Visual Rhetoric for Tech Comm

ENC 4218 | Spring 2016 | Dr. Marc C. Santos

Course Introduction

Welcome to Visual Rhetoric. Our goals this semester involve develop language and lens for thinking about how visuals shape the way we think, feel, and act. Additionally, we will be using digital tools–including image editing and digital publishing software–to construct persuasive images and design accessible and stylistic documents. We will develop methods, driven by genre research, to aid in our composing process.

Required Materials

The required course texts are available from the bookstore or from

  • Gries, Laurie. Still Life with Rhetoric.
  • Golombisky & Hagen, Whitespace is Not Your Enemy. 2nd Edition.
  • Adobe InDesign CS6 Classroom in a Book w/ DVD

Additionally, project one requires two full color 11×17 printed posters. Project three requires one full color 11×17 printed poster. If you do not have access to a color printer, Staples offers poster printing for $9.99 and Office Max offers the same service for 12.99.

Major Projects

This semester we will work on 4 projects.

Project One: Presidential Campaign Posters

Our first project grows out of Laurie Gries’ recent book Still Life With Rhetoric, in which she articulates a theory of rhetoric that focuses on how everyday objects act in ways that shape and determine human thought and action. We will dedicate our attention to the final chapters of Gries’ book, which offer a case study of the famous Obama Hope campaign poster from 2008. This first project lays the theoretical groundwork for considering what (visual) rhetoric is. It also will introduce image editing and basic principles of visual production. It will also expose you to print production.


  • Presidential Campaign Poster: You will research, design, and print a full color presidential campaign poster
  • Poster Research Report: You will write a 300-500 word report that articulates your research project, influences, and design choices that inform your Presidential Campaign Poster.
  • Poster Remix: Following Gries’ research on the remixes of Obama’s “Hope” poster, I will ask you to remix a poster developed by one of your classmates.

Project Two: Book Project

Our second project is inspired by an episode of the long-since-cancelled Bravo show Work of Art. This project asks you to work in teams of two to design the cover and textual layout of a book in public domain. Specifically, we will be working with poetry (so that we get more experience thinking about typography and page layout than with a traditional text). As with our first project, a cornerstone of this project will involve genre research (both an awareness of other covers and field research into page size and layout for other editions). This project will build allow additional practice with image editing and will begin our experience with Adobe InDesign. Finally, you will construct and give a visual presentation that highlights your research and design choices.


  • .indd file [note: we will not be printing these files] that includes formatted text, including title page, mock copyright page, editor’s introduction, at least 20 pages of material, and a properly formatted book cover.
  • Visual Presentation (Powerpoint, Prezi, Google Presentation, etc).

Project Three: Infographic Project

For this capstone project, you and a partner design an infographic, a progressive type of persuasive data visualization. Precisely what you visualize will be up to you, I only ask that it require the creation of data-driven graphs or charts.


  • One infographic (printed) designed and executed in photoshop.
  • One report (300-500 words) documenting your design research, process, and decision-making.

Project Four: ReVisualization

Our fourth and final project, in lieu of a final exam, asks you to locate and redesign an existing visual in line with the design principles we have discussed and refined all semester. The nature of these projects will likely differ and I will work with you individually on deliverables and expectations.

Other Coursework

In addition to the major projects above, the course will involve weekly workshops using Adobe InDesign (or other tools), reading responses, and/or other research activities that will be submitted via canvas.


Your grade this semester breaks down like this:

  • Project One:
    • Presidential Poster 10%
    • Design Report 5%
    • Remix 5%
  • Project Two:
    • .indd file 15%
    • Visual Presentation 10%
  • Project Three:
    • Infographic 15%
    • Design Report 5%
  • Project Four:
    • ReVisualization 15%
  • Coursework:
    • Photoshop & InDesign Workshops 15%
    • Other 5%


Things change, roll with it.

Week One (Jan 12/14)

Tuesday: Course Introduction. Introduction to rhetoric. Setting up the Gries reading.
Homework: Read introduction to White Space.

Thursday: Working with Adobe Photoshop (tutorial on adjustment layers, basic tools tutorial, and a longer video tutorial by Terry White.
Homework: Read Gries Chapter 1, pages 1-14 and 135-145. Read White Space chapter 1 and 2. Do one more Photoshop tutorial on your own (maybe one like this that works with text and layers). As you read the first 14 pages of Gries, look out for why she thinks a new materialist approach to visual rhetoric is important.

Week Two (Jan 19/21)

Tuesday: Working through Gries’ first chapter (35 minutes). Introduce Presidential Poster project
Homework: Finish Gries, chapter 6 (145-176).

