Sunday, March 21, 2010

Put the what into where now?

While assembling my new desk from IKEA tonight (yay for new new allen wrenches!) I was thinking about visual literacy. I struggle with directions that are written only in pictures; there were two pictograms at the beginning of the directions which I'm pretty sure were telling me that I should get someone to help me with this project, and also assemble the desk on a carpeted surface. However, in addition to having weak visual literacy skills, I also live alone and have wood floors.

As my recent forays into book trailer creation has emphasized for me, visual literacy is not my strong suit. But I got an overwhelming reaction to the book trailers, and almost all 50 books I had were grabbed by students; there is no doubt in my mind that that that would not have happened if I had only talked about the books. People respond to images. And even though I'm not always great at interpreting images, they always provoke a reaction in me. I feel comfortable with words. I like words. But not everyone does. And while I've always been sort of vaguely aware of it, the experience with the book railers really highlighted for me the fact that my students do a lot better with images than with words. But in order to present something in images, I have to be able to think in images first. Which, to put it simply, is hard.

Though perhaps my visual literacy skills are improving with practice; this is the first time I've assembled a desk that I haven't needed to take off the drawer runner thingies and put them on what I suddenly realize is the right way after 20 unsuccessful minutes of trying to put the drawer in.

I also recently read something in the New York Times Idea Blog about Exit signs that had me thinking that we, as a nation, might not have developed these skills:

Red, on the other hand, most often means danger, alert, halt, please don’t touch. Why confuse panicked evacuees with a sign that means right this way in a color that means stop? International designers tend to think our system is illogical and consider our rejection of the running man to be as dumb as our refusal to adopt that other sensible international norm, the metric system.

So I might be bad at this, but at least I'm not alone. And I'm going to keep working at it, if only so future furniture assembly involves fewer headaches, and also so I can design visual representations of famous movie quotes.


  1. I have THE WORST time w/ Ikea instructions. In the end, I have leftover parts and higher blood pressure. I now only buy ikea stuff that has no drawers or doors. For example, a coffee table is safe, a tv cabinet is not. I honestly think I'd be better off building from scratch. But oh those hot & fresh cinnamon buns @ Ikea are crack-cocaine. I know this post wasn't REALLY about ikea, but I couldn't help commenting on this issue.

  2. I never have leftover parts. Sometimes that means gluing the spare parts to the back of the furniture, but it's a matter of principle.