, and had thirteen
printings, in four languages.
In the book A Primer of Visual Literacy Donis Dondis (1973)
discussed the use of several pairs of oppositions as techniques for
visual communication. A few examples are: Balance–Instability,
SimplicityComplexity, and TransparencyOpacity. These op-
positions present the graphic designer with effective means of
creating expressive visual communication.
Areas and fields
A field of knowledge, or a field of study, is the sum of knowledge
gained from relevant practice and theory. Ultimately, a field of
knowledge is defined at least in part by its research questions
(Rude, 2009). A limited part within any specific field of
knowledge is an area of knowledge, or an area of study (Petters-
son, 2021). Research questions tie together diverse areas.
Moriarty (1996) made an extensive mapping of the study of
visual communication. She developed a bibliography with 1,617
entries grouped in the following 30 main categories (in order of
precedence): 1) Memory, 2) Photography, 3) Mental imagery, 4)
Cognition and information processing, 5) Visual-verbal interac-
tion, 6) Advertising, 7) Television and video, 8) Art and fine art,
9) Perception, 10) Development and children, 11) Film and cin-
ema, 12) History, 13) Visual literacy; pictorial representation, 14)
Graphic design, 15) Aesthetics; creativity; gender studies and ste-
reotypes, 16) Signs and semiotics, 17) Codes, decoding and en-
coding, 18) Broadcast and television news; research and method-
ology, 19) Audience factors, 20) Sociology and anthropology, 21)
Rhetoric and persuasion, 22) Photojournalism, 23) Journalism
and news, 24) Information and content, 25) Cartoons; the lan-
guage metaphor (syntax, grammar, etc.).
Many technologies
We are surrounded by different sorts of visual technologies such
as digital graphics, drawings, paintings, photography, sculp-
tures, television, and video, where some writers believe that the
visual is the most fundamental of all our senses. Kress and van
Leeuwen (1996, 2006) identified Soviet Union as the first place
where the shift from the verbal to the visual form of communica-
tion was attempted in the 1920s, thus connecting what they
called as a “semiotic revolution” to the political revolt.
The study of visual communication has developed inde-
pendently within several fields of research. Thus, research on
combined verbal and visual communication has had no “natural
home.” Nowadays the study of visual communication is a multi-
disciplinary, multi-dimensional and worldwide consideration.
While pictures move easily between various media, their meaning
does not always follow the same path (Müller, Kappas and Olk,
2012, p. 322). “The more you know, the more you see,” a common
mantra introduced by Aldous Huxley, is a favourite expression
among visual communication researchers (Lester, 2012).
Communication models
Traditional communication models were directional and pro-
cess-oriented. However, Hall (1980) developed the encoding
decoding model. This audience reception theory moved away
from the view that the media had the power to directly cause a
specific behaviour in individuals. The meaning of a message is
created within the relationship between the message and the
reader, and not by the inherent qualities of the specific commu-
nication of the message.
The sender is seen as an encoder, constructing “meaningful”
texts, such as a television program or a printed information ma-
terial. The receiver is a decoder, and is assumed to accept, nego-
tiate or oppose to the intended meaning in the received text. Hall
emphasized this paradigm shift to earlier traditions. Audience
reception theory, or reader-response theory, was widely used
during the 1980s and 1990s. It was concluded that one event, and
one message can each be encoded in several ways. It may be a
problematic process to understand even simple messages.
We can regard the sender as an information provider.” In
each case the sender, or the designer, may have clear intentions
and objectives. However, it is always up to the individual “infor-
mation interpreter” to actively conceive or misconceive the infor-
mation content, to use or not use it, to use or misuse it. This view
is especially valid for information sets that people make available
to a totally unknown audience, e.g. on the Internet and the
WWW. It is not possible to know much about the people who
search for and may use the information.
Some definitions
Visual communication has been defined many times. For exam-
ple, Wileman (1980, p. 13) defined visual communication as “the
attempt by human beings to use pictorial and graphic symbols to
express ideas and to teach people in and out of the school set-
ting.And Seels (1994, p. 108) defined visual communication as
“using visual symbols to express ideas and convey meaning.”
Kelly, Josephson, and Smith (2020) defined visual commu-
nication in the following way (p. xviii): We define visual com-
munication so broadly as to include all mass media representa-
tions that are visual in nature. This definition is therefore dis-
tinct from the plastic arts and performing arts in that they them-
selves are not reproducible en masse and cannot be distributed
via mass media channels.
Functions of visuals
We live in a complex and visually oriented information age. Sci-
ence and technology education rely on the use of pictures to pre-
sent technical information. Teaching resources contain a wealth
of pictorial representations, ranging from photographs and real-
istic drawings to graphs and abstract diagrams.
Pictures have many different functions. Generally speaking
it is not possible to rank the different types of visuals. Often the
type of visual that should be used must be determined in each
individual case with a view to various demands on the picture
and the prevailing budget framework. From a theoretical point of
view, a visual can possess many different effects and functions,
or combinations of effects and functions. Thus, a distinction can
be made between pictures and symbols.
We now live in the most visual era of human history (Rob-
erts, 2021). In our increasingly digital world, “viewing visuals” is
not enough in learning environments. Ervine (2016) remarked
that “creating visuals” is becoming an integral part of meaning-
This main section includes the following sections: Still pic-
tures, Moving pictures, Intended image functions, Information
and instruction, Teaching and learning, Disinformation design,
and Image functionsconclusions.
Still pictures
In western civilizations, a symbol is often something that “repre-
sents” something (Lee, 1959). We “apply” words to things or
names to persons. These “signs” stand for the things to which
they have been applied. However, Agrawal, Deshpanday, and
Sinha (1987) pointed out that in the context of the ancient Indian
civilization the symbol is not a representation. A symbol is a con-
cretization of reality having intrinsic power of its own. It is a part
within the whole belief system, and a link between the past, the
present, and the future. Signposts, traffic signs, and labels are ex-
amples of symbols. They are unambiguous by convention. We
agree and decide on their meaning.
All pictures are representations of reality. The “reality” of a
printed page or in a computer screen does not exist in real life,
other than on the page and the screen. As is the case for other
kinds of representations, pictures are always open to different in-
terpretations by different people at different times. Some pic-
tures are open to many interpretations, others to only a few.
Cochran (1987) distinguished between actual events and objects,
iconic re-presentations, and arbitrary representations. Examples
of iconic representations are film and TV-images, still photo-
graphic pictures, and realistic artwork. Symbols, signs, computer
graphics, and words are all examples of arbitrary representa-
tions. Here no cues from actuality are left.
Levin, Anglin and Carney (1987) established five functions
for visuals. Decorative visuals serve an ornamental purpose, and
do not support the text in a meaningful way. Representational
visuals show aspects of the literal meanings and provide con-
creteness to abstract concepts. Organizational visuals categorize
information in text, such as a table with data. Interpretational
visuals contain elements of both representational and organiza-
tional functions, and assists a reader’s comprehension. An exam-
ple is a map with arrows showing transports. Transformational
visuals derive from mnemonics and they attempt to recode in-
formation into memorable forms.
Magner et al. (2014) found that decorative illustrations
distract students with lower prior knowledge from learning in
computer-based learning environments. However, students with
higher prior knowledge benefit from such illustrations. Thus,
meaningful and purposefully implemented decorative elements
may support learning if learner characteristics and learning ob-
jectives are taken into consideration.
We know that visuals are perceived much more rapidly and
readily than text (Fleming and Levie, 1978, 1993; Sinatra, 1986).
Lester (1995, p. 73) noted that: “Visual messages are a powerful
form of communication because they stimulate both intellectual
and emotional responsesthey make us think as well as feel.”
Many authors have suggested various roles, functions, objectives
and purposes for the use of illustrationsoften without a great
deal of evidence to support their suggestions. Here are many ex-
Visuals may have many functions.
Functions, objectives
Activate knowledge.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Add aesthetic appeal.
Behnke 2021; Clark and Lyons 2011
Add concreteness to
Levin, Anglin, and Carney 1987
Add decoration.
Fredette 1994
Add humour.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Add something not dis-
cussed in the text.
Bishop and Hickman 1992; Fang, 1996;
Nikolajeva and Scott 2000
Adopt a new attitude.
Heinich, Molenda, and Russel 1982, 1999
Adorn something.
Selander 1988
Advance organizing of
text comprehension.
Bernard, Petersen, and Ally 1981
Aid credibility.
Fleming and Levie 1978
Duchastel and Waller 1979
Analyze content.
Brumberger 2011; Burns 2006
Anchor in memory.
Moriarty 1991
Appeal to the eye.
Duchastel 1983; Levin 1981
Arrest us with impact.
Curtiss 1999
Mral and Olinder 2011
Arouse curiosity.
Romare 1989
Arouse emotions.
Romare 1989
Assist comprehension.
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987
Assist concept develop-
Fredette 1994
Associate a product
with symbols and life-
Moriarty 1991
Attract attention.
Duchastel 1978; Duchastel and Waller
1979; Eilam 2013; Evans, Watson and
Willows 1987; Heinich, Molenda, and
Russel 1982, 1999; Holliday 1980; Keller
and Burkman 1993; Levie and Lentz
1982; Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987;
Lester 1995; Peters 1978; Pettersson
1993; Wileman 1993
Be aesthetic.
Behnke 2021; Kędra 2016b
Be decorative.
Clark and Lyons 2011; Lenzner, Schnotz,
and Müller 2012; Levin 1981; Mayer
2009; Magner et al. 2014; Pettersson,
1989, 1993;
Pozzer and Roth 2003
Be effective.
Keller and Burkman 1993
Be expressive.
Kędra 2016b
Be illustrative.
Kędra 2016b
Be impressive.
Kędra 2016b
Be informative.
Grootens-Wiegers et al. 2015; Kędra
2016b, Lenzner, Schnotz, and Müller
2012; Levin 1981, Schnotz and Kulhavy
Be instructional.
Schnotz and Kulhavy 1994;
Be interpretive.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Be mnemonic.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Be organizational.
Clark and Lyons 2011; Levin 1981
Be relational.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Be representational.
Clark and Lyons 2011; Levin 1981
Be transformational.
Clark and Lyons 2011; Levin 1981
Beautify something.
Selander 1988
Break up blocks of text.
Duchastel 1978
Bring inaccessible
events in classroom.
Dwyer 1978
Bring inaccessible ma-
terials in classroom.
Dwyer 1978
Bring inaccessible
phase changes in class-
Dwyer 1978
Bring inaccessible pro-
cesses to audience.
Moriarty 1991
Bring inaccessible pro-
cesses in classroom.
