A literate individual has been traditionally defined as a person who can read or write text based material. This definition has worked well for several hundred years. Although the ability to read and write remains a definition of literacy for most of the world's population, it has come under scrutiny by those living in societies where the traditional book, magazine, and newspaper has been supplemented with audio, visual, and digital media.

Today, the term "literacy" is used in several contexts.

Computer literacy. To be computer literate one must have a basic understanding of what a computer is and how one can use it as a resource for problem solving, communication, and personal enjoyment. At the basic level one has skills in equipment operation, using a web browser and a word processor. At a more advanced level one has knowledge about the effects computer technology has on culture and society and the ethical questions which arise from its use.

Visual literacy. The International Visual Literacy Association defines visual literacy as a "group of vision competencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences." When developed these skills facilitate the ability to discriminate and interpret the visual actions, objects, and/or symbols, natural or man-made, that are experienced in daily life. Visual literacy includes the ability to "read" or deconstruct images. It also includes skills in the construction or "writing" of imagery through photography, illustrating, or other techniques.

Information literacy.To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and effectively use it. Librarians are advocates of learning information literacy skills that relate to both traditional and mediated forms of information.

Media literacy. A media literate individual understands its influence in his/her daily life. This includes media such as that marketed over the airwaves, cable, in theaters, in stores, or online through the Internet. A media literate individual is able to "deconstruct" (read) how the media's audio and visual language frameworks are used to "construct" meaning. He/she analyzes, asks questions and seeks validation, when needed, about the daily messages that inform, entertain and sell.

Media literacy also includes the ability to produce (write) media at various levels of competency. An individual who can use media tools to construct a web site, video, sound recording, or multimedia product is empowered to communicate ideas through many different channels.

Today's multimedia designer is a multi-literate individual who has a fundamental understanding of computer technology,applications, and techniques for accessing information from a variety of sources.

The designer is an aural and visually literate individual who understands the unique constructions of film, video, photography, and sound. He or she is able to use these languages as fluently as the written or spoken word.

Finally, the media designer understands the social, economic, and political influences which shape his/her work and its distribution. Understanding how media influence and modify audience opinion or action is a part of the ethical consideration one must give to the influence their work will have on others.