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Archive for the 'Visual Design' Category

BT VideosHere is the third video in our new series that addresses a variety of specific communication challenges and offers practical advice that students can apply now in their coursework and take with them on the job.

This video helps students understand the nuances of visual ethics and gives them a framework for making ethical choices when they create visuals for reports, presentations, and other communication projects.

Instructor version (concludes with information about the Bovée & Thill business communication series, including links to order examination copies)

Student version (identical to the instructor version, except for the textbook information)



VisuallyInfographics tend to fall into two basic categories: stylized data presentations and narratives. The former, such as this piece on customer satisfaction and loyalty, don’t necessarily convey any more information than basic charts and graphs in a conventional report or webpage would, but their communication value lies in their ability to catch the audience’s attention and the ease with which they can be distributed online.

The latter go beyond this, taking full advantage of the visual medium to tell stories or show interconnected processes. These infographics can be powerful communication tools, even to the point of replacing conventional reports. This infographic from the Sustainable America initiative, for example, uses the infographic format to explain how to compost successfully even if you live in an apartment. Narrative infographics can become quite elaborate, such as this animated piece on the story of coffee production.

For a class activity, ask students to find several narrative-style infographics online ( is a good place to start) and analyze their storytelling effectiveness. Does each infographic tell an effective story? How does it use emotional and logical elements to make its case? Does it use any suspect or oversimplified information (failing to differentiate correlation and causation seems to be a common sin among infographic designers)?

Creating professional-quality infographics is beyond the reach of the average business communicator, but if you'd like to have students give infographic design a try, they can draw sketches by hand or use the simple graphical tools in word processing or presentation software.

Some of us have been around long enough to remember when business communication was a fairly specialized activity. Writers wrote, typesetters set type, art directors designed, graphic artists created, photographers took photos, and production specialists equipped with X-Acto knives combined all these elements on the page.

Then along came desktop publishing software, word processors that were more than glorified typewriters, graphics software, presentation software, and eventually web publishing software. With each advance, more and more design and production responsibility wound up in the writer's lap. In addition to grammar, spelling, and syntax, business communicators now had to worry about typeface choices, leading, color palettes, page composition, image resolution, and a host of other aesthetic and technical concerns. "Business writing" gradually became "business communication" in the broadest sense, and often not to the benefit of communicators or their audiences.

In addition to burdening writers with creative and technical matters in which they often are not trained, this gradual melding of design and production into the writing task steals time and attention away from the writing itself. Presentation software is a great example of this risk: with so many tools (and toys) available in the software, it can be devilishly hard to stay focused on the message one is trying to develop and convey.

Templates and themes can be a powerful way to incorporate design sensibility and to eliminate some of the design decisions that business communicators would otherwise be forced to make. However, choosing and using these guides successfully requires at least a minimum degree of design savvy. Even the safest PowerPoint template or WordPress theme can be misused by communicators who don't appreciate how visual design affects their verbal messages.

Now that so many business professionals need some basic design skills just to survive in their day-to-day work, where are they likely to get this training? Given the many other learning goals you have to incorporate in the business communication course, how much time can you devote to visual design? Do your students get exposure to visual design in other courses (such as presentation slide design in a public speaking course)?

We'd love to hear your thoughts on how you address this challenge. And for ideas on teaching visual communication in your course, be sure to check out Bovee & Thill's Teaching Visual Communication magazine on

The project management blog Fear No Project provides a good example of how less can be more when a writer wants to keep the focus on textual content. As this annotated PowerPoint slide shows, the design is about as minimal as one can possibly get, but it supports blogger Bruce McGraw's goal of sharing in-depth project management information with his readers.