Strategically use the elements of visual rhetoric (e.g., images, color, shape, document design, and typography) to interpret and evaluate texts (visual literacy); to think and create (visual learning); and to communicate (visual rhetoric).

Design refers to

  1. Information Architecture–the ability to organize information in ways that users can understand and can use (e.g., databases of published articles.
  2. Visual language, including font choices, page design, visuals, and animation.

“Design is a fun word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” 
-Steve Jobs

We live in a culture where images and document design are used aggressively to convey meaning. Today’s writers use images to do more than enrich their texts: Page design, layout, font choices, photographs, clip art, screenshots, animations, and video convey meaning.

People use the term design in two major ways:

  1. When some people use the term design, they mean ornamentation–a few baubles you might add to a text once it’s completed. For these people, design is an afterthought. Content can be separate from form.
  2. In contrast, others view design from a rhetorical perspective. Instead of considering design to be ornamentation, they view design as a way to convey meaning–as a form of visual language.

Thanks to changes in how people read documents, design is more important now than ever before. In the past, discussions regarding the use of visuals, white space, fonts, and charts occurred primarily in technical writing classes. But today’s easy-to-use word processors and Web editors enable writers to have unprecedented control over the look and feel of their documents. Graphic editors, images freely available on the Web, animation tools, streaming multimedia–these resources are transforming writing in interesting and powerful ways.

This doesn’t mean that your teachers expect you to compete with the Web designers at And this doesn’t mean your teachers will privilege substance over style. In fact, college teachers are chiefly concerned with your use of words and ideas. They have an ear for carefully crafted sentences and passages. The higher grades will go to those who develop worthwhile ideas.

Even so, writing is taking a visual turn. As modern-day readers become overwhelmed with information, writing is becoming “chunked” into deductive columns, bullets, and lists. Increasingly, people are using charts, graphics, and pictures to tell significant parts of their story. Ultimately, your writing will gain authority when it is designed well. Your professors and prospective employers are likely to be impressed by sound document design.