A Review of Essentials of Visual Communication, by Bo Bergstrom
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Lawrence King Publishers who offered to sent me a free copy of the large and glossy book Essentials of Visual Communication, by Bo Bergstom. Nice gesture, of course, but, as many of us, I am typically skeptical of publishers' offers of free books thinking that all they are trying to do is get me to make my students buy their books. The composition marjket in the US seems to keep reprinting the same books under new titles every year, and I have stopped hoping for some new views on composition teaching coming from the big players in the publishing industry in this country.
Bergstom's book truly does not disappoint, and I'd seriously consider using it next time I teach visual rhetoric. Here's why.
The way I see it, texts on visual communication typically fall into one of two categories:
- highly theoretical and sometimes inaccessible to undergraduates. See, for example Kress and Van Leeuwen's Reading Images: Grammar of Visual Design. It is an excellent text, but you need a serious background in linguistics and semiotics to understand its argument. I have assigned that book in the past and my students bravely tried to work through it, but I felt that it was usually a little above their heads (and my own head too, at times, for that matter). Another title from this category would be Hill and Helmers' Defining Visual Rhetorics. This book is different from Kress and Van Leeuwen's work in that it tries to look at manifestations of visual persuasion in various "life" situations. The essays are engaging, but they, too might be a little two theoretical for an average undergraduate.
- In the other category are books that are typically geared towards technical and scientific communication students and professionals and focus on the utilitarian practicalities of document and graphic design. Surely, they include some theory and conceptual discussions, but their primary goal is to tell about the "hows," rather than the "whys." This is not a criticism of such titles, just that their purpose is to provide practical solutions to people who want those solutions. Among such titles is Kimball and Hawkins' Document Design: A Guide for Technical Communicators. It is a very good text, but its audience is fairly narrow and it considers document design and visual communication in the context of what technical communicators do when they design documents, nothing else.
The attractive aspect of this book is the combination of accessibly discussed "larger issues" behind visual communication and practical steps for implementation of visual communication projects. A good portion of the book is devoted to what I'd call ways of conducting rhetorical analyses of visual texts, or critical reading of those texts. There is also a section on story telling with images, which is a very nice addition since more other texts are missing those types of discussions.
The second half of the book is devoted to practical issues and strategies: fonts, color schemes, interplay of media, and so on.
I was also pleasantly surprised to see the image of the fascinating Web Trend Subway Map, as well as the inclusion into the discussion of various forms and media of visual communication, from text and still image, to television and sound.
Overall, this is a very comprehensive text, one worth looking at if you teach or study visual persuasion and communication.