You’ve probably heard the old saying, “A picture is worth 1,000 words.” And most of us agree. But how many of us are using the full force of graphic design to enhance our presentations?

If you are the type of presenter who focuses the majority of your energy on the words you will say, there’s no inherent problem with that. Words are definitely an important part of any presentation. However, the world we live in is increasingly using images to speak for us and to us. One interesting take on the power of images falls in the realm of design activism. In an interview with Erin Mays for Print magazine, author, artist, and professor Noah Scalin says, “Design activism is about using the incredible power of visual communication as a tool for making positive transformation in our world.”

Graphics can no longer be an afterthought of our presentations. So let’s look at a few icons to see how designers are using images to create social change. Hopefully, these stories will challenge you to put graphic design at the forefront of every presentation you give and to see images as another language tool for inspiring your audience and changing the world.

The Accessible Icon Project

Sarah Hendren is the co-founder of the Accessible Icon Project. Along with Brian Glenney, Hendren started a street campaign in 2011 in Boston. They placed sticker decals over the International Symbol of Access which was designed by Susanne Koefoed in the 1960s. Hendren says, “We knew that editing the old signs as graffiti would pose questions more provocatively than a “better” icon, rendered professionally . . . we wanted this icon-action to be the occasion for asking questions about disability . . . Framing this work as a street art campaign allowed it to live as a question, rather than a resolved proposition.” In this instance, the sticker is provocative, speaking volumes with a single image, as good design often does.

Lessons for Presenters: Don’t be afraid to use design to pose questions. The presence of both the historical icon and the updated, overlaid one sends a powerful message, one that is both thought-provoking and unresolved. Design doesn’t always have to be the answer. Sometimes it can be the question. In addition, remember that design can be gritty. It can lend itself to forms and bend to channels that words might otherwise get lost in.

The Human Rights Campaign Logo

You’ve probably seen the logo of the Human Rights Campaign. But did you know that this icon by Stone Yamashita design firm was originally yellow and blue? The yellow equal sign on a blue background was unveiled in 1995 to promote equal rights for LGBTQ Americans. But if you are more familiar with the red and pink version of this logo, there’s a good reason for that. In March of 2013, two marriage equality cases were being tried before the U.S. Supreme Court. In order to garner support and attention for those cases, HRC created a red and pink version of their 1995 logo “because the color is synonymous with love.” The logo went viral, with Facebook alone showing a 120% increase in profile photo updates as people shared the logo on their pages to demonstrate support.

Lessons for Presenters: Don’t be afraid to keep designs simple. Sometimes a well-known symbol, a clean design, or a strong color choice is all you need to create impact and change. In addition, tap into the shareable power of icons. You might have a well-written paragraph in your presentation. But what are the chances that paragraph will go viral? On the other hand, an image that speaks volumes can be passed along at astounding speeds and reach farther than those perfectly crafted words.

In no way do we wish to undermine the power of words. Rather, we simply want to elevate the power of great design. If you are a wordsmith, your skills are valuable. But accompany them with the power of the image, and your presentation will have greater impact and reach.

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