Dwyer 1978
Bring inaccessible situ-
ations in space in class-
Dwyer 1978
Bring inaccessible situ-
ations in time in class-
Dwyer 1978
Build mental models.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Build new experience.
Fredette 1994
Build prior knowledge.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Carry the proof of a
Griffin 1994
Catch the reader’s eye
Trotzig 1993
Change attitude.
Lester 1995
Clarify communication.
Dwyer 1978
Clarify opinions.
Fredette 1994
Clarify text content.
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987; Peeck
1993; Ramadas 2009; Wileman 1993
Communicate a mes-
sage in an efficient way.
Curtiss 1999; Wileman 1993
Communicate a mes-
sage visually.
Curtiss 1999; Flory 1978
Fredette 1994
Compare one image
content with another.
Hunter, Crismore, and Pearson, 1987
Complement text.
Eilam 2013
Comprehend content.
Burns 2006; Lord 1985; Ramadas 2009
Compensate poor read-
Duchastel 1978
Conceptual under-
Susiyawati and Treagust 2021
Trahorsch and Bláha 2020
Construct meaning.
Burns 2006; Felten 2008
Duchastel and Waller 1979
Fredette 1994
Contrast one image
content with another.
Hunter, Crismore, and Pearson, 1987
Contribute to curiosity.
Keller and Burkman 1993
Contribute to the text’s
coherence in story-
Fang 1996
Convey ideas.
Lester 1995; Abilock 2008
Convey information to
the reader or viewer.
Dondis 1973; Pettersson 1989
Convey knowledge.
Romare 1989
Convince someone
using information.
Lester 1995
Convince someone
using persuasion.
Lester 1995
Correct misconceptions.
Fredette 1994
Create believability
through realism.
Moriarty 1991
Create interest.
Duchastel 1978; Duchastel and Waller
1979; Holliday 1980; Levie and Lentz
1982; Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987;
Pettersson 1993
Create social contact.
Peters 1978; Van Aswegen and Steyn
1987; both cited in Gaede 1998
Duchastel and Waller 1979
Deceive learners.
Dwyer 1972
Decode content.
Burns 2006
Decorate something.
Anglin and Carney 1987; Clark and Lyons
2011; Dondis 1973; Eilam 2013; Fredette
1994; Levin 1981; Levin, Anglin and Car-
ney 1987; Magner et al. 2014; Mayer
2009; Romare 1991; Selander 1988
Decrease decay.
Peeck 1993
Decrease interference.
Peeck 1993
Define characters.
Fang 1996
Demonstrate product
Moriarty 1991
Deepen understanding.
Eilam 2013
Depict an object in a re-
alistic fashion.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Depict elements of the
instructional content.
Levin, Anglin, and Carney 1987
Depict reality.
Pettersson 1989
Depict settings.
Moriarty 1991
Depict situations.
Moriarty 1991
Descriptive function
Duchastel and Waller 1979; Rose, 2008
Designate spatial orien-
Pettersson 1989
Develop appreciation.
Heinich, Molenda, and Russel 1982;
Heinich, et al. 1999
Develop characters.
Fang 1996
Develop the plot.
Fang 1996
Discriminate among
Heinich, Molenda, and Russel 1982;
Heinich, et al. 1999
Display information.
Fredette 1994
Draw attention.
Eilam 2013
Dupe a public with false
Lester 1995
Dupe a public with mis-
leading information.
Lester 1995; de Lange 2014; de Lange
Dupe a public with
Lester 1995
Behnke 2021
Elaborate the text.
Hunter, Crismore, and Pearson 1987
Embellish the text.
Hunter, Crismore, and Pearson 1987
Emphasize aural in-
Dwyer 1978
Emphasize printed in-
Dwyer 1978
Enable a holistic spatial
Eilam 2013
Encourage clarification
of opinions.
Fredette 1994
Encourage expression
of opinions.
Fredette 1994
Enhance enjoyment.
Levie and Lentz 1982
Enhance reality of a ma-
terial for the reader.
Smith and Smith 1966
Enrich reading.
Dale 1969
Establish a mood.
Moriarty 1991
Establish a personality
of a product.
Moriarty 1991
Establish the setting in
Fang 1996
Evaluate learning.
Fredette 1994
Evoke aesthetic appreci-
Peters 1978
Evoke poetic function.
Peters 1978
Exemplify something.
Pettersson 1989
Experience the visual
Flory 1978
Explain difficult phe-
Elkins 2010; Levin 1981; Levin, Anglin,
and Carney 1987; Winn 1993
Explain things.
Pettersson 1989
Express attitudes
Peters 1978
Express expressive
Peters 1978
Express feelings.
Peters 1978
Express intentions.
Brumberger 2011
Express mood.
Fredette 1994
Express opinions.
Dondis 1973
Express tone.
Brumberger 2011
Duchastel and Waller 1979
Extend curiosity.
Peeck 1987
Extend the plot.
Fang 1996
Facilitate cognitive pro-
Levin, Anglin, and Carney 1987
Facilitate discrimina-
tion of relevant cues.
Dwyer 1978
Facilitate identification
of relevant cues.
Dwyer 1978
Facilitate learner acqui-
sition of information.
Dwyer 1978
Facilitate learning from
a text by enhancing
Duchastel 1983; Levie and Lentz 1982;
Levin, Anglin, and Carney 1987; Levin
and Lesgold 1978; Peeck 1993
Facilitate learning from
a text by enhancing
Duchastel 1983; Levie and Lentz 1982;
Levin, Anglin, and Carney 1987; Levin
and Lesgold 1978; Peeck 1993
Facilitate reading.
Duchastel 1978
Facilitate retention
Dwyer 1978; Winn 1993
Facilitate understand-
Pettersson 1989
Flatter the audience.
Zakia 1985
Focus attention.
Clark and Lyons 2011; Peeck 1993
Focus on a particular
Wileman 1993
Foster aesthetic appre-
Fang 1996
Foster generalizations.
Dwyer 1978
Duchastel and Waller 1979
Gain or get attention.
Duchastel 1978; Duchastel and Waller
1979; Evans, Watson and Willows 1987;
Gagné 1977; Holliday 1980; Keller and
Burkman 1993; Lentz 1982; Lester 1995;
Levin, Anglin, and Carney 1987; Moriarty
1991; Pettersson 1993; Wileman 1993
Give descriptions.
Zimmer and Zimmer 1978
Give information.
Zimmer and Zimmer 1978
Give relief.
Pozzer and Roth 2003
Glorify a group.
Dondis 1973
Glorify an individual.
Dondis 1973
Guide learners to make
Dwyer 1978; Santas and Eaker 2009
Guide learners to think
Dwyer 1978; Santas and Eaker 2009
Help learners remem-
ber what they read.
Levie and Lentz 1982
Help learners under-
stand what they read.
Levie and Lentz 1982
Help people remember.
Wileman 1993
Hold attention.
Levin, Anglin, and Carney 1987
Hypnotise readers.
Romare 1991
Identify something.
Dondis 1973; Dwyer 1972; Heinich,
Molenda, and Russel 1982; Heinich, et al.
Eilam 2013
Illustrate a principle.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Illustrate a theory.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Illustrate appearance.
Pettersson 1989
Illustrate concepts.
Susiyawati and Treagust 2021
Illustrate cause-and-ef-
fect relationships.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Illustrate key points.
Massoumian 1989
Illustrate oral commu-
Dwyer 1978.
Illustrate printed com-
Dwyer 1978.
Illustrate relationships.
Massoumian 1989
Illustrate selected main
Fredette 1994
Illustrate something.
Kędra 2016b
Impact emotions.
Vernon 1953; Poole 2004
Increase learner con-
Dwyer 1978
Increase learner curios-
Dwyer 1978
Increase learner inter-
Dwyer 1978
Increase learner moti-
Dwyer 1978
Increase learning reten-
Wileman 1993
Increase motivation.
Peeck 1993
Increase reliability of
Dwyer 1978
Induce perspective into
a text.
Peeck and Goud 1985
Influence viewers.
Lester 1995; Romare 1991
Influence learners’ atti-
Moreno and Mayer, 2007; Plass et al.,
Influence learners’ cog-
Moreno and Mayer, 2007; Plass et al.,
Influence learners’ emo-
Moreno and Mayer, 2007; Plass et al.,
Inform readers.
Curtiss 1999; Kędra 2016b, Romare 1991,
Schnotz and Kulhavy 1994
Inform, as a main infor-
mation source.
Fredette 1994
Behnke 2021; Levie and Lentz 1982; Pet-
tersson 1989, Schnotz and Kulhavy 1994;
Integrate facts, judge-
ments, and skills.
Dwyer 1978
Interpret content.
Susiyawati and Treagust 2021
Interpret difficult phe-
Elkins 2010; Levin 1981; Levin, Anglin,
and Carney 1987; Winn 1993
Introduce new infor-
Dwyer 1978; Griffin 1994
Isolate specific instruc-
tional characteristics.
Dwyer 1978
Label facts.
Levie and Lentz 1982
Dwyer 1978; Elkins 2010;
Heinich, Molenda, and Russel 1982;
Heinich, et al. 1999; Susiyawati and Trea-
gust 2021
Link information of a
Griffin 1994
Duchastel and Waller 1979
Maintain attention.
Peters 1978
Maintain interest.
Moriarty 1991
Maintain learner atten-
Keller and Burkman 1993
Maintain the continuity
of a presentation.
Griffin 1994
Make it easier for poor
readers to comprehend
things they read in a
Duchastel 1978
Make it easier for poor
readers to learn things
they read in a text.
Duchastel 1978
Make it easier for poor
readers to recall things
they read in a text.
Duchastel 1978
Make learning more
Dwyer 1978
Make learning more
Dwyer 1978
Make material aestheti-
cally pleasing.
Pozzer and Roth 2003
Make material attrac-
Male 2007; Rubens 2000
Make material interest-
Male 2007; Rubens 2000
Make pages more ap-
Duchastel 1978
Make reading more
Duchastel 1978; Travers and
Alvarado 1970
Make reading more en-
Duchastel and Waller 1979
Memorialize an individ-
ual or a group.
Dondis 1973
Memorize facts.
Heinich, Molenda, and Russel, 1982;
Heinich et al. 1999
Minimize cognitive
Clark and Lyons 2011
Modify behaviour.
Lester 1995
Motivate a person to
browse through a text.
Duchastel 1978, 1983
Motivate a person to
pick up a text.
Duchastel 1978, 1983
Motivate a person to
read a text.
Duchastel 1978, 1983; Male 2007;
Rubens 2000
Motivate students.
