Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

This particular discussion prompt is a little difficult to adequately address simplistically. Is a picture worth a thousand words? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.

First, the guidelines I selected to evaluate the material came from the following resources:

Laureate video in which Pointer advises the designers to ask themselves, “Why is the graphic here?” If the graphic is to draw attention, illustrate a point, introduce a subject or support the content it is appropriate; if, however, it is purely for decorative purposes, it is unnecessarily and superfluous (Laureate Education, Inc. [Laureate], n.d.).

Article by Dr. Mayer wherein he posits there are five distinctive features or characteristics of multimedia messages that promote deep learning. Specifically summarized in Exhibit 8.2 (Mayer, 2007, p. 173):

1. Systematicity: Help the learner build a mental model. Create a graphic that shows each component in the system, indicates the potential action (state changes) of each component, and expresses the causal relations among the actions.

2. Referencing: Help the learner build referential connections between words and pictures. Place printed words near corresponding portions of graphics or present spoken words at same time as presenting corresponding segments of graphics.

3. Conciseness: Help the learner stay focused. Avoid irrelevant material and provide cues that guide the learner’s attention.

4. Sociability. Activate a sense of social presence. Use a friendly, human voice that speaks in a conversational style.

5. Conserving: Help the learner to avoid overloading his or her visual channel. Present words as spoken text so they do not compete with graphic for the learner’s visual attention.

University of Washington’s online web design and development guide which specifies the following important points (please note, there are expositional explanations below each major summary heading, which I removed for simplicity sake):

1. Graphics should fit in with the purpose, organization, and style of the page.
2. Avoid using graphics with large file sizes that add to the load time of the page.
3. Graphics should help to guide the viewers’ focus to the important content on the page.
4. Avoid repetitive use of overly bright or potentially “obnoxious” images.
5. Avoid the use of graphics to convey textual content information.
6. Provide textual equivalent alternatives for graphic content.
7. When using text in graphics, make sure there is sufficient contrast between the text and the background color. (“Purpose,” 2005-2008, p. 1)

Non-profit guide for design “Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes” which culminates in a Print Ad Principles Summary (please note, there are expositional explanations below each major summary heading, which I removed for simplicity sake):

1. Capture the reader’s attention like a stop sign and direct it like a road map
2. Make an emotional connection before attempting to convey information
3. Write headlines that offer a reason to read more
4. Use pictures to attract and convince
5. If you want people to read your text, make it readable
6. Test before, measure after
7. When everyone zigs, it’s time to zag (Goodman, 2002, p. 52)

The final resource, my coup de grace in terms of discovery, is an actual print book “Web Style Guide” additionally available online (Lynch & Horton, 2008). The entire text is relevant to this course; however, chapter 11 deals specifically with the issues of graphic design. The author covers some similar points previously covered, albeit in more depth. In addition, a great deal of additional useful information is included. Lastly, this text is perhaps the most excellent example of graphic utilization I located. This makes a lot of sense because the authors are basically instructing others on good graphic design. It is nice to see the authors following their own advice.

Second, the prompt suggests locating an online example such as an advertisement, website content or online exhibit; however, each of these genres has different purposes and/or different audiences. It would be like comparing apples to oranges.

For instance, many websites and blogs have advertising plastered all over their pages. This is an inconvenience and as described in our resources distracting from the overall message. It is, however, the way of most things. Alternatively, advertising, especially print advertising is typically created by professionals and meant to sell something, whether it is a person, place, or thing. Some THING is being sold. In these instances, graphics are the primary vehicle for getting the point across. I struggled mightily researching tons of websites, trying to find just the most appropriate examples for this post.

From a print advertising perspective I did find some interesting options: (Mugnai, 2010, p. 1; Garmahis, 2009, p. 1) (see attached doc to the post).

