Since the 1990s researchers have explored the design features of instructional texts from a Vygotskian sociocultural perspective. This article draws on their work in order to formulate analytical questions. Selected examples from four South African eleventh grade history textbooks are analyzed in an attempt to understand how the application of design principles, or the lack thereof, affects the potential mediating function of the text for historical learning as a whole. The relationship between visual processing and analytical and affective thinking is introduced to the discussion. The article concludes by commenting on the sociocultural context of textbook production.