Behnke 2021; Evans, Watson and Willows
1987; Fredette 1994; Heinich, Molenda,
and Russel, 1982; Heinich et al. 1999;
Winn 1993
Motivate the reader.
Fang 1996
Name content.
Brumberger 2011
Organize information.
Clark and Lyons 2011; Dwyer 1978; Levin
1981; Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987; Tra-
horsch and Bláha 2020
Organize spatial rela-
Clark and Lyons 2011; Levin 1981; Levin,
Anglin and Carney 1987
Organize temporal rela-
Clark and Lyons 2011; Levin 1981; Levin,
Anglin and Carney 1987
Overcome distance.
Dwyer 1978; Moriarty 1991
Overcome time.
Dwyer 1978; Moriarty 1991
Perceive objects.
Elkins 2010
Perpetuate ideas that
words alone cannot.
Lester 1995
Persuade ideas that
words alone cannot.
Abilock 2008; Lester 1995
Persuade people to buy
a particular product.
Lester 1995
Persuade people to
think in a specific way.
Lester 1995
Persuade someone.
Heinich, Molenda, and Russel, 1982;
Heinich et al. 1999; Lester 1995
Persuade the audience.
O’Keefe 1990; Zakia 1985
Pleasure the eye.
Curtiss 1999
Present a variety of
locations of parts.
Dwyer 1978
Present a variety of rela-
Dwyer 1978
Present a variety of van-
tage points.
Dwyer 1978
Present abstract materi-
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987
Present complex mate-
Massoumian 1989
Present difficult materi-
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987
Present lists.
Massoumian 1989
Present more infor-
mation than text in a
given amount of space.
Wileman 1993
Present new infor-
Dwyer 1978
Present outlines.
Massoumian 1989
Preserve objects.
Dondis 1973
Preserve people.
Dondis 1973
Preserve places.
Dondis 1973
Prevent misconcep-
Fredette 1994
Promote children’s lan-
Fang 1996
Promote children’s lit-
Fang 1996
Promote creativity.
Fang 1996
Provide a different
viewpoint in story-
Fang 1996
Provide a framework
for a text.
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987
Provide additional clari-
fying information with
meta-linguistic function
Peters 1978
Provide authority.
Pettersson 1989
Provide background
Fredette 1994
Provide concreteness to
abstract concepts.
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987
Provide extra linguistic
Levie and Lentz 1982
Provide greater flexibil-
ity in the organization
of instruction.
Dwyer 1978
Provide information.
Pettersson 1989
Provide instructional
Dwyer 1978
Provide organization
for a text.
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987
Provide overview.
Pettersson 1989
Provide retrieval cues
for factual information,
a mnemonic function.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Provide variation.
Pettersson 1989
Provide variety in the
organization of instruc-
Dwyer 1978
Raise curiosity.
Eilam 2013
Raise questions.
Dwyer 1978
Receive a represented
message, conative func-
Peters 1978
Recognize objects.
Brumberger 2011
Recode information into
memorable forms. The
visual is transforma-
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987
Record objects.
Dondis 1973
Record our place in his-
Curtiss 1999
Record our time.
Curtiss 1999
Record people.
Dondis 1973
Record places.
Dondis 1973
Reinforce aural instruc-
Dwyer 1978
Reinforce memory.
Gilbert 2005; Winn 1993
Reinforce oral commu-
Dwyer 1978
Reinforce printed
Dwyer 1978
Reinforce printed
Dwyer 1978
Reinforce the creative
Moriarty 1991
Reinforce the text in
Fang 1996
Reinforce the text.
Hunter, Crismore, and Pearson 1987
Replicate objects.
Dondis 1973
Replicate people.
Dondis 1973
Replicate places.
Dondis 1973
Represent instructional
Clark and Lyons 2011; Levin 1981; Levin,
Anglin, and Carney 1987; Trahorsch and
Bláha 2020; Winn 1993
Represent reality and
Abilock 2008
Respond to needs.
Dondis 1973
Scare the audience.
Zakia 1985
Seduce the audience.
Zakia 1985
Serve as advance organ-
izers of information.
Wileman 1993
Serve as mental scaf-
Fang 1996
Shame the audience.
Zakia 1985
Sharpen powers of
Dwyer 1978
Show aspects of the
literal meanings.
Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987
Show causality.
Eilam 2013
Show changes in objects
over space.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Show changes in objects
over time.
Clark and Lyons 2011; Eilam 2013
Show different parts.
Susiyawati and Treagust 2021
Show magnitude rela-
Pettersson 1989
Show processes.
Eilam 2013
Show proportions.
Eilam 2013
Show qualitative rela-
tionships among con-
Clark and Lyons 2011
Show quantitative rela-
tionships among varia-
Clark and Lyons 2011
Show size.
Eilam 2013
Show spatial relation-
Zimmer and Zimmer 1978
Show steps in a process.
Levin, Anglin, and Carney 1987; Eilam
Show time relation-
Eilam 2013; Pettersson 1989
Simplify complex
Waller 2016; Wileman 1993
Solve problems.
Fredette 1994
Span linguistic barriers.
Dwyer 1978
Stimulate discussion.
Dwyer 1978
Stimulate incidental
Fredette 1994
Stimulate interest.
Keller and Burkman 1993
Stimulate perception.
Chiaverina et al. 1997
Substitute words.
Levie and Lentz 1982
Sum up information for
Massoumian 1989
Sum up information for
Massoumian 1989
Summarize important
parts of a text.
Hunter, Crismore, and Pearson 1987
Summarize important
points in a lesson.
Dwyer 1978
Supplement verbal in-
formation through elab-
Fredette 1994
Support attention.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Support motivation.
Clark and Lyons 2011
Support processing of
Peeck 1993
Support statements
made by linking visuals
in a presentation.
Griffin 1994
Support transfer of
Clark and Lyons 2011
Sustain statements
made by linking visuals
in a presentation.
Griffin 1994
Tease the audience.
Zakia 1985
Thinking critically.
McKenzie 2008
Transfer culture to im-
Aronsson 1983
Transform content.
Levin 1981; Levin, Anglin, and Carney
1987; Trahorsch and Bláha 2020
Understand content.
Brumberger 2011; Elkins 2010; Mathew-
son 1999; Susiyawati and Treagust 2021
Verify research.
Fredette 1994
Visualize content.
Romare 1991
Visualize instruction.
Dwyer 1978
Wrap up information in
a presentation.
Griffin 1994
The above list includes references to 86 different documents
(such as chapters in books, and research articles) written by 117
different authors. The list contains 352 opinions about image
functions. The authors used more than one hundred different ex-
planatory verbs to express these opinions. In accordance with re-
searchers in the areas of information design, instructional mes-
sage design, visual communication, and visual literacy the most
common opinions on functions of visuals concern attention: at-
tract, gain, get, hold and maintain attention.
Other common explanatory verbs are: facilitate, provide,
persuade, create (an interest in), illustrate, clarify, motivate,
present, and reinforce information (to someone). Most of these
purposes can be looked upon as clearly cognitive or pedagogical,
in contrast to pictures used for advertising, decoration, enter-
tainment, or marketing.
In addition to purely realistic visuals, there are also visuals
that can be described as “metaphoric.” They exemplify and depict
some linguistic metaphor. Visuals of this kind are not symbolic
in any semiotic (Jacobson, 1976) or art science sense (Berefelt,
1976). Metaphoric pictures are particularly abstract and they are
intellectually demanding. Pictures often have important social
functions in the home, at school, in organizations, and in society.
In certain instances, the actual picture creation is more im-
portant than the visual results. Some pictures may not have any
or only a limited function once created. Modern cameras that au-
tomatically set the exposure, focus the lens, and advance the film
have made it possible for almost anyone to take pictures. More
than 90% of all Swedish families own at least one camera. Fur-
thermore, nowadays most mobile phones have built in cameras.
Many people make a movie or take still photographs at some time
during any year. Many millions of amateur photographs are the
result. The advent of lightweight, and easily portable VCR equip-
ment has opened up new horizons for non-professional creators
of moving pictures.
Moving pictures
Moving pictures can be affective and provide readers with enter-
tainment and reinforce an experience both positively and nega-
Animations include different methods to make still pictures ap-
pear as moving images. According to nzer (2015) animations
have a compensatory effect compared with static pictures.
Lowe (1999) found that animations may facilitate for the user
when he or she are constructing mental models. Milheim (1993)
suggested that it is better to develop simple animations rather
than complicated ones.
Animations that allow alternative perspectives, close-ups,
control of speed, focusing on specific parts, replaying and zoom-
ing are more likely to facilitate perception and comprehension.
According to Weiss, Knowlton, and Morrison (2002) the purpose
of an animation must to a large extent influence its design.
Leshin, Pollock, and Reigeluth (1992) noted the attention-
getting capability of several visual devices. They mentioned zoom
lens movement to emphasize important details. Other devices
are split screens, shading and contrast, voice-over narration,
text, and graphics.
Animations are sometimes used as learning tools. Park
(1998) found that animations will attract and direct learner at-
tention. Learning from dynamic visual representations improved
when learners were able to control the pacing of the presentation
(Betrancourt 2005; Hasler, Kersten, and Sweller 2007). Then,
new information could be integrated into existing knowledge
structures at a rate that reflects the capabilities and needs of the
According to Tversky, Morrison, and Betrancourt (2002)
some animations are advantageous in some learning situations,
but not in others. And Lowe (1999) showed that, in some situa-
tions, animation can even be disadvantageous. This may result in
a cognitive overload, i.e. put a too big mental effort on the re-
It is, however, still unclear how and when animations should
be used for the best effects. According to Rieber (1994) animation
is most commonly used for cosmetic purposes, with the intent of
impressing rather than teaching.
Motion graphics are animations or digital segments which
create the illusion of motion. This is usually combined with audio
for use in multimedia projects, and often displayed via electronic
media. Any kind of abstract animation can be called motion
graphics. According to Hegarty (2014) a motion graphic is a com-
bination of static images that changes its structure or properties
over time, and which triggers the perception of a continuous
change by viewers.
Information that is transferred to infographic videos often
provide more content than a regular infographic (Delil, 2017).
These provide a faster understanding of the environment we are
living in, or the information we read.
Movies, television, and video
Moving pictures can trigger associations and influence emotions
and attitudes, especially in movies and TV (Zakia, 1985). In ad-
vertising and television, pictures may carry subliminal messages.
Ads for liquor or cigarettes, for example, sometimes use sexual
symbols (Zakia, 1985). The contents of movies and television
programmes are presented in a preordained fashion, decided by
the producer. This fashion tends to encourage passivity in the
viewers and to perform at a low cognitive level.
