VISUAL LITERACY: an interplay to gain more knowledge about yourself and others
MetadataShow full item record
This research gives a start for an action plan on how to do research about visual literacy in a developing country as well as on how to use semiotics as a research instrument. Nevertheless, it also shows that without knowledge about cultural conventions of the other, this is not possible. Learning from the other, or in other words, literacy of the researcher when it comes to designing education material for the intended audience, is essential. Visual education material is very common for patient education, especially in developing countries where illiteracy often is a serious problem. In this research, visual education material will be studied from the perspective of visual literacy. According to Messaris and Moriarty (2005) visual literacy is defined in terms of two constant components, first, the ability to understand visual images, and second, the ability to create or use images as means of expression and communication. To understand visual images, the materials should be made according to the cultural and visual conventions of the intended audience. Therefore, the job of a designer is to listen and observe before presenting draft messages to the intended audience; this needs to be done in order to validate if they conform to their needs and customs (Zimmer & Zimmer, 1978; and Mody 1991). According to Finan (2002) semiotics will justify a higher profile in the design of health education material. To gain more insights about the intended audience of a medical clinic in Nueva Santa Rosa, Guatemala semiotics is used as a research instrument. Based on the research of Cook (1981) about the visual literacy of people in Papua New Guinea, a picture story was designed in order to form a topic list to overcome possible language barriers by letting the research participants perform certain tasks with the picture story to collect information. Kress and Van Leeuwen (2006) say that even though social semiotics is not a ‘universal’ grammar, western culture is a dominant culture and in many parts of the world, Western communication exists side by side with local forms. This is the case in Guatemala, perhaps because of the Spanish colonization and/or the immense influence of the United States. The message itself, that they had to clean their hands before certain acts while cooking, was more than clear to the audience. This suggests that washing hands is part of already existing knowledge, even though the tools and equipment of the kitchen were not always a realistic reflection of reality. To make sure the kitchen reflects the reality of the women coming to the clinic, it is important to take photos of several kitchens in the houses of the intended audience. In that case the designer has a better idea of what tools and equipment are being used and how the kitchens look like. This furthermore reduces the influence of the designers’ own interpretation while designing the visual education material, a factor that could, as this research shows, easily lead to misinterpretations and miscommunication. Cultural differences influenced this research. On the one hand, the photos that were being used to design the visual education material were selected by the designer. This left too much room for the designer’s own interpretation and influence. And on the other hand, it was difficult to get straight-forward answers from the Guatemalan research participants since people are very polite and do not always say what they honestly think. This was especially prominent when asking for someone’s opinion. This difficulty could also have to do with cultural differences. For example, the case might be that the people in Guatemala communicate in a different kind of way than Dutch people do when they want to know someone’s opinion. This shows that to speak about visual literacy, it is essential that the researcher is highly literate when it comes to knowledge about the intended audience in another culture. Based on this research the following suggestions have been made: • Before designing the visual education material it is important to get to know the intended audience and to learn from the other. Listen, observe and experience. • In order to design a realistic reflection of the intended audience’s reality, it is also useful to take photos while visiting the houses of the intended audience. These photos should form the basis on which the visual education material are to be designed. • The designer can then create a draft version of education material and present it to the intended audience to validate whether it conforms to their needs and customs. • To get valid and in-depth answers of the research participants, it is useful to instruct a native speaker to do the interviews for the researcher him/herself. This way cultural differences that could have otherwise influenced the research can be avoided and they usually know better strategies how to get valid and in-depth answers.