What Is Visual Communication and Why Is It Important

Brian Nuckols

Written by:
Brian Nuckols

visual communication - header

Visual communication is a way to communicate ideas graphically in ways that are efficient and help to convey more meaning. It’s a critical element of any content marketing strategy. 

This is because visuals can help to evoke emotions in your audience, provide stronger examples for your message and so much more.

There are at least three crucial reasons to incorporate visual elements into your content creation process. Let's get started.

 

Why Is Visual Communication So Important?

A common challenge we face with creating content is that we put resources into exceptional work that fails to make the impact we want. 

How can we avoid this and make sure the content we’re creating makes the impact we need? There are three core challenges at the root of this problem.

visual communication - three challenges for impactful content infographic
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  1. Limited attention 
  2. Difficulties remembering your content
  3. Failure to understand what you’re trying to say 

First we’ll explore how to address these challenges. Afterwards, we’ll unpack concrete ways to launch effective visual communication strategies.

 

Visual Communication Addresses Three Core Challenges

In the modern content landscape, we have some challenges that can prevent us from having as much impact as we want. There are 3 particular challenges that visual communication helps us address. 

Challenge 1: Limited Attention

The first challenge we need to overcome is the limited attention span of your audience. 

According to the classic 2015 study by Microsoft, the average human has an 8 second attention span. 

visual communication - limited attention infographic
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In the years since, attention spans have been narrowing. According to a 2019 study in Nature Communications the lack of attention trend is accelerating. 

Since we know distractions are a problem, we want to explore how visual communication can help us make our content as distraction-proof as possible.

visual communication - common distractions infographic
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The good news is that visual communication helps us to transform our content into a distraction-proof, problem-solving tool. 

Because the likelihood of distraction online is often correlated with the quality of visual information in your content, the use of visuals helps them refocus and return to the main ideas in your content.

Guide your audience step-by-step with a process infographic like the one below.

visual communication - project process infographic
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Challenge 2: Remembering the Content

The second challenge businesses face with readers is making sure that you stick out in their memory. Something to keep in mind is that the content ecosystem is filled with awesome work. It’s a competitive space.

From my own experience, I often come across wonderful content that I save for later. 

However, because there is so much great material, I find myself returning only to the strongest visual content.

Ready to utilize strong visual content like infographics in your content? Use an example like the one below to help readers remember concepts you’ve written about. 

visual communication - what is design thinking infographic
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Visual communication has two crucial benefits when it comes to memory. 

First, it increases the likelihood that your content will create long term memories in your readers. That way, your readers will reflect on what they read and come back later for more content.

Additionally, strong visual communication will increase reading comprehension and memory while your readers are still reading the content. This is critical because it allows them to experience more insights and epiphanies. 

It’s crucial to keep them following along if you want them to experience breakthroughs on the problems they’re looking to address. 

Visuals support these insights because they summarize the critical points you want to communicate. This helps readers to make their own connections applying your ideas to their unique situation. 

Help your readers connect with your content by using this modern design concept map.

visual communication - concept map template
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Why does visual communication work so well for creating connections for your readers?

It’s because our brain loves processing images. Warning... For the next 75 words we will discuss neuroscience. 

visual communication - cerebral cortex infographic
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Our brain has an important area called the visual cortex. It's a large area in the very back, and it's the part of the brain responsible for processing images.

But there's another area called the Broca’s area that is much, much smaller. That’s responsible for reading words. 

We want to make it easy on our readers and help them access that huge region of the brain as opposed to making them struggle. 

Neuroscience lecture complete. 

There are additional reasons why word heavy content makes it hard on readers. 

When we see the word, “tree,” we have to generate our own imaginary representation of the word based on our memories. This is because words are abstract. 

The word itself is just a placeholder for everything we know about trees. If we make our readers generate meaning from abstraction after abstraction they will become exhausted and go back to Slack, Instagram or email.

You can use Visme to create a number of visuals to help amplify your message. 

Infographics

Create fun infographics centering with this step-by-step process infographic template.

visual communication - infographics
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Concept Maps

Illustrate concepts and share your biggest ideas with this concept map template. 

visual communication - concept maps
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Presentations

Transform your best performing content into an engaging presentation with the visual identity template. 

visual communication - presentations
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Charts and Graphs

Present your research with a sleek line graph using the chart infographic template. 

visual communication - charts and graphs
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Process Diagrams

What are your readers’ biggest challenges? What content can you create today that helps them move closer to their goals and create positive visual memories? 

