Visual Literacy Across Disciplines: Visualization Tools for Generating and Communicating Information in Multidisciplinary Teams

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During recent years, research shows that there is a substantial increase in articles addressing the need of visual literacy in disciplines outside the arts, such as business and engineering, to aid students to think visually and communicate ideas visually to both peers and the general public. In our increasingly visually oriented and global society, multidisciplinary teams are the preferred way of working, for a vast number of fields, where people must not only understand the connections between diverse, and seemingly separate disciplines, but also be able to visually communicate and recognize concepts and ideas through visualization tools. We suggest that the skills for using visualization tools or external representations—to be distinguished from internal representations, which are an archetype of the mind—are essential in all curricula to construct meaningful mental models which allows for the visualization, integration, understanding, and communication of concepts. Communication across disciplines is critical to ensure the success of a project from the beginning stages. There are two common barriers that impede communication between disciplines: cultural biases and visual communication practices. Within visual communication practices, visual representations are a central component to exchange complex and diverse information, to conduct interactive communication, and to reach out across disciplinary boundaries. Visual representations can become the vehicle for multidisciplinary teams to meet on a common ground. At the beginning stages of the design process, the divergence of information stimulates the visual abstraction of concepts and ideas to innovation. By analyzing different scenarios from the design/business/engineering practice, three intertwined types of visualization tools have been identified to facilitate distributed cognition across disciplines: visualization tools for collaboration, for communication and development, and for presentation. Those can be developed into a visual literacy course across disciplines from the design education field.


Keywords: Visual Literacy, Visual Representations, Visual Learning, Design Education, Visual Communication, Visual Thinking, Multidisciplinary Teams
Stream: Representations: Media, Communications, Arts, Literature, Learning, Education, Training
Presentation Type: 30 minute Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Mercè Graell-Colas

MFA Design Education candidate and Graduate Teaching Associate, Industrial, Interior, and Visual Communication Design Department, The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio, USA

I grew up in Barcelona, Spain, with the colors of the Mediterranean as my horizon. I always wanted to be a teacher. In high school, I loved how Chemistry united the bits and pieces from all other sciences, so I decided to become a Chemistry teacher. During the last year of the Chemical Technical Engineering program we had a class on Ergonomics. Shape and function at the service of people? Design? I was already fascinated with Chemistry for its global approach to science, and Design seemed to be the portal to a vast universe joining the right-brained with the left-brained. I studied Industrial Design, then Graphic Design as the unified visual voice to all disciplines, and later started a Design studio partnering with an Interior Designer and a Photographer. All aspects of Design grew to become my life. My desire for learning and giving back found and exciting, broad subject. After 18 years of professional experience, learning and working in Europe first and then in the U.S., I felt that I could progress into teaching Design. Currently I’m an MFA candidate for Design Education interested in how Design can benefit other disciplines through research on visual literacy and sustainability.

Carolina Gill

Assistant Professor, Industrial Design Coordinator, Department of Industrial, Interior, and Visual Communication 
Design, The Ohio State University

Columbus, Ohio, USA


Ref: D08P0019