Devising a Visual Vocabulary

Colin Ware opens chapter 7 of his book Visual Design for Thinking with a thought experiment. He asks the reader to try to imagine the following sentence with only images: “If halibut is more than ten euros a kilo at Good Food, go to the fish market on 5th Street.” Some things are best said with words, while others are said more aptly with pictures.

Murals have to be easy and quick to read in order to get a message across to its audience. When class met on Thursday, February 19, we had already identified the story we needed our data mural would convey, focusing on the impact that Food for Free has on food security in the Cambridge community due to the organization’s partnerships with local businesses. Our challenge, then, was how to tell this story visually.

The word web activity—in which we added words onto a network and then devised icons to represent these words—was useful in devising images to be used in our final mural. Next, the pass around activity helped us weave the imagery together. These two exercises were useful in identifying a common visual vocabulary to convey our message.

The imagery we were most drawn to was a plant metaphor, with the roots referring to the locations Food for Free rescues from, and the branches or leaves indicating the organizations that the food gets distributed to. According the Colin Ware, this is pattern perception, in which meaning is made by the relationships between the visual elements, from the roots to the leaves.

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