The main field that provides a visual language and the most
prominent devices for visual storytelling is cinematography
(Brown, 2016). Cinematography is the science or art of motion-
picture photography and filming either electronically by means
of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive
material such as film stock. Cinematographers use a lens to focus
reflected light from objects into a real image that is transferred
to some image sensor or light-sensitive material inside a movie
Rowntree (1990) identified motion as a valuable character-
istic of video. The author suggested the following video applica-
tions in which movement is an important attribute:
To demonstrate the operation of tools or equipment.
To demonstrate skills that learners are expected to emulate.
To conduct experiments in which the processes must be ob-
To present a dramatic or musical performance in which it is
necessary for learners to see as well as hear the performers.
To analyse change over time using animations, slow motion,
or time lapse photography.
To reveal the spatial, three-dimensional qualities of an object
or structure.
To transport learners into situations that could not otherwise
be experienced
To present primary source material for analysis, such as ar-
chival film of historical events or videotapes of naturally oc-
curring situations.
Interactive video programmes and multimedia presentations
make it possible to combine sound and moving pictures in vari-
ous ways. Thus, these media can arouse considerable activity, en-
joyment and commitment in the user. Because an interactive
video programme and a multimedia presentation can stimulate
the user to perform at a higher cognitive level, it has the potential
to function well, both as a conveyor of information and as a
teaching aid. Interactivity can help overcome the difficulties of
perception and comprehension (Tversky, Morrison, and Be-
trancourt, 2002).
Contemporary communicative practices are screen-based,
and they rely heavily on visual elements. The new digital media
offer new semiotic resources as well as new ways of using these
resources (Ranker, 2008).
Intended image functions
In an attempt to study the intended functions or purposes of vis-
uals, two inquiry studies were performed with students and
teachers in Sweden. A total of 449 subjects took part in these
studies and mentioned a total of 827 image functions.
Presumed intentions
From 19861991, 180 students at Stockholm University were
asked to evaluate the senders’ presumed intention or intentions
for visuals used in printed media (Pettersson, 1993). The 238 vis-
uals collected for analysis and discussion in class were mainly
published in newspapers, magazines, and brochures.
It was obvious that students saw visuals as performing a
great number of different functions. Students mentioned no less
than 63 different presumed functions. In many instances (51%),
subjects felt that the sender’s intention was to induce receivers to
take a stand for some person or some issue. This obviously
applied to visuals in advertising but also concerned visuals in ed-
itorial text to some extent. In this category, the top-ranking func-
tions were: sell products, sell a life style, sell services, convey or
create associations, and convince viewers about something.
In some instances (30%), subjects felt that the senders were
attempting to convey objective information about something. In
these cases, the four top-ranking functions were: convey factual
information, illustrate factual circumstances, document and in-
structing. In a few instances, (11%), subjects felt that the sender’s
intention was to induce receivers to take an active stand against
some person or some issue, and in a few instances, subjects felt
that senders were attempting to provide entertainment (5%), or
that visuals were used as adornment or decoration (3%). The five
functions: arouse interest, create needs, document, sell, and sup-
ply information were not mentioned at all in the literature that is
reviewed above.
Why use visuals in information materials?
In a fifth inquiry (1998) Information Design students at Mälar-
dalen University in Eskilstuna were asked to provide one to five
examples of the purposes for using visuals in information mate-
rials in printed media. 46 subjects answered the inquiry with a
total of 179 purposes (83 different). Some of the purposes are
fairly common, while other purposes are very specific. Several
purposes are the same. Some purposes are synonyms or closely
related to each other.
Among the students’ opinions about the purposes with visu-
als in information materials we find most of the purposes men-
tioned in the literature quoted above, but also other, “new” pur-
poses. After grouping and ranking it is clear that the most out-
standing purposes are to visualize (33), clarify (28), inform (22),
attract attention (20), facilitate reading (19), explain (17), and
convey information (9).
Why use visuals in teaching?
In 1990 I asked students as well as teachers about their opinions
about why visuals are used in teaching.
Teacher purposes
In one assignment 40 teachers at junior high schools in Sweden
revealed their purposes for why they used pictures in their own
classrooms in 1990. These teachers provided 84 different pur-
poses. To a large extent we find these “teacher purposes” also in
the material provided by the students. The teachers only men-
tioned cognitive and pedagogical purposes. The most common
purposes were to explain (20), show (19), and present (8). Sev-
eral additional purposes were also mentioned. Some of these
were not mentioned in the literature reviewed above: context (1),
deepening (2), describe (1), describe circumstances (1), elucidate
the evolution (1), give a background (1), give a break (1), give a
perspective (2), inspire to writing stories (1), minimise abstrac-
tions (1), and one picture says more than a thousand words (4).
From 19901991, I asked 82 of my students at Stockholm
University to give examples of their teacher’s “presumed pur-
poses” for using visuals of different kinds in their teaching. The
periods to be considered were their time at senior high school,
and the previous semester at the university. The students had
studied at several different schools, studied different subject
matters, and they had been taught by different teachers. From
the students who took the same course during the previous se-
mester one student was randomly selected to represent each
82 subjects answered the inquiry with a total of 391 pre-
sumed purposes (147 different). Some subjects provided one or
two purposes. Other subjects provided more examples. Some of
the purposes are fairly common, while other purposes are very
specific. Several purposes are similar; some are synonyms or
closely related to each other. Among the students’ opinions about
the teachers’ presumed purposes with visuals we found some of
the purposes mentioned in the literature quoted above, but also
other purposes.
After grouping and ranking it is clear that the most outstand-
ing purposes are to show (77), and to explain (44). Other com-
mon purposes are to visualize (25), illustrate (24), clarify (23),
inform (21), summarize (21), convey (17), learn and remember
(17), mediate (17), elucidate (16), present (15), and give percep-
tions (13). Less common purposes are instructing (11), describe
(10), entertain (10), complete (9), facilitate reading (9), inspire
(8), make concrete (8), document (6), exemplify (5), compare
(5), and “other” (10). The functions complete, describe, docu-
ment, elucidate, inspire, and mediate were not mentioned in the
literature reviewed above.
An international study
In one international study, Pettersson et al. (1992) focused the
interest on the teachers (the senders) and their actual use of me-
dia and pictures in their teaching of geography in secondary
schools in five countries: Australia, Greece, Japan, Sweden, and
the USA. Teachers were asked to answer questionnaires. One of
the questions was: “What is the purpose of using pictures in the
teaching of geography?” 101 teachers provided 110 purposes for
using pictures in the teaching of geography. There were no less
than 66 different purposes.
Results from this study confirmed the above studies. Visuals
are used for many different and individual purposes. The most
commonly cited purposes were: for factual realization to get re-
alistic understanding and knowledge (13), to attract interest of
subjects (9), and to make images of the area (9). This study
showed clearly different teaching “styles” in different cultures.
There also seem to be different “fashions” in teaching practice
that differ from culture to culture and can change over time
within different cultures. Fashion in the use of educational media
is partly related to the technology that is available in that specific
culture at that time.
Information and instruction
There is often a clear difference between the intended and the
perceived message (Pettersson, 1985). One way to decrease this
gap is to supply all pictures with explaining and interesting cap-
tions, supporting the intended interpretations (Melin and Pet-
tersson, 1991). When too many pictures of different types are
used in one single message, some of the pictures may be ignored.
There will also be less space for the text.
Visuals cost money, often quite a lot of money. But in many
situations a “good” picture need not cost more than a “bad” pic-
ture! Spending a lot of time on the visualisation process and on
sketches (usually a less expensive process than the cost of origi-
nals, “masters,” and printing runs) may therefore be worthwhile.
It may be concluded that one important function of visuals may
be to aid credibility to the sender or the source. Thus, designers
of information and instructional messages should design and se-
lect visuals with great care.
Archival pictures
Unfortunately, often archival pictures are used in a way not at all
intended. Sometimes the same pictures appear in several differ-
ent contexts, which may confuse the readers. Some illustrations
in contemporary textbooks appear to serve no useful purpose at
all. Some picture editors admit that some of the pictures they put
into textbooks are only there to “stimulate” the reader, to have “a
life of their own,” or merely to provide a “breathing space” within
the text. Such uses seem very dubious. In fact, some publishers
admit that the two main reasons to use pictures in their books
are to attract buyers, and to be able to increase the prices of the
In information design, it must be possible to understand the
message and to be able to believe that the information is correct.
A message with high credibility has a good structure, convincing
arguments, proper references, and relevant examples. It is a
major advantage if text and pictures have good legibility as well
as good readability. In my view, a picture used in information
materials should depict reality in a manner appropriate to the
content and be as relevant and credible as possible. However,
many pictures in textbooks and newspapers have been edited in
order to change their importance and impact. Pictures can easily
be enlarged or reduced in size, which will influence readability.
It is often very easy to crop the original picture. However,
cropping is not merely an aid to art or to journalism; it may also
be a tool for unscrupulous editors. Many photographs lend them-
selves to manipulation of the representation. They are suscepti-
ble to different crops to support different meanings and various
ideas. It is also possible to expand the original picture. Parts of
the picture can be deleted, added, altered, moved or changed in
shape. A colour can be changed, removed or added. This practice
of editing is often unlawful.
Interviews with editors, art directors, and designers from
major Swedish publishing houses showed that they, in the selec-
tion of visuals for reference books and textbooks, often ask them-
selves questions such as the following (Pettersson 1989, p. 145):
1) Does the picture depict the right thing? 2) Is the presentation
of the subject satisfactory? 3) Is the picture technically accepta-
ble? 4) Is the picture aesthetically satisfactory? 5) Is the picture
“flexible,” i.e., will it work with different formats? 6) Will the pic-
ture fit into a given area? 7) Will the picture fit in with the other
pictures on the same page?
In practice, many editors, art directors, and designers find
that procurement time, availability, and image clarity are the
three most important considerations in making their subjective
choices among possible visuals.
Evans, Watson and Willows (1987) interviewed editors, art
directors, and designers from nine major Canadian publishing
houses. They concluded (p. 90):
Our interviews confirm Dwyer’s (1972) summary that the se-
lection and inclusion of illustrations in textbooks appear to
be based on “subjective feelings of the designer about what
is best, the accessibility of raw information, the availability
of materials, the cost, the attractiveness of the finished prod-
uct, and the availability of a ready market” (p. 16).