The examples that are well done are clearly well done. The graphic does not take away from the advertising, but rather enhances the message. My favorite is the first picture for conserving water. The shortened bench space aptly illustrates the message without being preachy. The second graphic (anti-smoking) is well done, but has a more preachy/judgmental feel to it. The opposite is true of the bad examples, which range from completely confounding (I am not still not sure what the point of the first ad is); to downright inappropriate or obscene (see the last life insurance ad). It is difficult to believe a professional advertising agency came up with this advertisement. I can only assume someone from the organization went a little off road in the clipart department and believed the obvious message would overcome the inappropriateness of the ad.

Third, I opted to locate a more relevant type of graphic design, to wit, I found a PowerPoint designed for instruction, including both text and graphics (National Wildlife Federation website [NWF], 2007) (URL is in references). This is a PowerPoint I may have selected in the past for an instructional lesson in my Earth Science class. After having reviewed the resources and reflected more deeply on the various issues involved in text and graphic design, there are both good and bad examples of graphic design incorporated into this lesson. The entire presentation consists of 28 slides and was developed by the National Wildlife Federation staff.

There are a number of good graphic design aspects represented in the presentation. For instance, there is a common theme throughout. There are several inquiry slides with a single question and a cute cartoon student being inquisitive. Additionally, there appears to be adequate contrast between the majority of the graphics, text, and background for legibility purposes. There are a few exceptions. Another example of a well done graphic slide is the third slide in which there is a title at the top “How Global Warming Works.” The slide graphically illustrates global warming occurring, causation, and effect in simplistic form. Another slide with realistic graphic examples illustrating fossil fuel burning is the sixth slide. There are three photographs, a simple header title “Burning of Fossil Fuels” and a subheading title “Pollution from coal, natural gas, and oil” explaining what is occurring.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the slide show is not the best example of appropriate graphic usage or even “learner-centered teaching” as described by Dr. Mayer (Laureate Education, Inc. [Laureate], n.d.). On the contrary, the presentation as a whole illustrates a “technology-centered approach. For instance, according to the presenter’s guide the audience is intended to be 5th through high school grade students. This is a serious issue. I taught 9th grade Earth Science. Although I found the cartoons funny and cute, I guarantee my “I’m a grown up now” students would have found it beneath them. On the other side of the coin, many of the graphics would appeal to elementary students, but many would be too far over their heads for comprehension. Further, the presenter’s guide is 18 pages long with only 2×3 pictures representing each slide, the rest is expository instruction seemingly intended for lecture while the slides are being shown. The sheer amount of material would be far too overwhelming in this form for any age, much less an elementary student. Another issue has to do with the fact that some of the slides appear to have the cartoon student flipping between looking at two or more pictures. This would clearly be distracting to any age student, especially as they are attempting to attend to the slide visually, the graphic, the lecture, and process everything. Several slides are irrelevant, confusing, too complex or misleading (Slides 14, 16, 17, 18, and 23). Lastly, although slides 25 and 27 provide illustrations representing “simple things to do” the graphics distract from the material and seem to be more for decoration sake than instruction (Laureate, n.d.). Sadly, I have to admit that two years ago I may have attempted to use this very slide set with my 9th graders, despite the ridicule for some of the childish illustrations. I am very glad that I know better now.

Lynn Munoz


Garmahis, M. (2009, September 9). Top 50 stupid, bad, banned ads and commercials [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Goodman, A. (2002). Why bad ads happen to good causes: And how to ensure they won’t happen to yours. Retrieved from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Introduction to graphics [Video]. Available from

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). Technology-centered vs. Learner-centered instruction [Video]. Available from

Lynch, P. J., & Horton, S. (2008). Web style guide (3rd Ed.). Retrieved from

Mayer, R. E. (2007). Five features of effective multimedia messages: An evidence-based approach. In S. M. Fiore & E. Salas (Eds.), Toward a science of distributed learning (pp. 171-184). doi: 10.1037/11582-008

Mugnai, F. (2010). 57 brilliant, clever, and creative print advertising. Only the best. [Web log message]. Retrieved from

National Wildlife Federation website. (2007). What’s up with global warming? Retrieved from

Purpose and guidelines for the effective use of web graphics. (2005-2008). Retrieved from

Attachment iconGraphic Examples.pdf


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