Communicating Health Information to Patients: A Collaborative Visual Communication Design Approach

In: Learning to See: The Meanings, Modes and Methods of Visual Literacy

There is an abundance of literature that shows that verbal communication is frequently misunderstood by patients. While verbal and textual information can be appropriate for health literate audiences, information tailored to the needs of children is limited. This chapter focuses on the education of child and adolescent patients and proposes that visual communication can address this gap through the use of collaboratively designed visual materials. Visuals have the benefit of making complex information accessible to various audiences and clinical populations. As well as being easily stored and re-called by cognitive systems, visuals are particularly beneficial in the education of children as they are central to child culture from a very early age through artefacts such as picture books which are a first encounter with visual literacy. As health professionals are not necessarily trained to produce visuals, and designers are not necessarily health experts, multidisciplinary collaboration is required. Within this team, the designer functions as visual literacy expert and the health professional as clinical knowledge expert, sharing domain-relevant skills and creativity-relevant skills. By merging knowledge bases a holistic approach to picture-based health communication can be achieved. This chapter discusses these factors within the framework of a qualitative case study in a women’s and children’s hospital in South Australia, focusing primarily on collaboration between the disciplines of graphic design and health. The chapter demonstrates that encouraging the designer to visit the health field enables visual materials to be customised to the teaching requirements of the health professional and the learning requirements of the audience. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the design of visual education materials is avoided. Additionally, the importance of prototype testing with the target audience and the ways this testing can be used to optimise visual learning opportunities are explored.


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