james kinney
Professor, Centre for Art, Design and Informatics

Memes On Themes: Juxtaposing text with image to create or enhance meaning

Project Published 2/19/18 Last updated on 3/2/20


A weekly, self and peer-evaluated creative response using text and image to address weekly themes. The weekly projects take a social media campaign approach to encourage students to actively respond to and engage with a range of current, socially, economically and politically important issues using text image and social media platforms. Target audience demographics help to determine distribution channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and formatting as well as message content and tone.. Photoshop and its companion tools can be used to generate custom imagery Spark Post is used to create and design the content.


According to the Meeker Internet Report almost TWO BILLION IMAGES PER DAY are uploaded to the internet! To say that we are awash in imagery is a massive understatement. Developing strong visual literacy is essential to both understanding the influence that images exert on us as well as using them to enhance our own communications is crucial. The next step beyond developing a critical eye for image composition and their rhetorical use in media is understanding the reciprocal functions of text and image and the dynamic relationships that exist between them.

Text invites the reader to participate in the process of meaning making by invoking their own imagination to conjure up associated imagery from their own minds using their own experiences and creative capacities as tools. Image, on the other hand, leaves less to the imagination. Certainly one could speculate on what lies beyond the frame, what happened in the moments before or after the picture was taken, what the photographer was attempting to capture or convey in the composition of the frame or in the choice of lighting. They do possess the capacity to shock, scare, inspire awe and wonder and work often on a more emotional and psychological level as we identify and relate to the things represented. To some extent an image could be interpreted in descriptive prose or could inspire more poetic textual responses but the point is that both elements engage different aspects of the brain and self—images to the right and text to the left hemisphere—the irrational, symbolic and the rational logical, respectively. This is what makes the simultaneous use of both elements so interesting in that it delivers the potential for a /playful and powerful synthesis where new, and possibly more profound, meaning is created.

The trick is to play with the tension between the text and the image—neither element being allowed to dominate the other—both elements possessing their own unique power and meaning when held alone but, taken together, move us in an unexpected, surprising, inspiring and often humorous new direction.


Duration: 10 minutes per day to introduce and discuss the theme, intended audience and campaign hashtag. 30 minutes to creatively respond by generating a Meme in Adobe Spark Post (more time may be needed if students will be generating original or derivative works in Photoshop)..

STEP 1: Discuss the campaign theme with classmates (ageing, poverty, environmental degradation, democracy, etc.) and gather general impressions (we often use a collective mind-map either on a white board or on iPad using Simple Mind Map.

STEP 2: Decide on your target audience demographics and the appropriate distribution channel and format (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).

STEP 3: Create or source your imagery.

STEP 4: Word play (you can begin with using quotes from others and progress to using their own words) generates textual responses. Try to encourage them not to be too literal or obvious in their text such as: "Poverty is bad" or "Pollution hurts us all". Encourage them to try and see the issue from a very different perspective.

STEP 5: Put the text and the image together and consider the combined effect on the message. Stay open to finding better imagery or re-working the text.

STEP 6: Consider colour and font usage appropriate to the idea you wish to promote, the audience you are speaking to and the effect you wish to have on them.

STEP 7: Consider layout and readability—is the text difficult to read because of a busy and varied background? Is the type obscuring the image too much?

STEP 8: Include your campaign hashtag and then download or share on social media where appropriate.

STEP 9: Evaluate your work and the submission of ONE PEER using the rubric provided.

STEP 10: Participate in the weekly class reviews of your collective responses ( The teacher can lead this off. We project our iPads wirelessly and deconstruct each submission but you can also aggregate social media hashtags and look at submissions via twitter, instagram, etc. or simply view downloaded images in class.


Civility—our collective ability to develop and live with a set of publicly accepted standards, rules, protocols or behaviours that help to make public life or engagement with others more respectful, humane or liveable. Simple examples could range anywhere from saying please and thank you to giving up a seat on public transit to an elderly or infirmed person, holding a door open for someone, helping a neighbour or a newcomer, etc. It is rooted in mutual respect and empathy. The meme should engage the viewer to reflect on what civility, or lack thereof, looks and feels like in order to promote more civil-minded behaviour.

REMEMBER to use your own words from now on!

Hashtag is #CivilLives

Empathy—the ability to appreciate and understand the reality of others—their feelings, their hopes, dreams fears, social and economic situation, beliefs, realities, etc. so that we can communicate and work with and for them more effectively. The campaign hashtag is #WalkInMyShoes



Memes will combine an image and accompanying text in creative ways that speaks to or reveals perspectives, ideas and opinions surrounding the theme.

1. Image quality: Is the image of good quality? Is it visible, identifiable and free of distortions. Is it cropped properly for the appropriate distribution channel?

2. Readability: Is the type easy to read?

3. Grammar and Spelling: Does the text use proper grammar and spelling appropriate to the message? (ie if misspelling and poor grammar are being used with a purpose in mind that is different from an outright error)

4. Messaging: The juxtaposition of the text and the image combine to achieve a new meaning or work well together to enhance meaning.

5. Layout: The positioning of the image and text relative to one another works in a way that allows them to be considered in isolation as well as in combination without one obscuring the other. The elements work together in harmony to create a unified look and meaning.

  • Photoshop

    Editing and compositing for photos, web and mobile app designs, 3D artwork, videos, and more.

  • Photoshop Mix

    Creative mobile image editing.

  • Spark

    Adobe Spark is an easy-to-use tool that helps you turn your ideas into compelling social graphics, web stories, and animated videos

  • Photoshop Elements

    Organize, edit, create, and share your photos.

  • Photoshop Express

    Fast, powerful editing on mobile devices.

1+ Month
ISTE Standards
Students: Creative Communicator, Students: Digital Citizen, Students: Innovative Designer, Students: Knowledge Constructor

Computer with internet access.

Cell phone/tablet with internet access (optional)

Adobe ID

Adobe Photoshop or PS companion apps (optional)

Adobe Spark Platform

Adobe Spark Post App (optional)

CC License
Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
4 / 5 • 3 Ratings

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Comments (3)

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Mark Woszczalski

Posted on 3/26/20 10:38:44 AM Permalink

​Nice one, thank you for this

abc dfh

Posted on 3/15/20 6:39:45 PM Permalink

​Thanks for the Update. You can also check this free ​meme generator tool to make Memes On Themes easily in seconds.

Shafiq Rehman

Posted on 9/5/19 10:54:08 PM Permalink

Thanks for sharing​