4 reasons why you should communicate more visually

May 23, 2016

We’ve all passed these around a meeting table: Long reports and internal documents stuffed with stock phrases, numbers, percentages, lines of reasoning and disclaimers. Even thinking about it is enough to make your eyes glaze over – written information is just less intuitive for us to interpret!

Studies show that we remember about 20% of what we read. However, take the same information and transform it into an image, the level of information retention takes a huge leap to 80%.

Visual communication – the act of making your point through images – is one of the most important skills that you as an individual and as an organization can embrace, and from which you will experience tremendous results. Four examples of how visual communication can improve your business:

1. Visual communication improves understanding

If you are anything like me, you’ve embraced the fact that we live in a knowledge society and that information is thrown at you faster than you can digest it (I covered this in my recent article). Embracing this means deliberately being what journalists call a “serial skimmer” – a reader who look at documents for quotes, headings, media and conclusions prior to determining whether to dig deeper into the content or not. Providing fact-based visual aids better engages “serial skimmers”, grabs our attention and gets your message across to us faster.

2. Visual communication ensures efficiency

The combination of words and images conveys the message to your audience more efficiently than text on its own. This is because your brain is wired to make sense of an image in milliseconds. Compare this to the rate of a person talking or your reading speed and this neuroscientific fact speaks for itself.

Making use of visuals isn’t just for marketing purposes – creating visuals during the product development process can provide a map that conveys your business model far more succinctly than a written document. For instance, try visualizing your business model on a Business Model Canvas (BMC). In my experience, a BMC is a great tool for displaying new business ideas in the early product development stages and is great for fine-tuning and adjusting throughout the development process as well.

3. Visual communication facilitates collaboration

I use visual communication tools every day working with different clients. When facilitating workshops on i.e. user journey maps, stakeholder needs, or ideation, maintaining a visual focus really facilities collaboration and engages participants in the process.

Simple drawings and mood-setting images is a great starting point for discussions and iterations, as every participant is on the same page from the beginning. The same goes for simple mock-ups and prototypes, which can inspire new ideas in a way that verbal explanation cannot.

For instance, try verbally explaining to your colleague, in detail, how to use a stapler. Now show your colleague how to do it. Which was fastest and which was least confusing?

4. Visual communication sets the direction

Throughout any development process, knowledge can easily get lost. That is why visualizing key user inputs, decisions and conclusions is paramount to successfully setting the overall direction of the project.

To do this you can use visual aids such as:

  • Emotion-awakening images; to set the mood of the user experience in certain scenarios.
  • Quotes; a relevant statement that embodies your message or sets a scene.
  • Mood boards: intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.
  • Personas; an embodiment of users who exhibit similar behavioral patterns in their purchasing decisions, use of technology or products, customer service preferences, lifestyle choices, or the like.
  • Journey maps; a visual or graphic interpretation of the overall story from an individual’s perspective of their relationship with the organization, service, product or brand, over time and across channels.

Beware of distractions

Although visual aids can be an invaluable tool for conveying messages, they can also be distractions that lead to breakdown in communication and loss of focus. This might happen if the visual aid is not properly tailored to its intended use and audience.

For example, a manager incorporating a joke in the presentation of the quarterly budget to the board, might be an inappropriate use of an element that would work fine in a more intimate, low-key, inspiring workshop during the creative phases.

Everyone can do it

You do not need to be a budding Da Vinci or David Choe to make images and graphics that are both appealing and meaningful. Arranging your presentation slides with as little text as possible and a simple image will get you far. Look for inspiration on sites like Pinterest.com and find free relevant images on Pexels.com.

Next time you prepare an internal report or the like, carefully consider your choice of images, apply some meaningful graphic elements and combine these with some simple but powerful text. This will get your message across to your audience, faster, more clearly and it will save you a lot of writing time and your audience a lot of reading time.

Need more inspiration? Look to the book Show and Tell by Dan Roam. It is the embodiment of visual communication and set ups great guidelines for making extraordinary presentations.

Wait! Before you go…

I would love to know of more resources that can spark creativity and inspire great presentations. Do you know of any great resources? Please comment below.

To get more advice on innovation, product development and design follow me on LinkedIn.

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Kasper Friis

An innovator by profession, a consultant by experience. I've worked with engineering and product design, at the intersection of commercial ideas and human needs, for 6 years.