Visual Voice: Exploring Youths’ Visual Design Thinking Through Visual Literacy

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This research aims to enhance youth’s visual design thinking (VDT) skills through the frequent use of visual literacy (VL). By emphasizing the importance of arts based research (ABR), this research provides youth with a platform to explore their creative potential and generate new ideas for addressing societal issues. The research found that encouraging youth to express their feelings and perceptions through arts-based interventions was essential to their creative development. This research presents the results of an artistic experiment conducted on a small group of youths from Rovaniemi, Finland. The research was conducted at the University of Lapland, Finland, under the project Acting on the Margins: Arts as Social Sculpture (AMASS), a Horizon 2020–2023-funded research project. There has been no examination or discussion of visual literacy (VL) awareness through studies focusing only on arts-based methods (ABMs) that facilitate the integration of artistic and personal inquiry. This research contributes to filling this gap by exploring the main question that encompasses this fundamental research: How can the visual design thinking (VDT) skills of youth be improved through visual literacy (VL)? This research question was analysed in five publications from different perspectives, providing validation through multiple perspectives. The first publication investigates the connection between creative processes and the visual literacy (VL) of youth. The second publication discusses the interpretive role of documentation in the context of artistic co-creation processes. The third publication explores the role of participatory arts-based methods (ABMs) in expressing pluralist values in youth. The fourth publication examines how to enhance children’s visual Design Thinking (VDT) skills using the prototype VDT model. Lastly, the fifth publication validates that youth’s creativity can be boosted through frequent visual literacy (VL) engagement. During working on the five publications, the research was designed in order to assess artworks collected from this creative process. An interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) was used as a philosophical framework. This multi-layered qualitative research presents findings from a participatory arts-based research (ABR) approach that elicits students’ creative expressions through their personal artworks. Analyses of data collected from interviews, research diaries, focus groups, note-taking and artworks were conducted using topical, thematic, content and reflexive analysis methods. The Common European Framework of Reference for Visual Literacy (CEFR-VL) was used as an assessment tool. In addition, the Visual Design Thinking (VDT) model was introduced as new knowledge for improving and scaling interventions. With this methodology, the research aims to demonstrate that visual literacy (VL) is crucial to developing visual design thinking (VDT) competencies that enable young people to enhance their knowledge and build skills, including self-assessment, beliefs, judgments and behaviours. The five publications further clarify that arts-based methods (ABMs) open up new approaches to society’s challenges for exploring the unknown that can provide insights into the underlying narratives. ABMs offer an accessible and creative way to represent and express the complexities of personal and social issues. They also provide a platform for the development of new skills and the sharing of knowledge. Finally, they can facilitate collaboration, dialogue and social change. There are several objectives within the five publications resulting from this research. The first is understanding the importance of visual literacy (VL) and determining whether having visual competency (VC) can assist young people in developing both their formal and informal learning skills. The second is to provide youth with knowledge about pluralism and how to reapply it to their design thinking (DT). The third is to illustrate youth’s perception, interpretation and meaning-making through creative artistic processes to stimulate their visual thinking (VT). Finally, they should enhance their reflections in a way that can influence their creative viewpoints. It is essential to foster open-ended, exploratory and collaborative learning activities that allow youth to construct their knowledge. As a result, this research supports that the umbrella term ‘visual literacy’ (VL) encompasses a variety of skill, knowledge and attitude clusters, including the cluster known as ‘visual design thinking’ (VDT). Additionally, this research has found that frequent engagement with visual literacy (VL) can enhance youth’s creativity and provide them with a visual voice that supports their visual design thinking (VDT) skills. Finally, it verifies that visual literacy (VL) can boost youth’s creative mindsets and facilitate attitude change and decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Arts
Awarding Institution
  • Faculty of Art and Design
  • Miettinen, Satu, Supervisor
  • Sarantou, Melanie, Supervisor
  • Määttä, Kaarina, Supervisor
Award date15 Dec 2023
Place of PublicationRovaniemi
Electronic ISBNs978-952-337-402-7
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2023
MoEC publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • Visual literacy
  • Visual competency
  • Youth
  • Arts-based research
  • Interpretive phenomenology
  • Visual voice
  • Visual design thinking

Field of science

  • Visual arts and design


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