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Images d’Égypte

Jean-Claude Vatin

Images savantes, précieuses, populaires

Illustrations: To whom is it addressed?

Nagwa Farag

Texte intégral

  • * Directrice des programmes de communication, UNICEF, Le Caire.

1Note portant sur l'auteur*

2When Aeschines spoke, they said "How well he speaks", but when Demosthenes spoke they said "Let us march against Philip".

3It is worth looking at the modem Egyptian art as a medium of persuation and not simply an art form or an entertainment? YES, because at the present stage of Egypt's development what illustrations can do is to "sensitize" the public, thus making it easier to understand new concepts by more personalized methods of solicitation. It goes without saying that Egyptian artists in modern as well as ancient time were able to communicate with the "intelligencia". But what about the 80 % almost illiterate percentage of the population? In this issue lies the real challenge to Egyptian illustrators.

4Each year national and international agencies spend millions of dollars on the preparation and production of communication materials related to social development programmes and activities. Such materials range from the simplist single-colour illustration, to highly sophisticated audio-visual programmes.

5The objectives are nearly always the same: to use communication materials to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of the most disadvantaged groups in society, whether urban and rural, but always economically or otherwise disadvantaged. By now we know a sad truth that such materials, despite all the hard work and good intentions often fail to convey the messages, techniques or information intended. Why? The problem can often be traced back to the fact that not sufficient attention has been paid to realistic and scientifically sound illustrations.

6This paper might be different in style and context than the other papers of this "trois journées d'étude" but it is presented as a contribution and also in recognition of the efforts made by Egyptian artists whom, we, in development agencies are giving hard time.

7Despite the fact that the widely spread Egyptian television has contributed considerably in decreasing the visual illiteracy of the public, yet there are still many aspects where all forms of the communications can better contribute to the wellbeing of mostly affected groups.

8This paper on the many aspects of pretesting illustrations, is based on practical work primarily in Egypt and it is hoped that it will draw the attention of the participants of this three days session on "L'Égypte dans l'iconographie et la bande dessinée" those who are concerned with the development of illustrations aimed at illiterates.

What is pretesting?

9Pretesting means field testing illustrations/drawings before they are produced as communication materials. By interviewing the audience, the illustrations are meant for, we find out if they are understood, i.e. if the message or idea is conveyed in the way it was intended. We also find out if the audience like the materials.

10Illustrations and drawings of posters, flipcharts, flashcards, pamphlets, are some of the materials that can be pre-tested.

11Testing e.g. a bande dessinée (a series of pictures making up a story or a sequence instructions of how to make something, e.g. rehydration solution for children with diarrhoea) means taking the drawings to the target audience when it is in its rough state, e.g. pencil drawings. The idea is to test while it is still possible to change the drawings, depending on the audience's reaction.

12Pretesting may have to be done several times. If a poster is tested, and the suggestions from the audience have been used to make a new version, this version should also be tested as well.

What kind of questions can pretesting answers?

13Through pretesting, we can find out how well we communicate with our audience in terms of:

  • Do they like the illustrations?
  • Are they used to abstraction of ideas, or do they mostly think in concrete terms?
  • Do they understand symbols?
  • Do they get the message or idea right away, or are they confused by the way things are portrayed, or by unnecessary details?
  • Are they familiar with pictures in a series - do they connect the pictures in e.g. the bande dessinée with each other, or do they interpret each picture separately?
  • Do they see the relevance of the picture or situation portrayed to their own lives and their own needs?
  • Does any part of the picture embarrass people?
  • How much experience do they have in being taught with pictures? Based on this, what is realistic to expect that they will understand?
  • What significance is attached to the different colours?

Why pretesting?

14Why is it necessary to get answers to the above questions? Because if we don't, we may waste money, time and resources. And even worse - we may prevent the audience from sharing ideas that may help them improve their lives. We may even communicate negative ideas and messages!

15Communication materials are most often developed by urban, educated, modem, comparatively well-off, healthy artists who are surrounded by visual stimulation. When materials are meant development project they are for rural, illiterate, conservative, comparatively poor, relatively unhealthy people - largely women - who live in villages with limited experience to printed matters or other visual stimuli. The situation differs.

16This situation contributes significantly to communication gaps - i.e. the two groups: the development workers and the villagers see things very differently. Unless designers verify their ideas and visuals with the audience, things can go very wrong. There are sufficient examples of this in development. There also exist projects where a dialogue was started between development workers and villagers about ideas and the illustrations - and where, as a resuit, villagers have implemented new ideas that fit their environment, beliefs and culture.

17Pretesting is a cost effective way to prevent large, expensive disasters. If 1 000 copies of a teaching poster are sent out to all the health centers in the country, and we find out later that villagers do not understand or accept the poster, we have made an expensive mistake. If instead, we pretest the poster, discover the mistakes, make the changes, test it again until people understand and accept it, we can be fairly sure that the teaching poster might be useful communication aid. The expense of the testing is very small compared to the cost of a ten thousand copy failure.

Visual perception or the way Egyptians see pictures

18People interpret pictures in different ways, depending on a number of things related to who they are, where they live, what they do, etc. Development workers and illustrators are often not aware of this.

19We cannot assume that people "understand" pictures. Experience from many countries shows that people with low literacy levels are not used to the picture as a teaching medium. In many places, they do not even know how to interpret a picture - i.e. they do not recognize the objects in the picture.

20A summary of "problem areas" in the understanding of pictures might help you when you pretest:

211- Previous exposure to and experience with graphic materials:

22Most people learn only one skill at a time. If they do not know how to interpret a picture, they have to learn this first. They may have seen a picture on a wall, but do not know what it "means". There is not much use in teaching people, using e.g. a flipchart, if they do not understand the picture, as they will use all their energy trying to work out what is going on in the picture, rather than listen to what the Communicator is saying.