Visually represent the steps involved in a problem solving process using our process infographic template. 

visual communication - process diagrams
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Challenge 3: Understanding if the Content is Meaningful

The third challenge to focus on when it comes to visual communication is whether or not your readers will find the content meaningful. Because there is so much content out there, and we read more everyday. 

Tech Jury compiled some provoking stats about content creation on the internet. 

visual communication - content creation stats infographic
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  • In March 2019, over 4.4 million blog posts were published every day.
  • Over 409 million people read more than 20 billion pages on WordPress each month in 2020.
  • There were 488.1 million blogs on Tumblr in January 2020.
  • The median average time spent reading an article is 37 seconds.

With this in mind, how do you create memorable content that sticks out from the crowd?

The first thing to understand is why readers don’t remember the content they consume.  We are all bombarded with information and we have to make decisions about what to filter out. 

If you use visual communication effectively, your readers will flag your content as meaningful and apply your insights to their life. What does that look like in practice? 

First, we have to understand the concept of coherence. 

Aaron Antonovsky developed the concept of coherence to understand why people respond to stressful situations so differently. 

visual communication - concept of coherence
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What is the difference between folks who get anxious from stress and those who flourish under the pressure? 

It has to do with how much confidence someone has that their environment is predictable. 

Coherence is a mix of optimism and control.

This means two things for your content. First, if you bombard your readers with a bunch of information, it can actually decrease their coherence and create frustration.

Secondly, if we present information skillfully our content will help readers solve their biggest problems. 

What are the most important questions you can answer for your readers? Illustrate your ideas and increase their coherence with the Principles of Learning template below.

visual communication - principles of learning infographic
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How to Put Visual Communication Strategies Into Your Content Today

Now that we’ve learned about the three common challenges that visual communication addresses, let’s explore how we can start putting visual communication strategies into practice today. 

Visual and Kinesthetic Imagery

The first way to put visual communication strategies into your content is to use more visual and kinesthetic imagery. 

A common mistake we make with content is using too much text. This is a problem because text heavy content ignores the 5 senses. 

Don’t forget that your readers have a whole domain of experience outside of the voice in their head that reads content. 

Research shows that senses are connected to memory retrieval.

Using content that provokes the senses is a practical strategy to help readers remember and fully understand your content. You also want your readers to have a more vivid mental picture of your content and brand. 

One of the low hanging fruits with visual communication is to connect your strategy with VAK theory.

The theory helps us understand how different people process and learn information

VAK stands for visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (tactile). The theory states that individuals prefer to learn through blending these sense channels as opposed to focusing on just one.

Let’s explore how visual communication helps us to blend the visual and kinesthetic styles. 

visual communication - visual and kinesthetic communication
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Kinesthetic Imagery (AKA Kinesthesia)

Kinesthetic images engage the feeling of movement. It deals with full-body sensations, such as those experienced during exercise. 

  1. Rushing water
  2. Feet pressing against the ground 
  3. Pounding hearts 

These are all examples of kinesthetic imagery. 

Fitness and outdoors adventure brands make great use of kinesthetic imagery. However, this is a tactic many other businesses ignore. 

No matter what our industry we have customers that utilize the kinesthetic sense to make sense of the world.

Ready to translate your next content success story into a visually compelling graphic? Get the process started with our flowchart template! 

visual communication - flowchart template
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Visual Imagery

Additionally, we can use visual imagery to help readers who need visuals to help make sense of things.

We want to pay attention to things like: 

  • Color
  • Size
  • Shape
  • Lightness
  • Darkness

How do we use these elements in our visual communication strategy?

We can get some inspiration from the world of filmmaking. Think about how certain movies have impacted your emotions. 

We might focus on the story, characters, and memorable moments in the film to try and understand this. However,  underneath the surface the decisions about color are making a huge difference. 

