Illustrating the Point: Choosing the right ART for the message

Posted on by Amy Filko, Pietra Check, Mike Flynn, Nura Sadeghpour


If you wanted to deliver a series of public health messages to people gathered at a busy Consulate (think Saturday at the DMV), or at another trusted community organization, how would you do it?

We investigated the answer to that question specifically for a Spanish-speaking immigrant worker population, and specifically for conveying information designed to prevent work-related injury, illness, and death. The result of this process is a multi-faceted project that includes 1) a partnership with the Mexican Consulates and the Ventanillas de Salud and 2) the creation of illustrated educational materials for workers including four brochures, two posters, and five videos: Protéjase.

The first blog of this series described the content and utility of the Protéjase materials. In future blogs we will describe other key elements of this project, including the qualitative process we used to test our imagery with the community and the role and rationale of the NIOSH partnership with the U.S. Mexican Consulates, whose infrastructure has expanded to improve the health and well-being of their population, reaching the largest Spanish-speaking immigrant population in the country. This blog is about a small but vital part of this project—choosing the right kind of art for the educational materials.

The educational materials we created follow both fictional and real characters as they navigate a series of workplace risks. Our key message is: “Return home from work safely and with dignity.” We wanted our audience to know that help is available, so we developed the following call to action: “If you are worried, go to one of the many organizations that can help immigrants get information and services related to staying safe and healthy at work.”

Should we invest in good visuals?

To create these materials we asked ourselves a series of questions along the way. We started with a basic question– should we invest in good visuals? We didn’t need scholarly articles to make a compelling case that good visuals attract attention in a world filled with competing messages, Madison Avenue figured that out for us a long time ago. But good imagery does more than attract attention, in visual learners (about 65% of the population, according to Michigan State University) it also helps the audience understand, retain, connect with and act upon the key messages. In addition, anecdotal evidence from the NIOSH/Mexican Consulates partnership shows that many of the immigrants in our intended audience have low literacy levels, even in their native language. This assumption is supported by the 2009 Pew Hispanic Center finding that more than one-third of foreign-born Latinos in the U.S. had less than a 9th grade education. Strong imagery would help us communicate a clear message to audience members with low reading levels.

What medium makes sense?

Having decided that it was worth investing in good visuals, we needed to determine whether to enlist a photographer and find subjects, or enlist an illustrator. There is evidence to support that both fotonovelas (documents that tell a story through photographs) and illustrated novels are popular with our target audience. Here is why we chose the latter:

Emotional impact on viewer— An art teacher once suggested that co-author Amy Filko leave a little bit of each drawing unfinished because people like to fill in the holes with their own mind. Illustration allows for that. We needed characters specific enough for people to identify with as workers, but general enough for them to fill in the blanks with their own stories.

Adaptability— During the development of a document, especially one focused on safety and health, it may go through many rounds of review and revision to ensure that the final product is accurate. Once a photograph is taken, it may be difficult to continuously edit or reshoot in order to align the document with safety practice due to time, coordination, and significant costs. An illustration is much more adaptable to change. We needed to be able to control the environment of our subjects and to edit out elements that didn’t pass muster with our experts. Here is one example from this project:

Our illustrator’s rough draft. (Click  for larger images).
NAHB Photo Harness back
Guidance for edits from NIOSH experts.
Final illustration










Problems with staging real life risk—At the very least, it would not be ethical to ask a worker to reenact a workplace risk with a level of emotional impact we get here:

How do we find the right artist?

After deciding to illustrate the materials we needed to find the right artist. We found several whose styles met our messaging needs but we were confronted with other questions. Which artist would also resonate with Spanish-speaking immigrant workers? How would we know that we had overcome our personal tastes or our professional habits? How would we balance technical accuracy with clear visuals? Can the artist, for example, draw a safety harness that looks general enough to be universal but specific enough that every construction worker will recognize it as a harness?

Our answers to these questions are the topic of the upcoming blog Illustrating the point: Choosing the right ARTIST for the message which will be posted on September 17thth.

Please join this ongoing conversation by commenting. How would you ensure important messages hit home?


Amy Filko, BA, is a Visual Information Specialist in the NIOSH World Trade Center Heath Program.

Pietra Check, MPH, is Deputy Director of the NIOSH Office of Agriculture Safety and Health and Coordinator of the Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing Program.

Michael Flynn, MA, is a Social Scientist in the NIOSH  Education and Information Division and Assistant Coordinator of the  Priority Populations and Health Disparities Program.

Nura Sadeghpour, MPH, is a Health Communication Specialist in the  NIOSH Office of the Director.

