How to Do a Visual Analysis (A Five-Step Process)

One of the best ways to improve visual literacy and visual communication skills is to analyze a visual artifact of some kind. If you haven’t done one before, a visual analysis can seem kind of overwhelming. Doing one requires you to think about a visual artifact of some kind, whether it be a billboard on the side of the freeway, an Andy Warhol painting, or a new toaster for sale, and actually have something important to say about it. A visual analysis requires you to think about what the artifact is, what its role in society is, and the impact is has had or probably will have on viewers. To do such an analysis, you need to understand how to do five  important things:

1) choose a visual artifact that has meaning, purpose, or intrigue;
2) research the artifact to understand its context;
3) evaluate the rhetorical devices the artifact uses to affect an audience;
4) examine the design principles the artifact employs;
5) make a sophisticated argument about the topic based on your analysis.

It’s been my experience that students approaching a visual analysis assume that they have to find a visual artifact that is overtly controversial (like a racy lingerie ad using teenagers to sell products) or else there is nothing to say about it. However, thousands and thousands of visual objects and images that surround us make statements that are worth evaluating. In fact, you might check out a student example of an a visual analysis about the Volkswagen Beetle “Lemon” ad to see just how a seemingly mundane topic can be quite interesting.

With that in mind, I put together a 5-step process for putting together an effective visual analysis. If you would like to use this infographic for teaching or other purposes, feel free to download the PDF version. You can find other helpful free downloads on my resources page.

How to Do a Visual Analysis

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