Visual Voice


Part 1: Discover What’s Missing from Your Presentation

If people learn a majority of content from visuals, it’s important for presenters to show what they’re saying as much as speak it to their audience. You have likely seen a few presentations so filled with words, both spoken and presented in the slides, that you had difficulty hearing the message.

Presentations are best understood when delivered with a well-spoken message and an equally good visualization of the message. A great speaker with poor slides is using only half their power to speak to the audience. The missing half is a complementary partner to their speaking ability: their visual voice.

The visual voice is like a fingerprint. It is a presenter’s communication style using images and design elements to deepen the meaning of and multiply the impact of their verbal presentation.

Effective use of visual voice helps the audience to remember the presentation by guiding them to better select, organize, and integrate the information into something meaningful in their memory. The visual voice supports the verbal voice to create a coherent message where the verbal and visual are meaningfully presented together.

The effective presenter’s visual voice can enhance the audience’s understanding of the message by showing what they are saying. The ability to visualize a presentation with the appropriate and judicious use of graphic design is the beginning of developing one’s visual voice.

The graphic quality of the visual voice is like the tonal quality of a singer’s voice and both are developed through practice. You may be thinking that you’re not a graphic designer, but the truth is you have skills waiting to be developed! You may be thinking that you have no artistically creative cell in your brain. Even if the one cell that you have is hiding in the deepest recesses, it can be developed and then shown how to raise up a few others. You can learn to apply a few basic graphic design principles, or guidelines, to empower your presentation with visual voice. 

You can learn to apply a few basic graphic design principles, or guidelines, to empower your presentation with visual voice and increase the chance your audience will remember what you’ve said. 

In part 2 of the Visual Voice series, explore how the power of visual voice can literally create a more memorable presentation.

In part 3, uncover the how-to techniques of building up your visual voice with a few basic graphic design techniques.

Breaking Out of the Visual Box


Did you know there is a professional organization that encompasses multiple disciplines?

Disciplines in the spectrum of education (all levels), instructional technology, sensory arts, art history, product design, graphic design, culinary arts, food science, textile technologies and visual arts, all find a comfortable fit in one place.

The IVLA is the International Visual Literacy Association. Founded in 1969 as an interdisciplinary collective of scholars and practitioners inspired to explore the commonalities of the visual within their different domains. My working definition of visual literacy is:

The ability to read, interpret and create visual imagery, works, projects, art, and communications including the activation of sensory and cognitive processes that are engaged in the decoding and coding of such messages presented in any media.

Doesn’t that sound like some aspect of your work? Visual literacy seems to be used by everyone who communicates using media, but without an appreciative understanding of the power of the visual language. Education systems devote extensive learning time to the written language, but not enough time for teaching students how to communicate visually. That seems to me like speaking and writing with only half of your vocabulary. I’m not talking about teaching visual literacy in art classes. I advocate that every elementary and secondary teacher introduce visual literacy in every subject. That idea has transformative potential for how students “see” the world and create their own impression upon it. The results would be divergent and out-of-the-box imaginative.

How might teachers get turned on to the idea of visual literacy?

Recently, I attended the 48th Annual Conference of the International Visual Literacy Association, “Engaging the Senses” at Concordia University, Montreal (October 5-8), where I experienced multiple mind-blowing sessions, demonstrations, plenaries (yes, they use that word), and experiences designed for all the senses. Hosted by Dr. David Howes, Professor of Anthropology at Concordia University and led by IVLA President, Dr. Karen Tardrew, National-Louis University, the 3-day event featured a breadth of presentations, papers, workshops, forums, and demonstrations to fill each day with surprising visual, taste, and auditory experiences. In the small intimate environment, I met colleagues from around the world who shared a similar passion and focus on the importance of visual literacy for understanding our world. They presented photographic literacy, digital media representation, creative digital activism, comics, and early childhood writing. I found my people! A tribe of diverse scholars and practitioners, who boldy venture across cultural and social barriers to reach youth, indigenous people, even the blind. Yes, sensory literacy because eyes are not the only way of “seeing.”

Jason Edward Lewis delivered the opening keynote session, “Populatinimaginary_jasonlewisedwardsg the Future Imaginary,” which impressively connected visual literacy, social justice, and indigenous people. It was a fascinating description of his work with indigenous youth to claim their stake in the silicon soil of cyberspace in which they can wrinkle their to
es and tell their stories for future generations. Take science fiction and mix it with ancestral legends and traditions to create the legacy that become the stories of future generations of indigenous people. See his work at
Initiative for Indigenous Futures an Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace production.

Give a careful review of the conference website and program to get a better understanding of the diversity of content.

Since returning, I have thought of all the disciplines that were (or should have been) represented and uncovered plenty of inspiring connections between my work in instructional design, educational technology, teaching at all education levels, and academic scholarship all within IVLA. The peer reviewed publication is “Journal of Visual Literacy,“ published by Taylor and Francis.

