Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (2021), 18p.



Copyright © 2021 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Used by permission.


Purpose: Visual scene displays (VSDs) can support augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) success for children and adults with complex communication needs. Static VSDs incorporate contextual photographs that include meaningful events, places, and people. Although the processing of VSDs has been studied, their power as a medium to effectively convey meaning may benefit from the perspective of individuals who regularly engage in visual storytelling. The aim of this study was to evaluate the perspectives of individuals with expertise in photographic and/or artistic composition regarding factors contributing to VSD complexity and how to limit the time and effort required to apply principles of photographic composition.

Method: Semistructured interviews were completed with 13 participants with expertise in photographic and/or artistic composition.

Results: Four main themes were noted, including (a) factors increasing photographic image complexity and decreasing cohesion, (b) how complexity impacts the viewer, (c) composition strategies to decrease photographic image complexity and increase cohesion, and (d) strategies to support the quick application of composition strategies in a just-in-time setting. Findings both support and extend existing research regarding best practice for VSD design.

Conclusions: Findings provide an initial framework for understanding photographic image complexity and how it differs from drawn AAC symbols. Furthermore, findings outline a toolbox of composition principles that may help limit VSD complexity, along with providing recommendations for AAC development to support the quick application of compositional principles to limit burdens associated with capturing photographic images.

Includes Supplemental Materials (2)