Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Information Science and Technology


Elizabeth D. Liddy


Image-Enabled Communication, Multimodal Discourse, Social Interaction, Visualization, Visual Studies

Subject Categories

Library and Information Science


Anyone who has clarified a thought or prompted a response during a conversation by drawing a picture has exploited the potential of image making as an interactive tool for conveying information. Images are increasingly ubiquitous in daily communication, in large part due to advances in visually enabled information and communication technologies (ICT), such as information visualization applications, image retrieval systems and visually enabled collaborative work tools. Human abilities to use images to communicate are however far more sophisticated and nuanced than these technologies currently support. In order to learn more about the practice of image making as a specialized form of information and communication behavior, this study examined face-to-face conversations involving the creation of ad hoc visualizations (i.e., "napkin drawings"). A model of image-enabled discourse is introduced, which positions image making as a specialized form of communicative practice. Multimodal analysis of video-recorded conversations focused on identifying image-enabled communicative activities in terms of interactional sociolinguistic concepts of conversational involvement and coordination, specifically framing, footing and stance. The study shows that when drawing occurs in the context of an ongoing dialogue, the activity of visual representation performs key communicative tasks. Visualization is a form of social interaction that contributes to the maintenance of conversational involvement in ways that are not often evident in the image artifact. For example, drawing enables us to coordinate with each other, to introduce alternative perspectives into a conversation and even to temporarily suspend the primary thread of a discussion in order to explore a tangential thought. The study compares attributes of the image artifact with those of the activity of image making, described as a series of contrasting affordances. Visual information in complex systems is generally represented and managed based on the affordances of the artifact, neglecting to account for all that is communicated through the situated action of creating. These finding have heuristic and best-practice implications for a range of areas related to the design and evaluation of virtual collaboration environments, visual information extraction and retrieval systems, and data visualization tools.


Open Access