Archive by Author | vwsuzanne

Image Explosion: Aiming for Quality in Quantity

We have all heard it said “a picture is worth a thousand words”.   

But is it any more?

This saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” came into popularity in the early 20th Century when street cars began to have advertisements on the side and marketers began to realize that a picture was far more effective than words at capturing people’s attention. At the time, pictures were more unique and could turn some heads. Now we see hundreds of images every day, plastered around every corner, and every sidebar possible.

With the invention of the personal camera becoming so compact as to fit into the cells phones we carry around in our pockets, people can take picture or video of what there are seeing within a few seconds, post it to the internet in another second where it can be seen literally all over the world by anyone at anytime.  You would think that this reality would cause people to post fewer photos; however it seems to have the opposite effect.  What if i told you u don't have to instagram to eatPeople are documenting their entire lives… from what their morning coffee looked like, to what the weather looks like outside, to how fabulous their hair looked like before they stepped out into the weather…to what shoes they are wearing, what the guy on the bus looked like while he was sleeping, and what the pencils that they freshly sharpened look like at their desk.   A recent Google search said that 250 million photos are uploaded on Facebook and 40 million on Instagram each day (check out this article:

Economists will tell you that when any item floods the market, the value of that commodity goes down.  So the question is, with more pictures being produced and bombarding our eyes each and every day, has this increased or decreased the value of a picture in our day and age?

My answer: it depends on the picture.   With more images, the quality, uniqueness and appeal of the image becomes more important than ever.   As do the few words that we chose to accompany those images.  Less is more.  So choose your image and words wisely. Take this image for example:

Sick care health care

Pictures in media and marketing convey key messages and meaning that cannot be expressed as well, or at all, through spoken or written words.  Pictures can manipulate us, change what we think and what we do.   That is why, those of us who work in health, need to work just as hard as all the other industries, to convince people, populations and decision makers to make changes to support health.  Weak, boring and ambiguous images, are likely to translate to an ineffective message and impact.

Here are some basic tips for a wikihow on how to harness the power of graphics in your communication campaign:

The point I found particularly useful from this article where that graphics images can communicate across languages and cultures, and have the potential to reach a wider audience, including those who may not speak your language or even be literate at all.

Here is another article about choosing the right photo for your story:

It is more geared towards capturing sports stories, but the truths remain for other industries and sectors including health.  The main points are:

1. Quality control: Above all else, you’ve got to be sure to use a high-resolution image.

2. Tight area of focus A wide or busy photo will confuse the reader, and his or her attention will quickly divert elsewhere.

3. Story-specific: You always want your photo to sell your story.

4. Bright is best: Always, use the brightest colors possible when selecting an image …. A bold, bright color is going to pop no matter what the rest of the page looks like.

5. Face time: Readers don’t want to see hats or helmets. They want to see a face. Period…faces bring clicks. It’s science (well, statistics).

6. Emotion sells

7. Keep it clean

8. Think like a reader

With the internet, we are returning to oral and visual forms of communication culture over the primarily text-based culture of the past.  If you want to communicate something important, take the time and effort to find a excellent graphic to do so.


Suzanne VW


The Cereal Company that Ran Out of Excuses Before they Ran out of Business

By: Krystyna Adams, Tara Walton, Suzanne Vander Wekken

Upon  request here is our story for your reading pleasure:

