In the literature regarding the use of pictures to communicate verbally and visually with less skilled readers, a number of recurring problems are mentioned. These include problems relating to the interpretation of depth perspective, making sense of representations of unseen objects, finding the main meaning amidst visual noise, problems of ambiguity or incomprehensibility arising from clashes between cultural models and popular/Western models, and interpreting a range of symbolic meanings. This article reports on a qualitative research project undertaken to determine how well low-literate adults understand visual symbolism in educational documents that deal with HIV/AIDS. Individual interviews were conducted to fing out how effective the messages were when conveyed by three types of stills, nameley symbolic-analogical, symbolic-abstract and indexical pictures. The findings were generally consistent with those of earlier studies. However, the research also yielded rich data on the mismatch between the reponsive capacity of low-literate African viewers/readers, and design perspectives based on Western cultural models and the use of visual styles associated with popular mass media.