Visual Literacy and Universal Design

One of the few difficulties I’ve faced in living overseas and taking an online Masters is waiting on textbooks to make their way across the Pacific. For my EdTech 506—Graphic Design for Learning course, I’ve been waiting on my “Creating Graphics for Learning and Performance: Lessons in Visual Literacy” textbook for a few weeks and putting off my assignments while it comes in. Now that it’s finally showed up, I’ve got some back-work to do. Here’s my Week 2 assignment on Visual Literacy and Universal Design.

It’s too bad that, after living in Taiwan for 5 years, I still have yet to learn any written Chinese and barely any verbal Mandarin 1. Basic errands that would be easy to accomplish in my home country are very difficult to get done here, especially shopping. Recently, I went to Costco with my wife, looking specifically for a Brita filter that might leave us with cleaner drinking water. It took me a surprising amount of time to get to the section of the store that I needed to be in, but once I was there, I found the filters and tried to confirm that I would easily be able to replace it. I was delighted to see the following image:

Apologies for the poor quality, but I had to snap a picture of this wonderful diagram with my cell phone.

Apologies for the poor quality, but I had to snap a picture of this wonderful diagram with my cell phone.

What amazing instructional design! The only English characters on the entire package (other than the Brita company logo) simply refer to the order of the steps (and a few pieces of words, like “click” and “ok”); otherwise, the diagram is clear enough that it probably could have been designed in America and easily carried over to other countries around the world. It’s clear from the instructions that one must:

  1. pull out the old filter;
  2. wash out the tank;
  3. shake around the new filter in the tank;
  4. install the filter and reset the replace-the-filter timer;
  5. and run a full tank’s worth of water through the filter before drinking.

It’s clear that the symbols are to be understood by consumers without any previous training, experience, or language skills. What is interesting is that, through only simple line diagrams and 3 basic colors (white, light blue, and dark blue), one can easily understand what are the steps that need to be accomplished before drinking clean water.

In addition to the visual design, there is also something to be said about how the Brita tank itself is designed. Seemingly similar to a regular water jug, the Brita’s “magic” comes from running regular tap water through the “entry point”, where it’s filtered clean and then pour-able without the dirty water contaminating the clean water. It’s an interesting design that is very easy to understand, and its simplicity makes it easy for any lay person without any training to understand.

I learned a lot from researching visual literacy and universal design, and I’m looking forward to seeing how graphic design is used around us every day to make our lives better!

Lohr, Linda, L. (2008).  Creating Graphics for Learning and Performance, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


  1. For whatever reason, I can only say “left”, “right”, and “pimple” in Chinese. It’s weird the things you learn.
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