Chances are, you’ve studied rhetoric at some point in your academic career. Maybe the word brings to mind Aristotle or writing persuasive speeches. If the term rhetoric is new to you, then make a mental note that rhetoric is a term that refers to how we communicate effectively.

Communication is not just written or spoken words, however. If you examine how you perceive the world around you each day, you’ll find much more than words in written or spoken form. Much of what we understand about the world is a combination of what we read, hear, and see–the latter being especially important. The visual design of communication plays an incredible role in how and what we understand, and even how we feel about what we understand. And the term visual rhetoric refers to how we are persuaded by and understand the things we see.


A mobile phone and computer screen showing a wireframe design

A wireframe is a great lo-fi prototype to help you identify potential design issues early on. Visual rhetoric may be as simple as how the text looks on a page, from paragraphs and headings to colorful pictures and informational charts, to something as complex as a website that incorporates more communication and design elements, like colorful backgrounds, audio and video, navigational menus, icons, and interactive screens. From the design of an email to an instruction manual for a generator, the visual design of communication shapes how we make sense of things.

Whose job is it to ensure that communication is designed clearly and effectively? Everyone! You don’t need to be a designer or have skills in special software to design communication well. Most design choices are pretty logical once you develop a consistent approach to how you think about design.

This text will ask that you first consider the rhetorical situation–specifically your audience. Once you have some understanding of the situation and the problem you need to solve (i.e. designing a flyer for a specific target market, or creating a persuasive proposal), you’ll be able to apply visual strategies that will make your communication more effective.

Content on this page is written by Baye Herald for Technical Communication Across the Professions and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.



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Technical Communication Across the Professions Copyright © 2022 by Crystal Baye Herald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.