A Picture is Worth a Thousand Votes: Graphicacy Skills for Political Debate

Ms. Amanda Rainey & Dr. Stuart Medley
2012 Conference

Political campaigns are greatly influenced by changes in technology and communication, from FDR’s ‘Fireside Chats’ to JFK’s embrace of television. Now a combination of technologies allows almost everyone to create, reproduce, transform, and share images with friends and family, or with the world. Individuals and grassroots organisations can communicate using images alongside mainstream media, corporations and governments. There is now a great need for all of us to develop the visual literacy – or graphicacy – required to interpret and recreate images, to communicate as educated equals in this new political environment.

Political advertising can use graphic design to make implications that they wouldn’t be willing to say explicitly, invoking cultural ideas and associations to make their case, sometimes misleadingly. This paper will look at some of the techniques that are commonly used in political campaigns, and discuss how we can teach people the skills they need to ‘read’ campaign materials and make informed judgments about the arguments being made.

Graphicacy is a necessary skill if all citizens are to fully participate in public debate, rather than remain passive audiences. A picture may tell ‘a thousand words’, but as with all political communication it is always open to interpretation. Just as the prevalence of the written word requires literacy for all in a democratic society, so too must we ensure that graphicacy is not a skill that is limited to a small section of the community.

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About the author

Amanda Rainey is studying for a Masters of Communications, looking at the use of graphic design in election campaigns. She has a Bachelor of Arts from UWA majoring in Political Science and Philosophy, and a Grad Dip in Two Dimensional and Digital Design from ECU. She has worked on every state and federal election campaign since 2004, most recently as Campaign Manager for the Alannah MacTiernan for Canning campaign in 2010. She works as a freelance graphic designer.

Stuart Medley is an award-winning designer and illustrator. His illustrations and comics have been published internationally, and are in the Michael Hill Collection at the Australian National Library. He is a senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University, and has presented research at international conferences including TypoGraphic2005, Lebanon, and the NewViews 2008 conference at the LCC in London. His book, The Picture in Design, describing ways for the graphic design discipline to understand and evaluate images, will be published in late 2012.