Word and Image: Rebus Poster in-class exercise


Leilani Nguyen, Culture Shock

Julia Reeder, Pop Culture

Geneva Huckleberry, News Anchor

Emmy Kelley, Painful

Madelne Heino, Cancel Culture

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Duration: 1 week
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Bookmark Project

Project Brief

Visual language is the process of communicating through the integration of words and images. Visual language utilizes its own unique vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. The basic elements of design, such as line, space, shape, texture, and color, and the basic principles of design, such as contrast, emphasis, balance, rhythm, grouping, and scale, are the vocabulary of visual language.

In this in-class exercise, students explore working with a rebus. A rebus can be defined as a representation of words or syllables by pictures of objects or by symbols, whose names resemble the intended words or syllables in sound. It is also a riddle made up of such pictures or symbols. Two of the most famous examples of using a rebus in graphic design are Milton Glaser's "I Love (Heart) New York" and Paul Rand's IBM (Eye Bee M) poster.

Students are tasked to create an 11 x 17-inch poster by first a word to work with: culture, pain, work, news, labor, heavy, smart, and then pairing the selected word with an image or symbol so that a new message is revealed: word + image = new message.


Learning Objectives

In redesigning my Graphic Design 1 course curriculum for remote learning this spring 2021, I developed several in-class visual challenges to engage the students during their class time (our studio classes are 5 hours) as a break from zoom. Each of the in-class exercises is designed to be completed within 90 minutes. At the end of the 90 minute period, each student is required to present the results of their visual investigation.

All of the in-class exercises have the objective to explore word and image integration to convey meaning.


The students upload a PDF of their poster to my google drive. These exercises are not graded.


Elizabeth Resnick, Design for Communication: Graphic Design Basics, John Wiley and Sons, 2003


This is the first time I have assigned this in-class exercise. I purposefully chose words that could easily be paired with images (representing words) to present a thought, statement, or described a situation. Once the student determined the subject of the rebus, the real challenge was to create an integrated message that employed scale, contrast, grouping, typography, and appropriate imagery. Although all the students were able to come up with good concepts, not all could successfully integrate the elements within a compositional framework.

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