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I have been a yearbook advisor for eleven years. When I first started I was visually illiterate. Our school joined Columbia Scholastic Press Association that first year that I took over and I began studying examples of award-winning yearbooks that this organization could provide. I even attended a workshop at Columbia University in New York City in the summer of 2005.

I didn’t really know it at the time, but as I look back I realize that was when I was first introduced to visual literacy education. I received training in how to see a layout spread and break it up into its many elements.

I started to notice the different levels of white space: a column, a pica, and a 2-point close register for grouping pictures together as a unit. I began to notice the importance of a dominant photo and how this one element could draw the viewer’s eye into the spread. But my education didn’t stop there. This year, I have started to notice the importance of having three points of entry for the reader: main story, captions, and alternative copy such as quotes, secondary stories, informational graphics, charts, or quick read survey results.

He said, she said makes an interesting alternative copy story in a yearbook.

This year I have trained my staff to put photos into the spread, then pick a main color from the dominant photo that grabs your attention and use that color for the headline and secondary headline text color. They can then choose a complimentary color for a large drop cap for the beginning of the first lead paragraph and for secondary headlines or alternative copy, so that no more than two colors are used exclusively on a spread.

Some teachers don’t see the importance in yearbook journalism. My yearbook editor was told by one of the math teachers that she needed to take a fourth year of math instead of yearbook even though she plans to pursue journalism in college. That having a fourth year in math was more important for her future. Fortunately, I didn’t lose my editor.

I recently watched a TED YouTube video of Brian Kennedy, director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, about the growing field of visual literacy.

According to Brian Kenndy,

90% of all the information that we take in from the world, we take in visually. A full 30% of the brain cortex is given over to vision. We actually read non-text 60,000 times faster than non-text.” I would like to advocate is a little bit of slow looking. I would like all of us to look so that we could really really see. Just like we hear so that we could really be listening. Why? Because we need to put some order on our chaos and we like the idea of some harmony among our disharmony. Here is a method for “slow looking.” You can all use it anywhere.

  1. Look at it.
  2. See it.
  3. Describe it.
  4. Analyze it.
  5. Interpret it.
  6. Construct meaning from it.

We all need to know and use visual language to be able to communicate what we see in the world by comparing the similarities and the differences in things. Our vocabulary should include such terms as:

  • shape
  • form
  • volume
  • line
  • composition
  • color
  • rhythm
  • pattern
  • movement
  • unity
  • value
  • hue
  • intensity

We need to train our visual capacity. We need to train our ability to construct meaning from images. According to Brian Kennedy in his Ted talk, “visual literacy is needed across the curriculum.” I couldn’t agree more!

If you want to watch his presentation, here it is.

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