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Clear & Simple: Developing Effective Print Materials for Low-Literate Readers

  • Updated: 02/27/2003

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Appendix 3: Visuals

  • Visuals are relevant to the text, meaningful to the audience, and appropriately located.
  • Illustrations and photographs are simple and free from clutter and distraction.
  • Visuals use adult rather than childlike images.
  • Visuals have captions. Each visual illustrates one message.

While this series of illustrations is easy to understand, it does not insult the reader by appearing cute. The drawings also avoid seeming childlike by crediting the reader's adult life experience in the kitchen.

Example: Keep Your Food Safe

  • Illustrations show familiar images that reflect cultural context.
  • Different styles, such as photographs without background detail, shaded line drawings, or simple line drawings, are pretested with the audience to determine which is understood best.

This idea is especially important for low-literacy publications targeted to ethnic cultures.

In the first example, from Diabetes and Native Americans, the illustration shows a traditional Native American theme. This picture accompanies text discussing the negative effect on Native American health of a change to modern lifestyles. A Native American artist prepared the visuals.

The second example, shown on the next page, targets the booklet to an Hispanic audience. A simple line drawing is used to illustrate the booklet.

Example One: Diabetes and Native Americans


Diabetes is a major health problem for Native American adults. It is mainly due to changes in eating and exercise.

Elders can recall times when people gathered and hunted food for simple meals. People walked a lot.

Now, we buy food at stores. We drive cars rather than walk to places.

Example Two: Cómo cuidar a su hijo antes del nacimiento

  • Cues, such as circles or arrows, point out key information.

Visuals that draw the reader's eye to important points are an effective form of emphasis. The Pap Test, for example, uses an arrow to make sure readers move on to the next page; the device has been shown effective for this purpose in a number of pretesting experiences. If You've Ever Had VD, Learn About AIDS, puts circles by its core messages.

Example One: The Pap Test: It Can save Your Life!

Example Two: If You've Ever Had VD, Learn About AIDS

  • Colors used are appealing to the audience (as determined by pretesting).

Although much of an audience's response to color is idiosyncratic, some have an objective basis. Bright colors, for example, often get the most attention because they are the most noticeable. Some colors or color combinations are harder to see; older people, for instance, often have difficulty seeing words or shapes that are yellow. Dark type usually is easier to read than light-colored type, and many have trouble reading type that is "reversed," light-colored letters on a dark background color.

Example One: Keep Your Food Safe

Example Two: The Pap Test: It Can save Your Life!