Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Visual Literacy: A Necessary Skill for Planning Graduates?

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Visual Literacy: A Necessary Skill for Planning Graduates?

Article excerpt

Visions of the future inform planning decisions. Yet it is often unclear where our visions stem from, or whether we, as planners, have the visual literacy skills to effectively communicate multiple stakeholder visions. Our decisions could be based on past experience and exposure to past external and internal images (Neuman 1996). However, these previously seen images could influence us as planners, in different ways depending on our visual literacy skills. Visual literacy, frequently perceived to be the domain of the Arts and Humanities, is concerned here with the ". . . kind of literacy that might serve for the entire university community, across all disciplines" (Elkins, 2008, p.3).

The concept of visual literacy as used in the case study is explored through a survey of advanced planning students and interviews with planners working in the profession. This research is underpinned by theory from photojournalism, environmental health and planning disciplines.


The literacy capacity of Planners and the various aspects of design production informing their visual literacy are difficult to assess. In this project, visual literacy consists of utilitarian competency elements and an ability to evaluate, understand, interpret and use images in promoting 'social influences that are ultimately global in their consequences' (Crouch, 2008, p.204). In planning terms visualisation is used to open up planning processes for participation, increased understanding and improved quality of decision making (Al-Kodmany, 1999; Appleton and Lovett, 2003).

This project identifies visualisation skills of value to planning graduates so that they may focus more effectively on the merit of images as effective methods to inform consultation and planning decisions. We argue that images should not be used for illustrative purposes alone.

However, these tend to assume but not specify visual literacy in its broader social sense (Vanolo 2008). According to Sheppard (2005, p.646), important 'attributes of visualisation' include realism, environmental relevance, immediacy, affective content, and implications; these, he espouses, are better accessed via immersion, dynamic imagery, and interactivity. Rose (2001, p. 4) proposes that we should use visual methodology to 'discipline ... passion, not to deaden it'.

The visualisation methods in Table One are derived from planning literature. The descriptive use of 2D GIS is the dominant technique in terms of the number of publications debating best practice in its application. Neuman (1996) contends that planners, carry the images of location in their mind, thus research is needed to identify how these images are used and abused in the planning process. Studios and workshops have been the common method of teaching and applying the various visualisation methods presented in Figure 1 (Wetmore and Heuman, 1988, p. 143; Gurren et al., 2008, p.l8). Gurren et al comment that workshops or studios are an important bridge between conceptual understanding and practical application of knowledge. However, as planning programs face resource pressures, intensive educational methods such as studios and workshops become difficult to manage, especially given restrictions on casual teaching support (Gurren et al., 2008, p.42).

Callow (2008, p. 617), in discussing the use of visualisation methods in education, claims that 'a multi-literate individual will need to have a variety of skills to make meaning of all types of texts', a point particularly relevant to Planners as they make sense of multiple texts including but not limited to written text, photographs, graphs, and 2 & 3D models - paper-based, physical or electronic - to inform and communicate planning decisions at different levels for and with various stakeholders and audiences. Callow proposes 'an approach that can be situated coherently alongside the other literacies and the broader sets of professional and social practices being taught at the core of the University curriculum'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.