Marsh (1983, p. 101) provided the following eight guidelines for
selecting a visual channel for a message: 1) When messages are
complex. 2) When refer ability is important. 3) When messages
are long. 4) When environment is noisy. 5) When arrangement is
complicated. 6) When precise spatial discrimination is im-
portant. 7) When simultaneous presentation is desired. 8) When
more dimensions is required. (Visual dimensions include: two
spatial coordinates, intensity, wavelength time, depth, colour,
and motion.) When the content in textbooks are organised and
visualised in an aesthetic, clear, and coherent way this may affect
the educational effectiveness (Peeck, 1993).
Increased learning
Preference for a particular visual format does not necessarily re-
sult in increased learning. Yet, in the absence of more substantial
data, information based on student preference has a meaningful
role to play in affecting learning from information materials and
instructional texts. All other things being equal, we should pro-
vide formats that are preferred by the viewer, thus making the
text more attractive, and hopefully more motivating. Thus, selec-
tion of artistic style for visual materials should not be an arbitrary
decision, but always a conscious one.
Although full-colour photographs increase the costs of trade
books Ramsey (1989) suggested that publishers should increase
the number of such books available for primary audiences. To-
day, however, there are only few informational books for children
which meat these criteria. It is actually quite common that vari-
ous kinds of abstract illustrations are used in textbooks.
Intended functions
Winn (1993) concluded that pictures play many roles in instruc-
tion. It is necessary to know the intended function before a pic-
ture is designed. Cognitive and decorative functions should never
be confused or mixed (Pettersson, 1989, 1993). At some point,
illustrations move from being engaging motivators to engaging
distracters (Evans, Watson and Willows, 1987). When too many
pictures are used, readers may ignore many of them. Several
studies have revealed that learners frequently ignore images in
learning media (Behnke, 2016a; Schmidt-Weigand, Kohnert, and
Glowalla, 2010; Schnotz et al., 2014a). Learners often focus on
text and observe images rather superficially. Massoumian (1989,
p. 19) noted, “Haphazard use of visuals may lead to minimal or
no instructional gain and gradual loss of effectiveness as an in-
structional tool.”
Political communication
During World War II, the poster became an essential medium for
propaganda. In all countries involved in this conflict posters
played a major role in the struggle for public support of the war
effort. Seidman (2008a) made an extensive study of the political
poster as a medium of information and propaganda. He traced
the impact that banners, billboards, broadsides as well as posters
had around the world over the last two centuries. The examples
range from American presidential campaigns of the early nine-
teenth century to contemporary political campaigns in Asia, Eu-
rope, and Latin America.
During political election campaigns visuals have long had an
important role to mobilize voters, and to promote policies (Shill,
2012; Seidman 2010). During recent election campaigns Face-
book has become a fundamental platform for promoting policies.
In one study Famulari (in press) examined the strategic use
of visuals that the British political parties posted on Facebook
during the campaign for the 2019 UK general election. Famulari
examined verbal and non-verbal resources in the visuals with
respect to the following strategies: Attacking opponents, Broad-
casting policy, Image management, and Mobilization.
The study includes all the images that the parties posted on
Facebook from October 30, 2019 to December 11, 2019. Overall,
468 images were included in the study (Conservative Party 196
images, Labour Party 119 images, Liberal Democrats Party 153
Results showed that Attacking opponentswas the most
common strategy, for non-verbal as well as verbal resources. Fur-
thermore, attacks against opponents got a higher number of
likesand shares.” A substantial portion of text in the images
concerned policies. The Labour Party posted images that got the
highest number of audience reactions.
Teaching and learning
Images and pictures are often used in teaching and learning, as
well as in information materials. It is obvious that visuals may
have, and often have many different functions. As noted above
the most common opinions presented by researchers in the areas
of instructional message design, visual literacy, and visual com-
munication on functions of visuals concern attention. Several re-
searchers mentioned explanatory verbs like attract, gain, get,
hold and maintain (attention). Other common explanatory verbs
are: facilitate, persuade, provide, create (an interest in), illust-
rate, clarify, motivate, present information (to someone), and re-
inforce. This “researcher list” differs from the opinions provided
by the teachers and the students. Butcher (2014) noted that, in
general, pictures are very fruitful for learning and are even as im-
portant as texts.
Major visual types
Guo, Wright, and McTigue (2018) made a content analysis of all
visuals in seven contemporary third- and fifth-grade science and
social studies textbooks in the USA. They coded a total of 3,844
visuals into the following nine major visual types: photographs
(62.36%), general images (16.29%), maps (5.28%), diagrams
(4.5%), flow diagrams (4.5%), tables (3.88%), graphs (1.85%),
time lines (.75%), and comic strips (.60%). The nine major visual
types had the following 54 subtypes:
Comic strips produced to provide instructions, produced to
provide entertainment or examples.
Diagrams. Bird’s-eye view diagrams, cross-section diagrams,
cutaway diagram, cutaway cluster diagrams, illustrated equation
diagrams, scale diagrams, scale conventional units, and simple
Flow diagrams with cyclical sequences, flow diagram with
forked sequences, linear sequence diagrams, tree diagrams, and
web diagrams.
General images. Bird’s-eye views, cartoon illustrations, car-
toon/thought-bubble text boxes, characters (foreign language),
computer-enhanced photographs, fine art visuals, image clus-
ters, logos, magnified images, photographs of illustrations, radar
images, realistic illustrations, scientific models, screenshot im-
ages, stop motion images, and X-ray images.
Graphs. Bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, pyramid charts, and
Venn diagrams.
Maps. Cartoon maps, cluster maps, context maps, flow maps,
grid map, landmark maps, region maps, simple maps, street
maps, and topographic map.
Photographs. Simple photographs, and cluster photographs.
Tables. Column tables, pictorial tables, row and column tables,
and row tables.
Time lines. Multiple time lines, and simple time lines.
So-called instructive illustrations demonstrate items of a subject
(i.e., how things look like) and its structure. When instructive il-
lustrations become cognitively interesting, they are thought to
trigger motivational processes (Stiller et al., 2020).
In some textbooks, the purpose of many pictures seems to be
purely decorative, or entertaining, and not at all cognitive. If a
textbook has many decorative and entertaining pictures, it may
well contribute to image overload, and pictures being skipped.
Vogel, Dickson, and Lehman (1986) showed that it is unde-
niable that visual presentation support is persuasive. Presenta-
tions using visual aids were 43% more persuasive than unaided
presentations. At the same time, research in the area of reading
indicates that the type of visuals that are used is an important
variable in reading comprehension.
Cognitive purposes
Most of the purposes can be looked upon as clearly pedagogical
or cognitive, in contrast to pictures used for advertising, decora-
tion, entertainment, or marketing. According to students, com-
mon purposes of pictures in the school environment were to:
clarify, convey, describe, elucidate, entertain, explain, give per-
ceptions, illustrate, inform, instruct, mediate, present, show,
summarize, and visualize. The teachers noted: attract interest,
explain, factual realization, make images, present, and show
Getting attention
Evans, Watson and Willows (1987) noted that the attention-get-
ting and motivational aspects of illustrations in textbooks
seemed to predominate among the teachers in Canada. This was
however, not the case among the teachers in the sample from
Sweden. The Canadian teachers made very few direct references
to illustrations in the classroom, and they provided little guid-
ance in the educational functions that illustrations are thought to
serve. Gustafsson (1980a, 1980b) found that this also was the
case in Sweden. Trotzig (1993) pointed out that illustrations in
textbooks are extremely important means of communication.
The pictures are often what first catch the reader’s eye and the
last things he forgets from his schooldays.
In an extensive paper Sims-Knight (1992) reviewed 88
sources on the use of pictures in textbooks. She found that visuals
could be effective in their educational function, even if they are
unappealing or dull, as long as there is appropriate subject mat-
ter content.
Effect on learning
We know that pictures can have a positive, a neutral, but also a
negative effect on learning (Eilam 2013; Evans, Watson and Wil-
lows 1987; Furnham and Williams, 1987; Gunter, 1980; Levie
and Lentz, 1982; Levin, Anglin and Carney 1987; Massoumian,
1989; Pettersson, 1989, 1993; Rieber, 1994; Scheiter et al., 2018;
Seufert, 2019; Sims-Knight, 1992; Stiller et al., 2020; Sung-Hee
and Boling, 2010; Winn, 1993).
Learners are most able to build connections between verbal and
visual representations when text and illustrations are actively
held in memory at the same time. This can happen when text and
illustrations are presented in close connection, for example on
the same page in a book, or when learners have sufficient experi-
ence to generate their own mental images when they read the
text. Therefore, pictures should be put as close to the relevant
text as possible
No instructional functions
In some textbooks, the purpose of many pictures seems to be
purely decorative or entertaining and not at all cognitive. If a
textbook has many decorative and entertaining pictures, this
may contribute to “image overload,” and cognitive pictures being
skipped. This may be one reason for textbook pictures not being
used effectively. In such cases, pictures may actually decrease the
quality of the textbook, and only increase its price. It is possible
that certain types of illustrations, incorporated to “stimulate” the
reader’s imagination and interest, could instead have a heavily
governing effect that stifles the imagination and diverts interest
from the information the author wishes to convey.
Critical awareness of visual representations, which if not ap-
propriately designed and implemented will create student diffi-
culties and misconceptions (Eilam, 2013).
Illustrations without instructional function
Levin and Mayer (1993), Mayer (1993), and Woodward (1993) all
noted that although approximately one-third to one-half of the
space in science textbooks is devoted to illustrations, most text-
book illustrations do not appear to serve any important instruc-
tional function. Mayer (2009, 236237) analysed textbooks for
sixth grade science and found that an
“overwhelming majority of illustrations served no important
instructional purpose: 23 percent were decorational and 62
percent were representational.”
In contrast to the positive effects of using illustrations, when they
show only additional irrelevant details, they are assumed to dis-
tract from learning; they fail to support cognitive processes or
even hinder them (Schneider et al. 2016).
Decorative or instructional pictures?
Decorative pictures are often considered as a means to motivate
readers by making documents more attractive and interesting
(Male 2007; Rubens 2000), and by stimulating aesthetic visual
perception (Chiaverina et al. 1997). According to Pozzer and Roth
(2003) decorative pictures are intended to give relief to the learn-
ing situation and to make the material aesthetically pleasing.
In order to investigate the effects of decorative pictures in
learning as compared to instructional pictures Lenzner, Schnotz,
and Müller (2012) made three experiments, with a total of 281
students from 7th and 8th grade in Germany. Their mean age was
13,2 years.
In the first experiment, with 30 students, eye-tracking meth-
odology indicated that decorative pictures receive only a bit of
initial attention. This is a part of the learner’s initial orientation.