I enthusiastically encourage you to explore the possibilities of IVLA for your own professional learning. I feel confident you will be inspired to see your work, craft and scholarship through new sensory lenses. I know you will find colleagues who can help connect you more deeply into visual literacy and elevate your passion for your work.

The next conference is September 14-17, 2017 at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The theme will be “Designing Visual Literacy Experiences” hosted in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museum (HAM). The call for proposals will be posted in early spring 2017. Mark your calendars and look for updates on the IVLA website.

I wonder what you might present to inspire IVLA 2017?


Instructional “designer”?

What do I want to be when I grow up?

An instructional designer!

This is not the usual statement from a child, rather a mid-career instructional technologist. I have been thinking about the differences and similarities of instructional “designer” versus “technologist” for more than two decades. My recent musings were triggered by an EdSurge article, “So You Want to Be an Instructional Designer,” which I highly recommend reading. Until that article, I had identified myself as a “technologist” because my master’s degree diploma states that I am one. Considering the main word “technology” has a zippy appeal in Silicon Valley where I live and perhaps most of all because people outside of the instructional technology field do not really understand the foundational concepts of it. I’ll save that definition for another post.

I want a different professional label as I launch into a new career as a consultant. I can define myself any way I wish! I really do like the term “designer” much more than “technologist.” I fancy myself a designer of anything and everything since earning an undergraduate degree in art design. So, I can legitimately claim the title of “designer.” But why abandon the “technology” term if I also claim to be an advocate for effective use of technology in instruction?

I am foremost an advocate for education, which, in my viewpoint, is for the benefit of the student to help them understand themselves, master learning, and nurture their ability and desire to learn in perpetuity. Education can be really helpful for developing a student’s passion for lifelong learning, whatever age they may earnestly start their new learning journey.

Technology is a tool for learning, not just an adjective or defining concept for instruction. The real power of technology is unleashed in the careful design of an instructional experience, whether in an education or training setting. The experience should never blindly be about the technology, rather focused on the learning outcome. Technology, as a term in common use, creates a defined box of concepts in one’s mind. I would like to further twist an often misquoted phrase to make a point, “…we don’t need no stinkin’ ‘boxes’.” I think boxes restrict and confine how instructional professionals can define the nature of teaching and learning. Designers, by nature, are inclined to creatively break the paradigm of the box. I like that idea.

If we take the focus off of technology, it becomes another tool, like chalk to the chalkboard, simply used to achieve a higher goal. It is no longer a novelty, a new concept to be added on to education, or a way of sounding modern and hip when defining learning activities. Technology may or may not be an effective tool for each learning outcome, that is why the skill of the instructor is needed to determine which tool best facilitates the learning of a particular concept or skill. In this scene, the instructor moves away from being a technology tool picker and becomes a designer craftsman of learning, using different strategies to accomplish the goal. Technology may or may not be a part of the solution. To clarify, I am not moving away from technology. I am choosing to define the field and my professional self in terms of what really matters…learning and teaching…not technology.

Imagine if learning is an experience, then I want to be a designer of learning experiences. Imagine what might result in an education system where the same type of careful thought and consideration for the end-user that goes into designing living spaces, automobiles, phones, dinnerware, and software interfaces, were used to craft a learning experience for students. The learner (i.e., end-user) becomes the focal point of the design ideas for the instructional activities. I bet the activities would be made better for ease-of-use, last longer, and become more relevant as they better meet the learners’ needs.

That’s why I want to redefine my professional label. Yes, I’m convinced I want to be an instructional designer.

Wait, on second thought, maybe I really want to be a “Learning Experience Designer!”


Divergent Education. Let’s discuss, show, imagine education that diverts from the norm, as in “out of the box.” Let’s find examples of creative thinking, design thinking, 20Time, collaboration, flipped, communication, problem solving, and critical thinking. Share your ideas, thoughts, musings. I’ll share mine. Let’s see where our imaginations take us…the divergent education road less traveled.
dəˈvərjənt, dīˈvərjənt/
  1. tending to be different or develop in different directions.
    “divergent interpretations”
    synonyms: differing, varying, different, dissimilar, unalike, disparate, contrasting, contrastive;

    conflicting, incompatible, contradictory, at odds, at variance
    “divergent points of view”
  1. the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.
    “a new system of public education”
    synonyms: teaching, schooling, tuition, tutoring, instruction, coaching, training,tutelage, guidance;

    indoctrination, inculcation, enlightenment;
    “the education of young children”

Divergent education is the active process of discovery shared between teachers and students. It has no walls or limits to the possibilities of learning except time and energy. There is no “right” answer, rather there is process that leads to different solutions, different outcomes, differing viewpoints among participants. Divergence in education leads learning into and through a process of discovering the diversity of possibilities for solving challenges.

How might divergent education change the teaching-learning experience?