Visual Literacy and Language in Consumer Product Selection

Debra Satterfield
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When selecting a consumer product, we rely on both our emotions through brand recognition and our use of reason. When fewer options existed, consumers were able to more easily make product selections. But as product lines increased so did the level of complexity in making accurate product selections.

Since the early eighties, soft drink companies have expanded their product lines to include more and more variations based on their brands. For example, in 1982, Coca Cola introduced Diet Coke. In 1983, they added Caffeine Free diet Coke and in 1986 they added Diet Cherry Coke. In 2001, they started another series of expansions on the diet Coke line with Diet Lemon Coke (2001), Diet Vanilla Coke (2002) and Diet Lime Coke (2004). Currently they have six variations of Diet Coke (

Because of this explosion in options, millions of consumers are faced with making product selections based on strikingly similar graphics and only slight variations in product features. In some cases, strong brand identification may come at the expense of distinguishing specific products within a brand, in other situations branding may enhances a product's memorability. Preliminary findings suggest that consumer decision-making is compromised by excessive information on labels and packaging. Identification problems seem to occur when consumers are faced with multiple feature-laden brands. Non-native English speakers seem to be particularly hard hit in this area.

This research, based on a study of consumers responses, examines the relationship between branding elements, product features, and a consumers' ability to make accurate product selections. It will examine how education, formal training in the visual arts, and native language affect a person's ability to identify and interpret visual information. It will discuss how people interpret visual and verbal information in package design and examine the need to design for a diverse consumer population.

Keywords: Branding, Visual Literacy, Diversity, Graphic Design, Information Design
Stream: Aesthetics, Design
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Visual Literacy and Language in Consumer Product Selection

Debra Satterfield

Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Design College of Design, Iowa State University

Debra Satterfield received a B.S. degree with majors in computer science and art from Morningside College in Sioux City, IA and an M.F.A. degree in Graphic Design from Iowa State University. She currently teaches graduate and undergraduate graphic design at Iowa State University. She has presented research on visual literacy, the design of educational materials, and multi-sensory communication at numerous conferences including the American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA), the 6th Asian Design Conference (ACD), the International Visual Literacy Association (IVLA), and the Design Research Society (DRS). Her current research includes visual communication, multi-sensory design, interface design and designing for children with developmental delay and autism spectrum disorders.

Ref: H05P0321