Thursday: Photoshop Workshop #2.
Homework: Read Gries, chapter 8 (203-243). Read/research presidential poster (you might start here). Also, look for inspiration–what other famous visual could you use as the foundation for a presidential poster?

Week Three (Jan 26/28)

Tuesday: Discuss Gries, check in on project ideas and questions. We’ll read chapter 4 of White Space together in class. I will ask you to design a flyer for a bake sale that breaks as many rules as possible in Photoshop.

Homework: Read White Space chapters 6 (Layout) and 14 (Printing a Document).

Thursday: NO ClASS
Homework: Read White Space chapter 5. Work on your presidential poster.

Week Four (Feb 2/4)

Tuesday: Review Presidential poster project expectations. Work day.
Homework: Finish and print posters and design report.

Thursday: Poster Work Day. Poster and Paper will be due in class on Tuesday, February 9th.
Homework: Complete poster project. Read Gries Chapter 8.

Week Five (Feb 9/11)

Tuesday: Poster Presentation Day. Introduce Remix project (based on Gries chapter 8). Share .psd files
Homework: Compose poster remixes.

Thursday: Work on remixes.
Homework: Read White Space chapter 8.

Week Six (Feb 16/18)

Tuesday: Share Poster Remixes. Introduce Project 2. Gutenberg Poetry Bookshelf.
Homework: Begin researching your book project.

Thursday: Adobe InDesign #1 workshop.
Homework: Read White Space chapter 9. At home, do Adobe InDesign #2 and #3.

Week Seven (Feb 23/25)

Tuesday: Check in on InDesign workshops. Watch Bravo Work of Art episode.
Homework: Adobe InDesign #4 workshop. Flow your text into InDesign.

Thursday: Adobe InDesign #5 workshop.
Homework: Adobe InDesign #6 and #7 workshops. Format your text in InDesign.

Week Eight (Mar 1/3)

Tuesday: Project Check (I’ll meet with groups to hear about progress).
Homework: Complete book draft for peer reviews.

Thursday: We will peer review book projects and covers in class.
Homework: Adobe InDesign #8. Revise book project.

Week Nine (Mar 8/10)

Tuesday: Crash course on Visual Presentations.
Homework: Complete Complete book presentation and project.

Thursday: Book Project presentations.
Homework: None.

Week Ten (Mar 16/18)

Spring Break.

The rest of the course calendar is forthcoming.

Archived Course Description

I think you probably all have a handle on what the term “visual” means. I doubt as many of you are as familiar with the term rhetoric. The term first emerged in Ancient Greece as a pejorative term; Plato introduced the term as a way of distinguishing sophist teachers, who taught argumentative performance, from his own philosophical school. Plato was skeptical of rhetoricians, since they endorsed forms of truth that challenged his preference for reason (what we call logos). Rhetoricians, Plato’s student Aristotle noted, weren’t as interested in discovering the truth as much as engendering persuasion, which often requires we rely on the character of the speaker (ethos), the norms of a community (ethos), the timeliness of circumstances (kairos), or the emotional impact of a decision (pathos). Philosophy and rhetoric (or, as can be otherwise called politics and law) have waged a two millenium battle over the propriety of persuasion. To their credit the sophists argued that Plato’s quest for truth had very little impact on the real world–their concern was how to provoke people into action. At its heart, the battle between Plato and the sophists was a battle over whether to change how people think or what people do.

Starting in the 20th century, rhetoric’s focus shifted from persuasion (its dominant concern in an oral culture) to identification (which we often align with literacy). Persuasion is a conscious activity–the product of deliberation and choice. Identification, a theoretical concept introduced by Kenneth Burke, marks the unconscious process by which we identify ourselves with and divide ourselves from others. Such a process, Burke noted, was a pre-requisite to any attempt at persuasion. Contemporary rhetorical theory, growing out of postmodern philosophy, stresses the extent to which our identities are the products of our positions in material, social, and discursive networks. Of course, the images we encounter, on our televisions, our billboards, our phones, our computers, (in)form our notion of ourselves.

In the 20th and 21st century, the image has become the dominant social form of information. As both professional writers and humanities scholars, it is no longer sufficient to study simply words, since words often compose such a small amount of the total message. The Internet has spurned an interest in sophistic political practice (how do we harvest all those couch potatoes, nurtured by the television, into a body of doing?). This course reflects this new emphasis on design and composition; we’re not just reading images, but we are learning to compose them. We are attending to the ways in which design can improve comprehension and motivate action.

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