Visual Framing: Getting People Into the Picture

How can we use visuals to enhance the effectiveness of our communications on social issues? A couple of well-chosen photos can really help make your communications more engaging. Whether it’s a brochure, a blog post, a print ad, or a PSA, visuals can actually help people think about your issue more easily.

However, it’s important to recognize that images can also work in unintended and unproductive ways.

Putting people in your pictures helps your audience relate to your issue on a human level. Using pictures of individuals is common enough, but can subtly change who or what your audience sees as responsible for both the problems and solutions embedded in your issue.

How does this picture communicate ed reform?

What does the above picture tell us about education reform? It tells us that this child is doing well in school, as evidenced by the “A+” on his homework. The clear message is that this child has empowered himself to achieve and succeed. This picture has been used as a way to promote education reform, but it does nothing to communicate that any teacher, parent, policy or program helped this child or his classmates.

In contrast, consider the next picture below. It shows a group of children learning together led by a teacher. This is a type of image that conveys a notion of collectivity. This is a group that is working together and, perhaps, even aided by new policies such as lower classroom size or improved teacher training. By portraying people in meaningful social contexts, audiences can see the structures, systems, and environments which good public policy can change for the benefit of communities.

What kind of message does this image reinforce?

When using images, we want to make sure they reinforce our main message and help audiences visualize what that message may look like in practice. Do your organizational images reinforce or contradict your message on social issues? 

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