  • One rainy day in January in the beautiful province of BC, a head representative from Kellogg Food Manufacturing Company, Mr. Glucose, sped along the #1 Hwy in an oversized delivery truck on the way to deliver their sugary cereals to the whole region.  Seeing them coming all the way from the bridge, health promotion specialists Suzanne, Krystyna and Tara waved them off to the side of the road as they approached their office at the Ministry of Health Promotion.  The three began asking where exactly Mr. Glucose and his driver were going. They explained that they were off to deliver their tasty collection of sweet cereals to the major grocery chains in the lower mainland, where most of the population lives–most especially children, who gobble these products up.   “But your products are so full of refined sugars…and they have nearly no protein or fibre!  People who eat these products are at much higher risk of becoming overweight or obese and getting diabetes,” exclaimed Krystyna, also a pro athlete, as she read the nutritional label on the side.  “We really don‘t care about producing healthy products.  We just make something that tastes good,” they explained, and loaded back into their truck and with a spew of black exhaust continued on their delivery route.
  • In February, the truck came roaring by again, and once again the health promotion team Tara, Krystyna and Suzanne waved them to the side of the road. Once again they asked Mr. Glucose to consider how much sugar was in the products his company produced, and consider how this was impacting the health of the population.  “But these are the products we have always made. Everyone loves Fruit Loops and Captain Crunch.  We never really thought of changing what we do.”  So the health promotion team explained what happens when there are too many sugar-laden products on the market, and how this is a significant contributing factor to rising rates of childhood obesity.
  • In March Mr. Glucose and his driver came driving in on Hwy #1 once again, forgetting that they ought to change their route if they wanted to avoid the tenacious health promotion trio–Suzanne, Tara and Krystyna. Suzanne was ready for them with new market trend research that showed that consumers are starting to recognize their need to eat healthier. “But even if people say they want to eat healthier, they won’t like our product if it has less sugar in it.  We have only ever had feedback on how delicious our products are and how much children ask their parents to buy them.”    So Suzanne proceeded to explain that pretty soon people will catch onto the health trend and will search for low-sugar options when they read nutritional labelling. She added “Mr. Glucose, you ought to think of reformulating your products before it is too late and your consumer market and reputation begins to erode.”  Mr. Glucose took note, and agreed that he would consider it, and that he would like to meet with them the next month to talk more.
  • In April, Mr. Glucose returned for the meeting as promised.  I’ve been looking at the consumer trends, and I think you ladies may be onto something with the market shifting as people wake up to diabetes, and are becoming more health conscious.  However, even if I wanted to reformulate, the process is too expensive. I don’t know if we could manage the investment in new machinery, formularies and packaging.” Tara pointed out that although it was a bit of an investment, surely the company made sufficient profit and they should consider it to be a long-term investment. More importantly, it would help to show corporate responsibility in response to the public health concern of rising childhood diabetes. Mr. Glucose thought this sounded reasonable, but said he would need to go back to the drawing board and work through the financial kinks.
  • In May, Mr. Glucose returned with some thoughts of new ways to reformulate the products to have lower sugar, but he was still uncertain about making the change. “We’ve contacted several of our loyal customers, and asked them about what they would think about us changing the recipes for some of our cereals. They didn’t sound interested. I don’t think it’s worth our efforts to make these changes if people won’t buy it!” Suzanne explained that most people were resistant to the idea of change at first. She suggested it might be helpful to invite some of these people in for a taste test, so that they could actually try the new and improved cereal, and see how much better it was for themselves. Mr. Glucose agreed to run some taste tests over the next month and get back to them about moving forward with the plan.
  • In June, Mr. Glucose met with the girls again, this time much more confident in the new and improved healthy cereals. “The taste tests were successful, and the focus groups all agreed that the new products were just as tasty if not better than the old ones. The problem is that they don’t have the same shelf life.  If the products don’t last as long there will be a lot of waste. Especially if people aren’t buying the new product right away.” Krystyna reminded him that with enough marketing and planning they could make a quick enough turn around. Especially if they used some of the positive results of the taste testing in their new advertising campaigns. Still apprehensive about investing so much money, Mr. Glucose agreed to go to his marketing team, to find out about costs and benefits.
  • In July, after having met with the marketing team, Mr. Glucose brought back some new concerns to the girls. “The marketing team thinks we have some good material to promote the new cereals, but, they are worried about introducing the healthy product line when the competitors won’t change. If customers can get their sugar fix from those other cereals, they’ll just buy from our competition!” Suzanne tried to ease his anxiety by showing him recent consumer research that clearly showed an increasing rise in the desire for healthy products, and a decrease in the sale of over-processed, sugar-laden foods. Happy to see these findings, Mr. Glucose decided it was time to start thinking about production and distribution of the new products.
  • One day in August, Mr. Glucose unexpectedly showed up at the ministry, looking panic-stricken. “Even though we have developed a great product, and it seems like people are interested in buying it, I went to several of the convenience stores that typically stock our cereal, and the stores won’t sell it!” Tara shared with Mr. Glucose that she wasn’t overly surprised that the convenience stores didn’t seem interested in selling the new product, since they typically stock pre-packaged foods, that are known to be less healthy. She recommended that he instead turn to some of the other grocery stores in the neighborhood that clearly had a focus on healthy foods. She gave him a list of different places to try, and Mr. Glucose set off to approach these new businesses.
  • In September, when all the children were returning to school, a much happier Mr. Glucose met with the girls to share some positive news. “You were right, the stores who had health as a bottom line for their products were all thrilled to carry our new line of cereals, and now we have the competitive edge for cereals! We’ve just launched a big batch of cereals, and the shelves will be fully stocked by theend of the week!” Mr. Glucose thanked the girls and rushed off to get back to his busy factory.
  • In October, Mr. Glucose sat in an office at the Ministry of Health Promotion over a cup of green tea talking with the health promotion team. “I never thought I would be convinced that we needed to change.  Kelloggs Cereal have a brand new face.  Our Fruit Loops actually have real dried fruit in them and our Captain Crunch Cereal has a fraction of the sugar, whole grain and more flavor from spices.  We have gained a whole new market audience in addition to maintaining a good number of our old client groups. Plus the media is catching on, and our reputation is starting to be more connected with corporate responsibility and healthier products.”  Tara, Suzanne and Krystyna smiled with satisfaction, and asked Mr. Glucose to sit on their Partnership board and advocate for corporate responsibility in combating childhood obesity through improved food environments.




