Journal*

Graphicacy

The word graphicacy was first coined by geographers William Balchin and Alice Colemanm way back in 1965 as a characterisation of visuo-spatial and cartographic abilities. Considering that was nearly 60 years ago, it is still a surprisngly little used term, but one so very relevant to this era. I’ve paraphrased and expanded upon much of what can be found on Wikipedia as there is little detailed discourse on the subject per se.

Graphicacy is defined as the ability to understand and present information in the form of sketches, photographs, diagrams, maps, plans, charts, graphs and other non-textual formats. As defined by Balchin and Colemann, it is:

“The communication of spatial information that cannot be conveyed adequately by verbal or numerical means.”

—William Balchin and Alice Colemanm

It embraces a wide range of broad fields, including the graphic arts and much of geography, cartography, computer graphics, and photography, though quite clearly fields such as GIS, information design and more are also relevant.

The word ‘graphicacy’ is clearly analogous to the terms literacy, numeracy and articulacy, but the concept of graphicacy acknowledges the need to distinguish it from literacy and numeracy as a complementary skill type that has its own contributions made through the composition of graphics, words, and numbers through visual communication.

The interpretation of graphics is loosely analogous to the process of reading text, while generation of graphics is the counterpart of writing text. However, text and graphics are based on very different symbol and structural systems. For example, whereas text is structured according to formal organisational rules that apply irrespective of the content, this is not the case for graphics.

With text structure, the units of information (words) are expected to be organised according to broad conventions, such as being sequenced in orderly rows [normally] starting from top left and progressing down the page. However graphics are not subject to a similarly stringent set of structural conventions, being non-linear. Instead, it is the content itself that determines the nature of the graphic entities and the way they are spatially arranged; graphic representation of the subject matter. This is not the case with written text where the words and their arrangement bear no resemblance to the represented subject matter. With this in mind, the term graphicacy is so relelvant and descriptive to the practice of cartography, and clearly the field that gave genesis to the term.