Is Visual Design an Important Part of Your Business Communication Course?

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