George, “From Analysis to Design”

George, Diana. “From Analysis to Design: Visual Communication in the Teaching of Writing.” CCC 54.1 (2002): 11-39.

In this oft-cited essay, Diana George accounts for the vexed relationship between composition studies and visuality or visual studies. Only in rare cases does one find imaginative curricula that engage with visuality as a serious aspect of composition. George works through many of the default presumptions about visuality, its history as something most often aligned with technical communication (charts, diagrams, and graphs). Her central argument calls for a renewed legitimacy of the visual in composition studies.

Two catalysts for this argument are W.J.T. Mitchell’s Picture Theory, in which he describes a “pictorial turn,” and the New London Group’s 1996 manifesto on multiliteracies. Following the New London Group’s emphasis on design, George argues for visuality as productive practice rather than consumptive, analytical, or critical (i.e., non-productive) practice. George is after a more sophisticated account of visuality, and she pursues this by historicizing the question (visuality?) in popular composition textbooks like McCrimmon’s Writing with a Purpose and Bartholomae and Petrosky’s inclusion of John Berger in Ways of Reading. George wants to present and also depart from a (media-anxious) tradition in composition studies throughout which “visual studies has been perceived as a threat to
language and literacy instruction
” (15).

To conclude, George calls attention to her own pedagogy and her work with what she calls “visual argument.” Still, design is a generative (core) term in the renewal of visuality in composition studies (she locates the minimal attention to visuality in layout standards for research papers–a sort of anti-design). Also, George mentions multimodal design (18); perhaps this is the first appearance of the term in CCC.

Key terms: Mitchell’s pictorial turn (13), NLG’s multiliteracies (13), producers (13), technical writing (14), visual studies as threat (15), curricular context (15), reading pictures (15), media revolution (16), new literacy (17), mass media and anxiety (17), design (18, 25), mutimodal! design (18), visual appearance and dumbing down (19), visual analysis (21), Berger in Ways of Reading (23), academic decorum (25), research paper and page design (25), desktop publishing (26), comics (27), visual argument (28), art work (28).

“Or, even more to the point–our students have a much richer imagination for what we might accomplish with the visual than our journals have yet to address” (12).

“In place of a resolution, then, I am after a clearer understanding of what can happen when the visual is very consciously brought into the composition classroom as a form of communication worth both examining and producing” (14).

“In the end, I argue that the terms of debate typical in our discussions of visual literacy and the teaching of writing have limited the kinds of assignments we might imagine for composition” (15).

“Only rarely do we encounter a suggestion that students might become producers as well as receivers or victims of mass media, especially visual media” (18).

“Yet, without a concept like the notion of design, these older media assignments seem to be stuck in a kind of literacy civil war–one that pits poetics against the popular and words against pictures” (19).

“Running through much of the composition literature of the period, assignments linked to images carried with them a call for relevance, the need to make this dull, required class more interesting, and the suggestion that less verbal students would perhaps succeed with pictures where they could not with words” (21).

“Instead, the push in the eighties was to continue to explore what visuals could teach students about their written compositions” (23).

“To talk of literacy instruction in terms of design means to ask writers to draw on available knowledge and, at the same time, transform that knowledge/those forms as we redesign” (26).

“What such a question [asked by Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola in “Blinded by the Letter”], and others like it, does lead to, however, is a new configuration of verbal/visual relationships, one that does allow for more than image analysis, image-as-prompt, or image as dumbed-down language” (32).

Related sources:
Faigley, Lester. “Material Literacy and Visual Design.” Rhetorical Bodies: Toward a Material Rhetoric. Ed. Jack Selzer and Sharon Crowley. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1999. 171–201.
Trimbur, John. The Call to Write. New York: Longman, 1999.
Wysocki, Anne Frances. “Monitoring Order: Visual Desire, the Organization of Web Pages, and Teaching the Rules of Design.” Kairos 3.2 (Fall 1998). 12 Jun. 2002 <>.