Afterwards, decorative pictures were largely ignored. Thus, dec-
orative pictures have only a minor distracting effect, if any.
The second experiment, with 57 students, showed that de-
spite the small amount of attention decorative pictures received,
they may have a positive effect on learnersaffective and motiva-
tional state. Decorative pictures may induce better alertness,
calmness and mood with learners.
In the third experiment a total of 194 students were ran-
domly assigned to one of four experimental conditions. In the
first condition 50 students studied text with decorative pictures.
In the second 50 students studied text with instructional pic-
tures. In the third condition 45 students studied text with deco-
rative and instructional pictures. In the fourth condition 49 stu-
dents studied text without any pictures. The combined results in-
dicated that decorative pictures did not intensify students’ situa-
tional interest. However, decorative pictures reduced perceived
difficulty of the learning materials.
Altogether decorative pictures were neither beneficial nor
harmful for learning. However, decorative pictures moderated
the beneficial effect of instructional pictures. This effect was es-
pecially pronounced when learners had lower prior knowledge.
In this study the authors did not mention that decorative pic-
tures increase the prices for already expensive textbooks.
Unconscious messages
In addition to intended purposes, pictures can communicate un-
conscious messages, values, and standpoints. The sex typing of
the modern society is often reflected in mass media as well as in
textbooks. Neither women nor disabled people are seen here very
often, they are hidden. Benckert and Staberg (1988) concluded
that text as well as pictures in a subtle way conveys the message
that girls are not fit for studying scientific and technical subjects.
One explanation to the skew distribution between sexes in text-
books could be that the textbooks actually reflect today’s real
society in a better way than they reflect the curriculum objectives
of an equal society.
Poor illustrations
Hannus (1996) used eye-movement equipment and studied how
pupils picked up information while learning from textbooks. He
concluded that the learning effects of textbook illustrations are
slight because not enough attention is paid to the illustrations in
the books. Thus, the learning functions of illustrations were less
than expected.
Integrating verbal and visual information is a complex task.
In an experimental study Coleman, McTigue, and Dantzler
(2018) found that visual diagrams in two science texts, for
fourth-grade students in USA, provided minimal or no added
value for reading comprehension.
Insufficient knowledge
It seems that students as well as teachers lack sufficient
knowledge about visual communication. I agree with Larsson
(1991) who wrote (p. 105, in translation): “... it is important that
all persons involved increase their knowledge of pictures and the
function of pictures in textbooks: teachers, pupils, publishers,
authors, designers, artists.” Gayer (1992) stated that different
types of visuals might be of great use in education. She certified
that it is a serious deficiency that many teachers have insufficient
knowledge of how visuals function.
Low “pictorial capability”
Experiments with pupils in junior schools (Eklund, 1990), in in-
termediate schools and in junior high schools (Backman, Berg,
and Sigurdson 1988) showed that pupils in Sweden had a very
low “pictorial capability.” At all levels, pupils have large difficul-
ties in interpreting, as well as in expressing picture content. Low
“pictorial capability” is largely true also for the teachers, who very
often lack both education and training in visual language and in
visual communication. This is quite remarkable since the
curricula in Sweden both assume and require all teachers to be
responsible for teaching about visuals as a means of communica-
Pictures are often ignored
Regardless of the intended functions pictures are not always used
in an active way at school (Pettersson, 1990). In some textbooks
the purpose of many pictures seems to be purely decorative, or
entertaining, and not at all cognitive (Guo, Landau Wright, and
McTigue, 2018).
When a textbook has many decorative and entertaining pic-
tures, it may cause image overload, and pictures being skipped.
We know that students, as well as teachers, often ignore illustra-
tions in textbooks (Behnke, 2015, 2016a; Guo, Landau Wright,
and McTigue, 2018; Lindström, 1990; Schmidt-Weigand, Koh-
nert, and Glowalla, 2010; Schnotz et al., 2014b). Many students
do not attend to the visuals unless they are instructed to do so
(Pettersson, 1990; Reinking, 1986).
Every published picture has been selected, not only once but
usually several times, by artists, art directors, designers, editors,
and photographers (Pettersson, 1989, p. 260). It is hard for art
directors and editors to find the pictures they really need. Some-
times they have to take what they can get. These pictures may
often be ignored by students as well as teachers.
According to Matusitz (2005) American students may be
characterized as (p. 101): “passive consumers in the classroom,
not employing critical analysis of visual communication.
Didactic designs
According to Bodén and Stenliden (2019) there needs to be a
close didactic alignment and deeper knowledge of how visual in-
terfaces attract studentsattention and how students’ visual lit-
eracy emerges in that relationship. If students are to create
meaning through visual interpretations then teachers need to
create didactic designs that support development of visual liter-
acy abilities of the students. This includes augmented knowledge
of what attracts students’ attention and how to take advantage of
it in the process of their becoming visually literate. Interacting
with visual technology likely demands new forms of literacy as
various dimensions of complexity emerge in such learning activ-
ities. The growing use of computer-based graphs could change
the way students learn to read graphs. Visual properties and their
visual language renegotiate how reading and learning can be
Usability qualities
Behnke (2021a) evaluated challenges and opportunities of the
conception and utilization of visuals in current German geogra-
phy textbooks from multidisciplinary theoretical perspectives.
Together with her findings from work in the fields of educational
psychology, geography education, and media studies she dis-
cussed the designer’s point of view with insights from the fields
of information design, instructional design, user experience de-
sign, and visual communications.
Based on this theoretical approach Behnke (2021a) dis-
cusses usability aspects of visual design features in geographical
learning media, relations between instructional design strate-
gies, motivational aspects of knowledge construction, subject di-
dactics, visual attention, visual literacy skills, and visual search
strategies, through today’s multimodal geography textbooks.
Behnke (2021a) suggests six usability qualities of visual de-
sign elements in textbooks that may affect both learning motiva-
tion, and construction of knowledge. These six usability qualities
Aesthetics (visual appealing).
Comprehensibility (image content connects to the topic).
Helpfulness (support with completing tasks and content com-
Interest (relevant content, new perspectives)
Orientation (quick and easy).
Usefulness (relevant information complementing text infor-
Behnke (2021a) embeds the evolved usability qualities of well-
designed textbooks into existing theoretical models from the
fields of educational psychology, geography education, media
studies, and visual communications.
Provide teacher’s guides
As seen from the opinions presented by the teachers, visuals that
are used in teaching may have many different purposes. This
raises quite high demands upon teachers as well as pupils and
students and strengthens any requirements for education and
training in visual communications. The reader should always be
encouraged to find out what the senders’ intentions are. Why is
the picture there? What is the function of the picture? What is
the main message? Which are the secondary meanings? Which
associations does the picture raise?
It is not enough to select good visuals and make sure that all
the pictures have relevant captions. To really help the readers to
improve their use of visuals in textbooks, AV-material, and other
teaching aids, we should give the teachers careful guidance, for
instance in a teacher’s guide. The guide should: 1) Show the pur-
pose of each individual picture. 2) Tell what each picture shows.
3) Give different examples of how every picture can be used in
the education, what is important to discuss, which tasks can be
assigned in connection with the picture, and so on. 4) If needed
provide complementary facts. For instance, explain how the pic-
ture has been produced. 5) Account for name of photographer,
artist or another picture creator.
Disinformation design
The main goal in information design is clarity of communica-
tion, even if we also expect presentations to be aesthetically
pleasing, and in some cases also intellectually rewarding. Here,
all messages must be accurately designed, produced and
distributed, and later correctly interpreted and understood by
most of the members of the intended audience.
The main goal in visual deceptive camouflage is conceal-
ment of identity. In numerous organisms, camouflage is key to
survival (Nokelainen et al., 2019). Animals, as well as military
equipment, may be unnoticed by blending in with the back-
ground or by disruption of outlines. Then they may be almost im-
possible to discover. Deceptive camouflage is used by animals
and also by the military. We may see visual deceptive camou-
flage as a special kind of information design. It is disinformation
The objective with camouflage by crypsis is to become invisible
by blending in with the background or by disruption of outlines.
Organisms avoid detection or recognition by resembling the gen-
eral background or specific objects within the habitat. Strongly
contrasting markings such as spots and stripes provide disrup-
tive patterns that will break up the outlines. All careless move-
ments are dangerously eye-catching, and sometimes deadly for
prey animals.
However, some predators, like adult leopards, have disrup-
tively spotted coats that provide camouflage by disrupting the
recognizable shapes and orientations of the animals. The leop-
ards increase their chances of survival because they get more op-
portunities for successful hunting. This is a predator adaptation
of visual camouflage preventing their prey from seeing them.
These two drawings illustrate how a predator like a leopard
(Pantera pardus) is able to hide well in the vegetation.
This is an example of military camouflage. Two differently
painted small models of tanks were photographed in similar po-
sitions in an early woodland model at FOA, the Swedish Na-
tional Defence Research Institute.
The objective in military camouflage is to hide positions,
troops, vehicles, and weapons from the eye of the enemy. Cam-
ouflage has become a major factor in war. As a result of consid-
erable research military camouflage on land, at sea, and in the air
developed rapidly in the 20th century. Military equipment may
be almost impossible to discover by the human eye and also by
optical sensors.
There are seven main groups of military camouflage by cryp-
sis: 1) Painted camouflage, 2) Personal camouflage, 3) Disguising
camouflage, 4) Decoy camouflage, 5) Counter illumination cam-
ouflage, 6) Colour change camouflage, and 7) High technology
camouflage. According to Newark (2007) the birth of modern
military camouflage was a direct consequence of the invention of
the aeroplane. Aircraft were initially used in the First World War
for aerial reconnaissance. Their task was to spot enemy artillery,
troops, and vehicles. Their own artillery could then direct their
fire at these targets. All sides formed “camouflage units.” Mem-
bers of staff painted bold disruptive patterns on aircraft, guns,
and tanks. In France several Cubist artists were working as “cam-
oufleurs” at the front.
During the Second World War people painted disruptive
patterns on all kinds of military equipment such as aircraft, artil-
lery, military bases, tanks, vehicles, warships, and weapons. All
nations used official instructions for camouflaging. For example,
the official German Luftwaffe manuals included visual diagrams
with exact instructions on how to paint camouflage patterns as
well as aircraft lettering, symbols and walkway boundaries (Mer-
rick, 1973).
The objective with camouflage by mimesis is to become totally
ignored and unnoticed. A marine isopod, a small crustacean, has
got three kinds of males. The large alpha males guard their harem
of females. However, beta males look like females, and small
gamma males look like juveniles. Since beta males and gamma
males are unnoticed they can enter the harem without any prob-
lems and mate with some of the females.