Thinking about communicating in an age of exponential information

Suzanne Vander Wekken

February 6, 2013

Do you ever find yourself thinking “this is just too much information”?  Not in that it is information you find inappropriate or offensive, but that literally the volume of information is too much to process.  Then you, my friend,  are experiencing a phenomenon known as “infowhelm”.

Infowhelm is the experience of feeling overwhelmed with too much information.  Infowhelm is both real, and increasingly prevalent.  I’ve encountered it, and I’m sure many of you have had as well. Between the internet, hand-held mobile devices and screens around every corner, we are being exposed to hundreds of messages every day.  As was communicated in a video we watched the first day of class entitled “Did You Know, information channels are multiplying and information exponentiating all the time.   I find this concept both fascinating and terrifying, and something worth thinking about more in context of this class on health communication.

We hear all the time that in order to be relevant and reach modern audiences we must consider how to communicate through social media platforms.  Social media platforms have even bred their own lexicon with words such as “tweeting” “blogging” “facebooking” “blogosphere”.   Words like “wall”, “feed”, “tab”, “status”, “menu”, “post”, “tweet”, and “share” bring to mind something entirely different now than they would have 20 years ago.  Times have changed. (Check out this video that summarizes the rapid change in marketing).

On the topic of changing times, I recall how my grade school math teachers used to say to me “you need to learn this stuff because you won’t be able to carry a calculator around with you everywhere!!”  Turns out their predictions were off.  We do all carry calculators around with us in our mobile devices. Not only do we have calculators, but the majority of us actually have a small computer with connection to the World Wide Web that can answer our questions at any moment.

Can’t add?  There’s a calculator app for that.

Can’t spell?  Let Microsoft’s spell check do the work for you.

Can’t read? There will be a Podcast or Youtube or Tedx I can listen to

Can’t write?  Improved voice recognition and transcription software means you won’t have to. My phone even has a “Google button” that I can press and speak to Google about my question.

Interestingly and ironically, as technology and media information expands, it seems that people can actually feasibly get by with fewer traditional literacy skills. In one of our second week’s reading, Kickbush (2001) points out that we are returning to our historical ways of preferring to communicate through oral and visual means.   Suitably this means that the conventional literacy covered by the “3 R’s” are no longer sufficient and comprehensive for understanding information today (although arguably still very important).   To be “literate” in our present society, a person needs to be capable of a broader skill set including quantitative, scientific, technological, cultural, media and computer literacy (p.292).

In line with this thinking I found group online called the 2ist Century Fluency Project (2013).  Their vision is to move our focus beyond traditional literacy skills to 21st century skills that reflect the current times. They have developed a model of five main fluencies which operate in context of what they call a “global digital citizen”.  The fluencies include:

Fluencies pic for blog post1)    Information Fluency

2)    Solution Fluency

3)    Creativity Fluency

4)    Media Fluency

5)    Collaboration Fluency

For more information and some short videos on these fluencies click here.


So what is your experience with Infowhelm? 

Have you encountered it? Do you think you might in the future?   What about the people and populations you currently work with or plan on working with?  Why might it be important to consider infowhelm in communicating with the public relating to health?

Please share your experiences, stories and thoughts … or not, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all this information ;).


The 21ST Century Fluency Project. (2013). Retrieved Feb 5, 2013 from,
Kickbush, I. (2001).  Health literacy: addressing the health and education divide. Health Promo Intern.  16(3).  P.189-97.


Ice Breaker Image

Hello Class,

Thank-you for being such an excellent audience and being active participants in my “How to conduct Ice Breakers” presentation. Click on this link to retrieve the powere point: ICE BREAKERS Power Point.

Included are the slides I used for my presentation complete with some excellent resource links to dozens of ice breaker ideas for a wide variety of circumstances and audiences.  You will also find some You Tube videos that I think are worth taking a look at.  Please feel free to use my powerpoint or any of the content in the future.  I made this as a resource for you.

If you  walk away with  only three points from my presentation they would be:

1. Keep it simple: Ice breakers don’t need to be genius or complex. You will be surprised with how much a seemingly trivial activity makes a huge difference. Don’t spend time and energy coming up with your own activity when there are loads out there for you to freely use.  Use the resources I’ve included in the presentation.

2. Be prepared: Run through the activity in advance and plan for the context (See my “Ice Breakers 101: Preparation Slide”). Have a Plan B for unexpected circumstance (e.g. too much furniture in the room, or too many or too few people, time is short).

3. Enjoy the activity yourself.  Actively participate and deliver the activity believing it IS awesome (no matter how silly) .  If you think and do this, others will join you.

And remember, even if you have little to no experience public speaking, YOU CAN lead a successful ice breaker.

All the Best,

Suzanne Vander Wekken

P.S. If you would like to contact me personally about the presentation my email is