Visual Rhetoric in Design Education

This topic utilizes my background in English to explore rhetorical devices, their application to verbal and visual communication, and the effectiveness of visual rhetoric in improving the creative and conceptualization processes in graphic design.
Rhetorical devices (such as synecdoche, hyperbole, metonymy, amplification) are ubiquitous in graphic design from typography to imagery to logos to layout. Understanding these terms in verbal contexts and learning to detect them in visual contexts enable students to effectively deconstruct visual messages and enrich their own design with meaning through improved articulation of compelling design concepts.

Published Works

Forthcoming
Cengage Learning
Graphic Design Solutions by Robin Landa, interactive edition
“Visual Rhetoric: Using Literary Devices to Prompt Concept Formation”
(Video to be posted pending final contracts/permissions for use of copyrighted examples.)

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May 2013
University & College Designers Association
Design Education Summit Abstracts and Proceedings
“Re-teaching English to Teach Design? Using Visual Rhetoric to Improve the Creative Process”


Conference Presentations

  • Lend Me Your Eyes: The Enduring Art of Visual Rhetoric in Graphic Design Education
  • Read Abstract

Design Principles and Practices International Conference: Design As Collective Intelligence
Vancouver, British Columbia
January 16–18, 2014

Graphic design is a balance of material form and mental process. Or, as Mr. Bass so succinctly put it, “Design is thinking made visual.” We are never at a loss for teaching the visual—formal elements, design principles, type anatomy, historical aesthetics, technical skills. It is the other component, the mental process, that often presents the bigger challenge: How do we teach students to think critically? To conceptualize? To master the elusive act of creativity?

One answer is through visual rhetoric. Graphic designers aim to inform, persuade or somehow motivate an audience—the same communication goals of orators and writers as far back as Ancient Greece. Figures of rhetoric run rampant in graphic design, from typography to imagery to logos to layout. Initially, students may not be able to define terms like hyperbole, metonymy and amplification, yet they may recognize intuitively the devices at work and likely already use some of them. Understanding these terms in verbal contexts and then learning to detect them in visual contexts enables students to effectively deconstruct the visual messages they encounter and enrich their own designs with meaning.

This presentation will share an approach to teaching visual rhetoric—the application of rhetorical devices to visual communication—to design students, and examine its effectiveness in generating creative, compelling design concepts, as well as improving the articulation of those concepts.

  • Re-teaching English to Teach Design? Using Visual Rhetoric to Improve the Creative Process
  • Read Abstract

University and College Designers Association (UCDA) Design Education Summit
Chattanooga, Tennessee
May 20–21, 2013
(Paper published in conference proceedings.)

Graphic design is a balance of material form and mental process. In educating young designers, we are never at a loss for teaching the fundamentals of graphic design’s visual characteristics—formal elements, design principles, type anatomy, historical aesthetics, modes of visualization, technical skills and more. It is the second component, the mental process, that often presents the bigger challenge: How do we teach students to think critically? To conceptualize? To master the elusive act of creativity?

One answer is through visual rhetoric. Since speech and writing are the verbal representations of ideas, and graphic design is the visual representation of ideas, the rhetorical devices that make the former more effective can also make the latter more effective. Figures of rhetoric, such as metaphor, are prevalent in all aspects of graphic design, from typography to imagery to logos to layout. Initially, students may not be able to define terms like hyperbole, metonymy and amplification, yet they may recognize intuitively the devices at work and likely already use some of them. Understanding these terms in verbal contexts and then learning to detect them in visual contexts enables students to effectively deconstruct the visual messages they encounter and enrich their own designs with meaning.

It may seem a daunting task teaching language arts to students who didn’t like 10th grade English the first time around. But once they understand how these literary devices work in visual modes, you (metaphorically speaking) see the light bulbs turn on over their heads. In this presentation, I will share my approach to teaching visual rhetoric—the application of rhetorical devices to visual communication—to design students, and examine its effectiveness in generating creative, compelling design concepts, as well as improving the articulation of those concepts.