What visual, animation and narrative strategies are most useful for an independent graphic artist to ‘creatively and ethically translate’ community drawings and photographs into textless visuals to better represent community voices for a wider global audience?

Why VisCom4Dev?

Much of my professional consultancy work for international development agencies has focused on development of a pictorial participatory methodologies for community-led change. For more details of the GAMEchange participatory visual methodologies and implementation in different parts of the world see:

Focusing on visual communication potentially enables:

  • clarification of complex ideas and concepts
  • immediate and memorable communication
  • more information conveyed in a much smaller space and  time
  • resources accessible to all and more equal communication across inequalities of literacy and power
  • reduced need for translation across national and international language barriers

The outputs of these participatory pictorial processes have proved extremely powerful in terms of changing attitudes and behaviours of and between participants from communities and development agencies and governments.

Moreover, the potential of visual communication is likely to increase:

  • Rapidly growing numbers of men and women in rural as well as urban communities worldwide, particularly youth, now have smart phones and are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other national social networks.
  • The rapid spread of technology and cheap on-line software and apps potentially enable people in communities as well as staff in development organisations to produce visual information for learning and advocacy.

However communicating these community voices to people and a global audience who were not present or do not understand the language on video presents a number of challenges.

At the same time most graphic design and animation produced by and for development agencies is disconnected from the community level, often reliant on writing or verbal messages in international languages. This makes these messages ‘top down’ and externally imposed – even where people in the community might agree. It also means that the large numbers of people, particularly women, who have no formal education and do not speak majority languages are marginalised.

About this Blog

This blog is the product of my work for Open College of the Arts BA degree level 3 ‘Visual Research’, guided by Dr Emma Powell.

The aim of the research was to explore different possible approaches that can be used by an independent graphic artist and animator like myself who does not have the support of a large design or animation team. Producing professional finished animations in particular was outside the timeframe of this research.

The work is a ‘bricolage’ of experimental examples rather than an attempt to produce finished work. It presents multiple ‘creative translation’ possibilities based on drawings, photographs and video from participatory community workshops.

It is hoped that the blog will provide inspiration to others to also experiment more widely with different creative approaches in their work. As well as presenting potential styles and directions that my own future visual communication and creative translation work might take.

Visual Research Process and Assignments

The visual research process was never linear, but involved simultaneously following a number of interlinked parallel strands of enquiry and skill development. Each stage depending on and adapted to the findings of the previous stage, and to opportunities and issues arising from relevant consultancy assignments.

The sections on this blog represent the outcomes of this parallel interlinked investigation, rather than a linear sequence.

For an overview of my research process and Assignments documenting evolution of my thinking about visual research elements see:

VisCom4Dev presents visual research and sources of inspiration in evolution of my own graphic and animation style as ‘creative translator’ of voices from specific participatory community workshops into animations for a wider audience beyond the immediate participants. Focusing on concepts of empowerment and gender justice from participatory workshops in Asia and Africa, I compare and discuss visual communication techniques employed in:

  • drawings and role plays by women and men from poor and marginalised communities – including people who cannot read and write.
  • inspiration from animators and film-makers producing powerful textless visual narratives with simple line, shape and image editing.
  • evolution of my own ‘creative translation’ and animation workflow to simplify and focus the visual communication process.

For analysis of Community Voices expressed in drawings and role plays about gender relations and women’s empowerment from participatory workshops See:

For analysis of ‘external voices’ from development agencies see:


  • What practical and ethical issues are involved in ‘creative visual translation’ of community voices by external actors?
  • What visual communication strategies do women and men in different communities use to represent empowerment and gender inequality? How far do the drawings speak for themselves? What needs translating, why and for whom?
  • What different visual, animation and narrative approaches used by graphic artists, animators and film-makers from different cultures could be used to help address these limitations?
  • What software workflows (physical sketching, tablet and pc software) are most manageable and effective for an independent creative translator?
  • What are the limitations of visual communication where text is needed? For whom?
  • What are the implications for a participatory protocol for creatively translating community voices for a wider global audiences?

Empowerment and development are highly contested concepts, requiring participation and negotiation of diverse interests and conflicting power positions. 

I propose a ‘bricolage’ approach to theory and methodology that enables multiple ‘creative translations’ of community voices to provoke questioning and change in different audiences.

It also involves considering the nature of the Creative Process and how that can contribute to producing multiple translation possibilities for different purposes, then communicate meaning rather than simple replication of community drawings in animated form.

My visual research started by looking at ways in which simple line animation could help clarify the meaning of the drawings through introduced an element of time, and ways in which the animation process could be made more manageable for an independent animator.

Animation approaches styles and techniques used by animators working in simplified styles without text in different cultural contexts. Use of ‘boil’, repeated cycles and only animating elements that add to the story. Combined with the Disney principles.

Animation software: visual experimentation with different styles and simple animation techniques on the iPad.

Not attempt finished animation: exploratory and suggest possible narratives based on contextual research.

I look at approaches to narrative, drawing inspiration from Cinema.

Using background research to construct narratives.

Using photos and video from other sources, rotoscoping.

TV paint and pc software.

  • 4.2.3 Creative Translations Pakistan: ‘The airplane’

(forthcoming March 2021)

The final part summarises my research and conclusions and suggests:

  • a checklist of questions and prompts for future ‘participatory creative translation’ work that can help other designers aiming to ethically represent voices from the community in advocacy processes.

This includes:

  • my conclusions on audience and potential limitations of visual communication where text might be needed for training and advocacy with powerful stakeholders
  • technical conclusions on animation software and workflow.

See: Assignment 5: Finalising your submission