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Visual Literacy

Open to: Grades 7-12
Eligibility: CTY-level or Advanced CTY-level verbal score required
Challenge Level: College Freshman
Course Format: Session Based. See calendar for session dates and application deadlines. 
Recommended School Credit: One-half academic year
Course Length: 10 weeks (Early Fall, Late Fall, Winter, Spring); 12 weeks (Early Summer); or 5 weeks (intensive Late Summer)
Course Code: VLIT

Course Description

About Visual Fluency

quiz question

Digital technology has made the ability to create and share images commonplace. "The ability to both read and write visual information; the ability to learn visually; to think and solve problems in the visual domain - will, as the information revolution evolves, become a requirement for success in business and in life," says Dave Gray.

Visual fluency is now as vital as verbal fluency to success in college and life. These courses incorporate principles of communication theory, design theory, cognitive psychology, and art history to provide a basic understanding of the fundamental principles of effective visual communication.

Visual Literacy

Have you ever thought about what makes certain visual images effective? In this course, you will explore the components of a visual message. You will recognize the building blocks of visual composition and learn to deconstruct and analyze visual messages. The images used in this course include historically significant images as well as student contributions of displays seen in everyday life. In this course, students develop a vocabulary for visual critique to be a more careful and precise observer and a more descriptive writer.

This course does not have any synchronous class meetings, but students may schedule one-on-one virtual meetings directly with the instructor.

Students may be invited to interact in CTY community spaces that include students and instructors and potentially specially invited guests that are not enrolled in their course. Videos from YouTube or other web providers may be present in courses. Video recommendations or links provided at end of videos are generated by the video host provider and are not CTY recommendations.  Student contributions (e.g., projects, forum posts, etc.) may remain in the course after the student completes the course. These artifacts may be preserved to showcase student work or to continue important conversations.

Materials Needed

Down to Recommended Software


Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. William Morrow Paperbacks.
ISBN: 978-0060976255 Available in many bookstores.

cover of understanding comics

Seeing the Future -- you can download the pdf.cover of seeing the future

Recommended Software

Photoshop, which costs, or GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), which is free.


For this course, your operating system's built-in image software (Paint for Windows or Paintbrush for Mac) is adequate.

Detailed Course Information

Course Details

Visual Literacy

Lesson 1: Putting the "eye" in communication

Visual Rhetoric
Designing Visual Communication- Sender-Receiver Theory
How We See
Value and Hue
Color: Building Block of Design
Image Cognition Assignment (ICA)

Lesson 2: The Whole Greater than a Sum of its Parts

Best Practices in Image Use
Dot & Line: Building Blocks of Design
Gestalt: The Whole is the Sum of its Parts
Optical Illusions and Gestalt
Actively Viewing Images
Image Cognition Assignment (ICA)

Lesson 3: The Signifier and the Sign

Shape: Building Block of Design
Visual Semiotics
Semiotics: Intended and Unintended meanings
Images and Authenticity
Aesthetics and signs
Image Cognition Assignment (ICA)

Lesson 4: Wired for Visual Persuasion

Persuasive Visuals
Texture and Lighting: Building Blocks of Design
Appealing to Reason: Presenting Visual Data
Sequencing and Motion
Infographics for visual persuasion
Image Cognition Assignment (ICA)

Lesson 5: Visuals for Diverse Audiences

Considering Cross-cultural Audiences
The Role of Images of People Across Cultures
Depth and Perspective
Color: Persuading Different Audiences
Cross-cultural Semiotics and Persuasion
Image Cognition Assignment (ICA)

Time Required

  • 3 hours weekly for the 10-week or 12-week sessions (Fall, Winter, Spring, Early Summer)
  • 2 hours daily Monday - Friday during the intensive 5-week session (Late Summer)

Sample First Assignment


Note: The links and videos in this .pdf do not work.

Technical Requirements

This course requires a properly maintained computer with high-speed internet access and an up-to-date web browser (such as Chrome or Firefox). The student must be able to communicate with the instructor via email. Visit the Technical Requirements and Support page for more details.



“The course was great, and overall my favorite course I've done.”  

“I was so pleased to find this kind of course available for my son. I'm very grateful for the in-depth curriculum you offered in this field-it's a unique offering and it's so great to have this available to young students. . . . . My son has repeatedly commented that he's so glad he's taken this course, and is very excited to continue the series. Highly recommended for any kid who is interested in design and visual communication.”