232- Literacy:

24This aspect is obviously related to the one discussed above. If a person knows how to read and write, he or she will most often have been exposed to pictures of different kinds. However, an adult with primary education might have forgotten what he learnt in school, and will be close to illiterate, both verbally and visually, following years of disuse of his or her skills. But such people will usually pick up skills quicker than somebody who has never been to school.

253- Social, cultural and religious beliefs and practices: This is a vast subject. Obviously, we cannot give fair treatment to this complicated issue here, but a few general comments should be made as people's social situation will determine the way they look at and interpret pictures, and also how they react to outsiders coming into their community to test pictures, or to teach them something. If our communication materials (and our behaviour when we test them or teach with them) are not acceptable socially to the audience, we have to go back to the drawing board. The more we know about the social situation through thorough field research, the less likely we will be to make mistakes in this area.

26The same rule apply to the cultural questions - it is equally important that the illustrations/drawings reflect to the extent possible, the cultural milieu of the audience and, as important, contain nothing that will offend people's cultural values. Culture and religion are closely interlinked in Egypt, thus the two should be considered together.

27Rural people usually pay much more attention to traditional values than urban people. This is one reason for people who develop visuals to guard againts the danger of offending people's social, cultural and religious traditions and values.

284- The relevance of the situation/problem in the illustration to the situation/problem of the audience:

29People need to be able to identify themselves with a situation, and the kind of people that are portrayed in that situation. If they recognize the situation, but not the kind of people (who may be from a different nation or ethnic group), they may disregard the proposed solution, because "those people are different", and what suits them, may not suit us (the audience). Therefore, it is important to make illustrations and drawings either culturally: "neutral", which is difficult to do, or tailor them specifically for an area where the same kind of people live. Dress, style of houses, kind of draught animais used - these are aspects people will look for in identifying themselves with the situation.

30The other related aspect - which is even more important - is the relevance of the problem to the audience. If a project has not conducted its field research properly, it may end up making communication materials to solve problems that the audience do not perceive as problem; or, which have low priority on the community's list of what needs to be done to improve life. If, however, the project is founded on village reality, on what people need and want, and what they do already, the communication materials will also reflect this perspective, and the people in the community will be able to relate to them. If people see that the subject/problem and the situation is relevant to them, there will be greater interest in learning more about how to solve the problem.

315- If the subject is threatening:

32In many areas of development e.g. in family planning, the educators have to work with people on sensitive issues that are difficult to talk about. Visuals made to support such projects have to be very carefully pretested. People may be unwilling to respond to questions that they feel are threatening, unless the interviewer knows how to handle the situation. Also, as these issues tend to confuse and embarrass people, their responses or interpretation of the illustrations may not be what they really feel or mean. These issues are very difficult for outsiders to gather information on, or to pretest materials for. The respondents need to trust the interviewer, and this takes more time than interviewers are usually able or willing to spend. It is also useful to have both male and female interviewers, as people tend to be more open with members of their own sex.

336- The length of the materials:

34Most people with low verbal and visual literacy have limited attention spans - i.e. their concentration will gradually decrease. If you try to test 20 different pictures on a person, he may not give you good response to the last ten pictures, because he is not used to this kind of "work". People's attention, both for testing and for teaching with visuals, is usually very good for the first five pictures; for the next five the attention level is acceptable, but after the tenth picture, it drops to a level where neither testing nor teaching is worth while. There are, of course, exceptions to this - as people become more used to being taught with visuals, their attention span will increase. However, the ten pictures limit may be a useful rule of thumb when designing materials and pretesting.

357- Convenience/time of the respondent:

36If your respondent is too busy, and feels you are "taking her time" without her seeing much use in what you are doing, she may not be interested in giving you very accurate answers (though she may give you some answers to be polite to you). She may have to prepare a meal, or go to the field, or look after her sick baby, or do any of the other tasks that usually keep rural women busy through the day. This is why it is important to choose your time well, and to make sure the respondent is motivated to cooperate with you on the pretest.

37Other events may be happening around you that may distract the attention of the respondent - and this will affect the answer you get, unless you have managed to get her so interested in the task of pretesting that she forgets about the environment for a while.

388- Colours:

39Cultures often attach special meaning to different colours. If your communication materials contradict these "rules" - e.g. if red is used for happy occasions, and you use it for an eider woman - it will affect your message. Find out what meanings the colours have, and let this guide you in the development of materials.

40Sometimes pictures are drawn on coloured paper, or drawings printed on coloured background. This confuses people prompting responses like, "why does that man have a green face" or "buffaloes in our village are not yellow - are these sick?" from people with low visual literacy level.

419- Language:

42The text accompanying the visuals also needs to be tested. If people understand the pictures, but not the language in the communication materials, they will still end up confused. The language should be simple and where possible local words used, e.g. for diseases. Sophisticated urban words, jargon and specialized terms should be avoided.

43Some people live and work under the impression that their illustrations alone can do the job in persuation. Used in isolation, drawings have a limited, if any effect at all.

44One related reason is the defensiveness of the artist and/or the planner who may feel that "people should come up to our level of under standing, and if they do not they will not understand our wonderful drawings". The Egyptian cultural norms againts open criticism of other people's work especially one's supervisors can be another factor preventing pretesting.

45Still there are more questions for discussion which are to be considered in future sessions:

  • To what extend a picture alone carries a message to illustrators?
  • If a person interprets a picture piece by piece, and does not correlate the different parts in a picture, is it likely that he or she will correlate the different pictures in a story.
  • What is best to use? photo, drawing or cartoons?

Notes de fin

* Directrice des programmes de communication, UNICEF, Le Caire.


© CEDEJ - Égypte/Soudan, 1992

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