Camouflage allows soldiers, weapons, and otherwise visible
military vehicles to remain unnoticed. Merchant ships equipped
with heavy arms, and tanks dressed up as ordinary trucks are ex-
amples of military camouflage by mimesis.
During the First World War the British navy used “Q-ships.”
These vessels were used as decoys and could meet a surfaced sub-
marine on fairly equal terms. When attacked, the Q-ship would
allow the U-boat to come as close as possible before dropping the
disguise, raising the White Ensign (a requirement of interna-
tional law), and opening fire (McMullen, 2001).
The objective with camouflage by dazzle is to confuse the oppo-
nents. Some animals are clearly seen but they move around in
conspicuous patterns, and confuses their predators. In this way
several birds trick predators away from their nests. The bold pat-
tern on a zebra may momentarily confuse predators, especially
when many animals are close together and moving rapidly over
the savannah on a hot day.
During the First World War and the Second World War daz-
zle camouflage was used to make tanks and ships seem smaller
and/or faster, to encourage misidentification by the enemy and
to make the ships harder to hit. Dazzle designs applied to ships
resembled floating Cubist paintings (Newark, 2007).
Cultural camouflage
Several times after the Second World War anti-war protesters
have used military combat clothing to express their resistance to
the use of arms and weapons in conflicts and war.
Disruptive camouflage materials have been used as the main
resources to express ideas of modern aesthetics, art and design.
Architects, fashion designers, graffiti artists, graphic designers,
interior designers, painters, sculptors, toy designers, and also
other groups have been inspired by patterns used in camouflage.
Camouflage gave the American artist Andy Warhol (1928
1987) the opportunity to work with both abstract patterns and
recognizable images, rich in associations. His camouflage paint-
ings reflect bright synthetic and inorganic colours. Warhol pro-
duced many camouflage panels, in various scales and in a wide
range of colours. The silk screen process allowed for quick and
easy mass-production.
Image functionsconclusions
As seen from the sections above visuals may have many functions
in communication. More than one hundred different explanatory
verbs are used to express these opinions. In accordance with
researchers in the areas of instructional message design, visual
literacy, and visual communication the most common opinions
on functions of visuals in printed media concern attention. Re-
searchers have mentioned the words attract, gain, get, hold and
maintain attention. Other common explanatory verbs are: facil-
itate, provide, persuade, create (an interest in), illustrate, clar-
ify, motivate, present, and reinforce information (to someone).
The inquiries with students and teachers also showed that there
may be many purposes for the use of visuals in printed media.
Most of the purposes can be looked upon as clearly pedagogical
or cognitive, in contrast to pictures used for entertainment, dec-
oration, advertising or marketing. The most common purposes
of pictures in the school environment were to: show, explain, vis-
ualize, illustrate, clarify, inform, summarize, convey, mediate,
elucidate, present, and give (perceptions), instruct, describe,
and entertain.
There seem to be different “fashions” in teaching practice that
differ from culture to culture and can change over time within
different cultures. Fashion in the use of educational media is
partly related to the technology that is available in that specific
culture at that time.
The most common purposes of pictures in information de-
sign are to visualize, clarify, inform, attract attention, facilitate
reading, explain, and convey information (in this order).
The type of visual to be used in the production of materials for
information and learning must often be determined in each case
with a view to specific demands on the visual, and also to the pre-
vailing budget framework.
Since the Neolithic period (approximately 10,0002,000 BC)
people have communicated not only through gestures and
sounds, but also by means of visual language (de Jong, 2010, p.
7). Any technique for creating animations, diagrams, and images
to communicate a message can be labelled visualisation (or vis-
ualization). Since the invention of central perspective in the Re-
naissance period the invention of computer graphics may be the
most important development in visualisation. Visualisation is al-
ways a composite task, never a single act on its own, and requires
the collaboration of several different parties.
This main section includes the following sections: Effective
visuals, Visualisation of data, and A total teaching aid.
Effective visuals
Perception is always organized. We perceptually construct
events, groupings, objects, people, relationships, and also words.
We see dots, lines, areas, light, and dark in an organized way. One
of the simplest perceptual organizations is that of “figure and
background.” We select elements in a visual as the figure. The
remaining elements constitute the background. Our ability to
distinguish the boundaries of an image is usually very high.
“Good figures,” i.e. in the sense of regularity, simplicity, and sta-
bility, are closed and exhibit a continuous contour.
A given contour can belong only to one of the two areas it
encloses and shapes. The contour shapes will be perceived as a
figure. Necker’s cube can be seen in either of two configurations.
All reversible figures lack sufficient cues as to which side of a con-
tour is figure, and which is the background. This is often used by
artists to create illusions. Many have seen a reversible figure that
is perceived as a vase, or as two heads facing each other.
Highly developed perceptual abilities are needed to detect
the bounds of a single image within a complex structure. Small
children may find it difficult to switch attention from small parts
to the whole and back again. When lines in a picture overlap or
compete, emerging figures have good continuation. The most
symmetrical and simple figures constructed will be perceived.
Tufte (1997, p. 64) discussed magic, the production of enter-
taining illusions. He noted that magic is to engage in disinfor-
mation design. So, here inventory of conjuring methods provides
evidence about what not to do in information design. When vis-
uals are produced for informative purposes, it is always a good
idea to start by trying to visualise the information to be conveyed.
Visualising a message means that you attempt to materialize it in
an effective synthesis of words and pictures.
Dondis (1973) discussed the anatomy of a visual message.
We express and receive visual messages on three levels: 1) Rep-
resentationally, 2) Symbolically, and 3) Abstractly. Representa-
tional forms of illustrations are actual photographs of things. In
symbolical forms pictures show one thing and connote another.
In abstract forms illustrations provide minimal visual infor-
mation on the phenomenon illustrated.
Visuals that are attractive and that people like also have
greater impact on the intended readers. To increase interest in a
material it might be a good idea to use a blend of several kinds of
visual types such as diagrams, drawings, photos etc. Generally
speaking it is not possible to rank the different types of visuals.
Often the type of visual that should be used must be determined
in each individual case with a view to various demands on the
picture and the prevailing budget framework. It is often easier to
control the production of a drawing than the production of a pho-
tograph. So, a drawing may be the only realistic alternative in
many instances. However, since pictures illustrated in more ab-
stract styles, such as cartoon and expressionistic, might generate
more imagination such pictures might be used as stimuli for cre-
ative writing assignments.
In conclusion effective visuals for information and learning
should create an experience for the reader. The reader must: 1)
See, or rather “discover” the picture. 2) Pay attention to the pic-
ture. 3) Read the picture in an active, and selective way. 4) Pro-
cess the information mentally.
Visualisation of data
Analysis and presentation of data is an indispensable part of all
applied research and problem solving in industry, and also in
many branches of science. One of the most fundamental ap-
proaches to analysis and presentation of data is visualisation of
abstract data. Usually the goal of visualisation is to present ab-
stract data in clear images in order to improve understanding of
the content.
Study of visualisation
Already in 1765, the British scientist Joseph Priestley designed
his diagram A Chart of Biography with timelines for important
individuals. In 1786, the Scottish engineer and political econo-
mist William Playfair developed the line graph and the bar
chart, followed by the pie chart (1801) and the circle graph
(1801) to represent economic data.
Modern study of visualisation originated in computer
graphics, and has further evolved from studies in business
presentations, computer science, human-computer interaction,
interface design, psychology, and visual design. However, at the
beginning the lack of computer power limited the usefulness of
visualisation. Now practical applications effectively analyse and
present data in ways that facilitate human cognition and interac-
tion. Now analysts can detect, see, and study expected patterns
and also discover the unexpected from conflicting, dynamic, in-
complete, and massive loads of data. Previously this was often
impossible. Visualisation involves research in computer
graphics, high performance computing, and image processing.
According to Moreno et al. (2001) visualisation is a non-ver-
bal mode of representing content knowledge. A visualisation may
include animations, drawings, graphics, illustrations, maps, pho-
tos, simulations, and video.
Most visualisations originating from quantitative data in-
clude axes or scales, coordinate systems, or glyphs that use spe-
cific data values as an input (Schroeder and Martin, 2005;
Tversky, 2011). The appearance of a glyph corresponds to data as
a result of the principled mapping of data variables to visual fea-
tures such as colour, position, shape, and size (Heer, Bostock,
and Ogievetsky 2010, p. 67).
During the last decades, there has been a rapid and ever-ex-
panding development of applications for visualisation in many
different areas. Lengler and Eppler (2007) used the periodic ta-
ble of chemical elements as a visual metaphor to classify 100 dif-
ferent methods of visualisation. In their “periodic table of visual-
isation methods for management” these methods are categorized
into six groups: 1) Data visualisation. 2) Information visualisa-
tion. 3) Concept visualisation. 4) Metaphor visualisation. 5)
Strategy visualisation. 6) Compound visualisation.
In the illustration of the system each group has the same
background colour. The numbers of the methods show the in-
creasing complexity between and within groups. All branches of
modern visualisation can contribute to information design with
methods and results.
Few (2004) noted that most visualisations are difficult to in-
terpret. They are filled with irrelevant details. Sometimes they
are even misleading. According to de Lange (2015, p. 532) mis-
leading denotes an attempt from an advertiser to mislead a con-
sumer through ambiguity, withholding or exaggerating
information, whilst deception is the process of intentionally lying
to consumers through misrepresentation.
Brigham (2016) argued that poorly designed visuals can cre-
ate more confusion than clarity. Problems may be related to clut-
ter, colour, decoration, disorganised information, lack of narra-
tive, and typefaces. And according to Lonsdale and Lonsdale
(2019) data visualisation fails to communicate information
clearly and efficiently more often than not.
However, Brigham (2016) also argued that data visualisation
and infographics are powerful tools to communicate infor-
mation. The benefits are many.
In an era in which more and more data are produced and
circulated through online networks, and digital tools make visu-
alisation production increasingly accessible, it is important to
study the conditions under which such visual texts are generated,
disseminated and thought to benefit processes of sense-making,
learning, and engaging (Kennedy and Engebretsen, 2020, p. 22).
During the Renaissance professor Andreas Vesalius revolution-
ized the study of biology and the practice of medicine. His illus-
trated textbook De humani corporis fabrica, first published in
1543, represented top-level research in the field of anatomy. At
that time, no distinction was made between art and science. Ve-
salius’ careful verbal and visual descriptions combine the un-
known with the well-known. This is still characteristic for bio vis-
Bio-visualisation is visualisation of biological systems. Mod-
ern techniques and tools offer effective means for analysing data
from complicated biological processes and systems, healthcare,
and medicine. Bioinformatics use visualisation engines for inter-
preting lab data and also for training purposes. Visual analytics
combine the strength of automatic methods with the expert
knowledge of the analysts.
