The value of images: using pictures and words to enhance intercultural and international communication

Alun Price and Stuart Medley (ECU)
2017 Conference

As our institution expands its international offerings it is increasingly important to be able to communicate with intelligent and able people who have not had much exposure to learning in English. It has been difficult however to communicate verbally due to the low English proficiency of international clients and lack of language skills on the part of the Australian participants. This experience in international communication has highlighted the need for alternative methods of communicating information. In communicating with the students from a Japanese university I found that using diagrams and sketches worked well for example, in creating a cartoon of the process needed to carry out an assignment, such as research in books, asking questions and testing out designs on users. The students also produced visuals to describe their experiences and thinking.

The approach has also been used with postgraduate local students and has developed further dimensions that are proving valuable. This paper explains some of the directions taken in introducing visual communication with international clients and explores the ways the approach accords with research into compensatory communication strategies, in particular, communicating with pictures. The value of visual communication in intercultural and international contexts is demonstrated.

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About the author

Alun Price is a design educator currently the Coordinator for Environmental and Spatial Design at Edith Cowan University, School of Arts and Humanities. He is a former Head of School at Curtin University and has been employed for an extended period by the Western Australian Curriculum Council to develop and implement Senior School Design courses. He has exhibited photographic and printmaking work in solo and group exhibitions. He is currently teaching 200 Japanese study abroad students in collaborative design.


Stuart Medley is an associate professor in design at ECU. He is the author of the book The Picture in Design which seeks to explain the psychology of the communicative potential of the drawn image to art directors and designers. His clients have included the Imperial War Museums UK and Berg’s Publishing. He has presented character design workshops in the UK, Europe and Australia and is currently researching cartooning to improve public health. He is also art director and illustrator for Hidden Shoal, a critically acclaimed record label in its tenth year with a roster of international artists.