This is the second post in a series of blogs describing the development and purpose of the Protéjase educational materials. Additional blogs include: Protect Yourself at Work: A Series of Print and Video Materials for Spanish-speaking Immigrant Workers; Illustrating the Point: Choosing the right ARTIST for the message; and A Partnership: NIOSH and Mexican Consulates help support the health and safety of workers. The Protéjase materials were created as part of NIOSH’s mission to conduct research and determine effective ways of delivering occupational safety and health information.  Organizations that serve Spanish-speaking immigrant workers can use these materials to encourage workers to think about their health and safety on the job and to seek assistance if they have a related question or concern. NIOSH released the Protéjase materials during Labor Rights Week in August 2015 and they can be found at (English) and (Spanish).

Posted on by Amy Filko, Pietra Check, Mike Flynn, Nura Sadeghpour

22 comments on “Illustrating the Point: Choosing the right ART for the message”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    What a great idea ! Yes, it will really help to grow people conscious and bear the message clearly to them rather text message. Its always better than text and some times it cross the level of attraction of people than photo .

    Hello! I love this article and agree with it entirely. I will be giving a speech soon where I will mention the power of images in science. Can you please let me know the sources the information for this article came from?
    Thank you!

    Thank you for your comment. The information in this project comes from a multi-year NIOSH field study to determine the most effective way to promote occupational safety and health through the Mexican Consular Network. The information in the blog post comes from our decades-long experience working with Latino immigrants in the United States and the academic literature regarding the value of using images in health promotion. The data for the testing of the artists (blog 3) is a result of using a revised cognitive testing protocol on visual images. Cognitive testing is a standard practice to ensure that respondents understand the information presented in the way the researchers intended (conceptual equivalence). Cognitive testing is usually limited to text. In this study we modified the technique so we could use it for visual images. Here are some links for further information:

    Overview of the study:
    Article on accounting for cultural differences when promoting safety:
    Article discussing training for underserved populations:

    language differences can cause inappropriate delivery, pictures can provide guidelines to reinforce the intended language.

    Choosing the right ART for the message is a crucial aspect of creating effective visual communication. This article highlights the importance of selecting the appropriate art style to convey the intended message and the impact it can have on the audience. It also provides valuable insights into the different art styles and techniques available, and how they can be used to effectively communicate ideas and emotions. As a language model, I recognize the importance of visual communication in conveying complex concepts and ideas, and this article is an excellent resource for anyone looking to enhance their visual storytelling skills.

    The statement “Illustrating the Point: Choosing the right ART for the message” suggests that choosing the appropriate artwork is crucial for effectively communicating a message. The use of illustrations and other forms of art can enhance the impact of a message and make it more memorable to the audience. It also implies the importance of understanding the context, audience, and message to select the most relevant and suitable artwork that can convey the intended message.

    Choosing the right kind of art for educational materials is a small but vital part of any project. It’s important to consider whether investing in good visuals will attract attention and help the audience understand, retain, connect with, and act upon the key messages. In this case, illustrations were chosen over photographs due to their emotional impact on viewers and adaptability during the development process. The end result is a series of educational materials that effectively convey important public health messages to Spanish-speaking immigrant workers.

    I loved reading this blogpost , it was really interesting to see how choosing the art can help provide message properly . I had never paid attention to how art can help to illustrate the point very easily if the right art is chosen . Thank you for such a valuable content .

    The importance of good visuals in communication cannot be overstated. This highlights the significance of investing in visual materials to attract attention and engage audiences in a world saturated with competing messages. It acknowledges that visuals capture attention and aid understanding, retention, connection, and action, particularly for visual learners who comprise a significant portion of the population.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post as it provided a fascinating perspective on the power of art in effectively conveying messages. It made me realize the significance of carefully selecting the appropriate artwork to enhance the impact of the content. I appreciate the valuable insights shared in this engaging piece. Thank you for creating such compelling and informative content

    Great blog post! The author beautifully emphasizes the significance of choosing the right ART (Attention-Grabbing, Relevant, and Targeted) for conveying messages effectively. It’s concise yet packed with valuable insights to enhance communication strategies. Appreciate the author’s clarity and valuable tips!

    Choosing the right kind of art for educational materials is crucial in effectively conveying the intended messages. This blog highlights the significance of artwork selection within the Protéjase project. By combining fictional and real characters, the materials aim to address workplace risks and emphasize the importance of returning home safely and with dignity.The inclusion of a call to action, encouraging individuals to seek help from organizations providing information and services for immigrant workers’ safety and well-being, further enhances the impact of the educational materials. The blog sets the stage for future discussions on the qualitative testing process and the NIOSH partnership with the U.S. Mexican Consulates, underscoring the comprehensive approach taken to improve the health and overall welfare of the Spanish-speaking immigrant population.

    I appreciate the information provided in this blog post. It’s clear that the Protéjase project takes a comprehensive approach to communicating essential public health messages to the Spanish-speaking immigrant worker population. By investing in high-quality visuals and opting for illustrations, the project aims to create a more engaging and adaptable medium for conveying critical safety and health information.

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Page last reviewed: May 3, 2021
Page last updated: May 3, 2021