Data visualisation
Today data visualisation is a modern branch of descriptive statis-
tics and visualisation of numeric values for comparison, not for
individual amounts. It involves the creation and study of visual
representation of data. In accordance with Friedman (2008) the
main goal of data visualisation is its ability to visualize data, com-
municate content clearly and effectively. Data visualisation is
closely related to information graphics, information visualisa-
tion, scientific visualisation, and statistical graphics.
At best, visual representations of statistics and other, often
quantitative data can convey complex facts and patterns quickly
and effectively. At worst, they can appear confusing or manipu-
lative (Kennedy and Engebretsen, 2020, p. 22). Data visualisa-
tions (also called dataviz or DV) are understood as graphical rep-
resentations of data which are primarily, but not solely, numeric.
Data visualisations are abstractions and reductions of the world.
As such, they are the result of human choices, social conventions,
and technological processes and affordances, relating to generat-
ing, filtering, analysing, selecting, visualizing, and presenting
data. Data visualisations are created to facilitate understanding.
There are several examples of early examples of visualisation
of data. Our attention is constantly being pulled in different di-
rections. When done correctly visualisation of large amounts of
data will capture our attention. Garwood et al. (2018) showed the
importance of having clear, concise and communicative graphics
providing evidence of relationships within the data. Here, man-
agers answered questions more correctly in less time. They could
make better decisions in shorter time.
See my book Graphic design for presentation of information
graphics, or infographics.
Cholera outbreak in 1855
An early example of data visualisation is the dot map used by the
English physician John Snow in 1855 to visualise the cholera out-
break in Broad Street, London. With his statistics Snow could
demonstrate the connection between the bad quality of polluted
water from the Thames and the high number of cholera cases.
The Crimean War
The British nurse and statistician Florence Nightingale tended
to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. She developed and
made extensive use of polar area diagrams, a special form of pie
chart, in her reports 1858 on medical care. Civil servants and
Members of Parliament were unlikely to understand traditional
statistical reports.
Napoleons disastrous Russian campaign
After his retirement, the French civil engineer Charles-Joseph
Minard was a pioneer in diagram design. He designed more than
fifty graphic tables and thematic maps with statistical infor-
mation. In 1861, he designed a unique flow map showing six
types of facts about Napoleons disastrous Russian campaign
Periodic table of visualisation methods
In their “periodic table of visualisation methods for manage-
ment (Lengler and Eppler, 2007) data visualisation includes
standard quantitative formats such as area charts, pie charts, and
line graphs. They are mainly used for getting an overview of data.
And Lonsdale and Lonsdale (2019b) see data visualisation as a
branch of infographics, which in turn is a branch of the field of
Information Design.
Educational visualisation
Many kinds of visualisations are used in educational visualisa-
tion. It may be topics that are difficult to see because artefacts are
far too small or far too large to be studied. It may also be pro-
cesses that are far too slow or far too rapid to be studied.
Iohannes Amos Comenius formulated a general theory of
education. He was the first person to really show to a broader
audience how visuals and words could interplay in an active way.
In his illustrated textbook, Orbis Sensualium Pictus (The Visible
World in Pictures) 1658, he presented information on the world
and on mankind in closely related pictures and words. This book
was widely used in both Europe and the USA for some 200 years.
In teaching environments visualisation serve two primary
functions: 1) to promote learning and understanding, and 2) to
aid in analysis and problem solving (Vavra et al., 2011). Educa-
tional visualisation may probably be used in almost all estab-
lished disciplines.
In traditionally printed maps the graphical representations are
linked to the basic geographical information. The English engi-
neering draughtsman Harry Beck designed the radically simpli-
fied topological map of the Underground tube system in London
(1931). The map was immediately very popular, and it has several
followers in other cities.
Geo-visualisation is short for Geographic visualisation. It
allows for the creation of interactive maps with techniques and
tools used for analysis of different layers of the map. Geo-
visalisation communicates geospatial data and information in
ways that humans can understand and use to make decisions. It
is possible to zoom in and out, and to change the visual appear-
ance of a map, usually on a computer display.
Information visualisation
Information visualisation, or visual data analysis, usually con-
cerns the use of computers to explore large amounts of abstract
numerical and/or non-numerical data. It is a critical component
in data mining, digital libraries, drug discovery, financial data
analysis, manufacturing production control, market studies, so-
cial relationships, and scientific research (Bederson and Shnei-
derman, 2003).
In information visualisation the focus is on the process of
producing views and creating valuable interaction techniques for
a given class of data, such as multi-dimensional data, and social
networks (Keim et al., 2008). Information visualisation has
developed methods for the visualisation of abstract data where
no explicit spatial references are given. Typical examples include
business data, demographics data, network graphs and scientific
data from e.g., molecular biology.
The primary goal of visualisation is to discover insights
through the analysis, exploration, and communication of infor-
mation in an acceptable form (Khan and Khan, 2011). Shiravi,
Shiravi, and Ghorbani (2012) defined information visualisation
as an aid to users in analyzing, exploring, and understanding of
data through continuous, iterative visual exploration.
Modern information visualisation originated in computer
graphics and user interface design. According to Thomas and
Cook (2005) visual representations and interaction techniques
take advantage of the human eye’s broad bandwidth pathway
into the mind to allow users to see, explore, and understand large
amounts of information at once. Information visualisation fo-
cuses on the creation of approaches for conveying abstract infor-
mation in intuitive ways. In their “periodic table of visualisation
methods for management” Lengler and Eppler (2007) defined
information visualisation as the use of interactive visual repre-
sentations of data to amplify cognition.
Knowledge visualisation
Today knowledge visualisation is a popular research area, often
defined as using visual representations to transfer knowledge. In
accordance with Burkhard (2005, p. 23): Knowledge visualiza-
tion examines the use of visual representations to improve the
transfer and creation of knowledge between at least two persons.
Knowledge visualisation thus designates all graphic means that
can be used to develop or convey insights, experiences, methods,
or skills.” However, in my mind we can only transfer data and
information between people, not knowledge.
In the last twenty years, management of cultural heritages
has become one of the key policies of the European Community
(Handzic, 2021). Heritages are often seen as cultural capitals and
important drivers for tourism. The challenge for management of
cultural heritages is to strike the balance between generating rev-
enue through tourism and preserving and promoting cultural,
educational, and historical values of heritage assets. Any deci-
sions regarding management of cultural heritages depend highly
on the collection and utilization of a wide variety of data related
to these assets.
According to Della Spina (2016), all decisions concerning the
development, enhancement, transformation, and upgrading of
historical heritages are characterized by multi-dimensional pro-
files of the objectives. This is often conflicting and influenced by
each other. These are complex decision problems.
In the specific context of Stećci, Handzic (2021) explores the
role of knowledge visualisation in facilitating decision-making in
management of cultural heritages. Stećci is the name for monu-
mental medieval tombstones distributed in 28 distinctive ceme-
teries located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, central and southern
Croatia, western Montenegro, and western Serbia. These sites
with tombstones are inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage
These tombstones are mostly carved from limestone. They
feature a wide range of decorative motifs and inscriptions that
represent iconographic continuities within medieval Europe as
well as locally distinctive traditions. Grounded in the distant
reading paradigm, Handzic (2021) introduces six kinds of anal-
yses of visualisations of data.
Architectural visualisations of data refer to the established
typology of stećci forms. It helps to identify the dominant
and/or rare forms.
Epigraphical visualisations of data are based on text analysis
of 330 engraved inscriptions on stećci stones. Major word
clusters indicate biographical, heroic, and religious themes
regarding the dead.
Iconographical visualisations of data reveal standard deco-
ration typology. This shows the most frequent decorative mo-
tives, as well as those that are rare or unique.
Impact visualisations of data reveal how stećci motives have
influenced and inspired modern art, and thus provide help in
their promotion nowadays.
Spatial visualisations of data provide exact location on the
map, as well as other spatial features.
Temporal visualisations of data place heritage assets into
their historical context, and indicates construction, timing
and usage duration.
These case findings have several implications. For practice, the
visualisation approach have advantages in terms of being readily
useful and easy to read and understand. For research, the visual-
isation approach reinforce earlier empirical and theoretical evi-
dence, and supports knowledge-based decision making.
Product visualisation
In the past technical drawings were made by hand. Now design-
ers and engineers use advanced computer software, computer
graphics, and systems for computer-aided design. They can
demonstrate, document, and manipulate technical drawings and
3D models of future products. Software for product visualisation
often provides high levels of photorealism. Thus, products can be
viewed before they are manufactured.
Scientific visualisation
In scientific visualisation, the data entities to be visualized are
typically 3D geometries with explicit references to time and space
(Keim et al., 2008).
Today scientific visualisation is concerned with the analysis
and interactive display of data. Examples are the practice of pro-
ducing graphic visualisations of two- and three-dimensional phe-
nomena in architecture, biology, chemistry, engineering, medi-
cine, meteorology, and other sciences. The purpose is to illustrate
scientific data and enable scientists to explain, illustrate, and un-
derstand their data. The emphasis is on realistic renderings of
illumination sources, surfaces, and volumes. Rendering is the
process of generating an image from a model, by means of advan-
ced computer software. Modern scientific visualisation origi-
nated in computer graphics and in user interface design.
According to Kennedy and Engebretsen (2020, p. 22) scien-
tific visualisation is a concept mostly used in highly specialized,
expert-to-expert contexts, for example within biology and medi-
Visual analytics
Visual analytics combines automated analysis techniques with
interactive visualisations for an effective understanding, reason-
ing and decision making on the basis of very large and complex
data sets (Keim et al., 2008). Combining data analysis, human
factors and visualisation visual analytics can rather be seen as an
integral approach to decision-making. It is more than infor-
mation visualisation.
Stenliden (2014) regarded a specific visual analytics applica-
tion as a visual medium offering interactive diagrams and
graphs. When data change, these diagrams and graphs change
immediately, and they move when displayed on an interactive
digital screen.
Tools for visual analytics support student learning (Stenli-
den, 2015). These tools trigger actions in which data types, stu-
dents, task, and visualisation interact to support learning. How-
ever, the interactions are not always straight forward. Some fea-
tures can be rather confusing.
Volume visualisation
Initially volume visualisation was used in medical imaging. It al-