Let’s take a look at how directors and artists used orange colors to evoke certain moods in their films. 

visual communication - warm visual imagery
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Now, contrast how the use of blue brings up an entirely different emotional reaction.

visual communication - cool visual imagery
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With this in mind think about the emotions your brand colors are likely to evoke. 

visual communication - emotion and brand colors
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The above chart can help us think about where our brand style is likely to take readers emotionally. When we layer in visual communication using visual and kinesthetic imagery we can create a powerful experience for the reader. 

Think about the emotions and experience you want to deliver to your audience. Insert your brands colors and biggest ideas into our Venn diagram template. 

visual communication - venn diagram
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Data Storytelling

Now that we know more about how to communicate visually with graphics that promote  kinesthetic and visual imagery we can focus on what types of subject matter work well with visual communication. 

For many brands, data storytelling is a great way to do this. We want to tell non-fiction stories that will be applicable to our audience.

Here’s a great video from Visme’s Make Information Beautiful series on data storytelling. 

Okay, so with that in mind what’s a definition for data storytelling? It’s a process of analyzing real data and transforming it into a compelling story that drives a particular action. 

visual communication - what is data storytelling
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Before we start brainstorming ideas to create our own compelling stories let’s examine some common examples for inspiration. 

Example 1: Trends

Earlier, we discussed how coherence is a blend of control and optimism. One way we can help our readers increase their coherence is by helping them analyze the trends in industries they care about. 

One way to do this is by making a list of your favorite industry leaders. What predictions are they making? Compile their predictions and look for data that confirms or denies their ideas. 

After you find something the experts agree on, search for data to investigate this trend. 

We can use the following sources to collect data to investigate trends. 

visual communication - ways to collect data to investigate trends
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  1. Industry reports 
  2. Open source data 
  3. Qualitative research 

When you’re ready to share your findings use a line graph template from Visme like the one below.

visual communication - line graph
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Example 2: Rankings

Another way to use data storytelling is to display rankings. Visuals that rank options based on particular criteria can be enormously helpful to your audience.

Common criteria are: 

  1. Cost 
  2. Ease of use 
  3. Functionality 
  4. Popularity 

There are a few options when it comes to the creation of the ranking system itself. 

  1. Develop your own subjective ranking system 
  2. Repurpose an existing ranking system in a more compelling visual
  3. Crowdsource responses 

This is an excellent opportunity to serve your audience. 

What are their biggest problems? What solutions are they using to solve these problems? Can we create a ranking visual that will help them make decisions more effectively? 

Display your ranking system using a comparison report. 

visual communication - comparison report template
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Example 3: Draw Comparisons

Another way to use data to create compelling visuals is by making comparisons.

Comparisons tell a story about two opposites. You can ask questions like:

  1. Do we invest in inbound marketing or sales? 
  2. Do I write a blog post or make a youtube video? 
  3. Should we hire an editor or videographer? 

Comparisons can tell a side-by-side story between either polar opposites, or very similar things. 

A common type of comparison includes decision making tools like cost benefit analysis or pros and cons list.

Do your readers or ideal customers have complex decisions to make? Use a pros and cons infographic template to help them understand their options. 

visual communication - pros and cons template
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Create Compelling Visual Narratives with Visme

We’ve discussed how visual communication addresses core challenges in content marketing and how we can utilize strategies to address them. Ready to take action? Visme can help anyone develop a visual communication strategy. 

Limited Attention

Concerned about limited attention of your audience? Summarize the main points of your best performing articles and post them on social media to drive engagement. 

visual communication - limited attention
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Learning and Memory

It’s not easy to standout in today’s content ecosystem. A stellar visual communication strategy is necessary if we want to create meaningful content. 

Systematically break down your audiences biggest problems in a visual presentation. 

visual communication - learning and memory
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Coherence

The philosophy of coherence is a concept that shows us how valuable reducing frustration can be for the health of our audience. 

As a bonus, if we can help them do just that the science says they’re likely to find our content meaningful. Create a white paper that makes an impact on your audiences well being. 

visual communication - coherence
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Visual Imagery

Too often, we create content that fails to engage the full sensory experience of our audience. When we do decide to utilize visual imagery our chances of success skyrockets. 

Activate the kinesthetic and visual sense of your audience with a colorful infographic. 

visual communication - visual imagery
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Data Storytelling

Stories are an ancient technology for generating meaning and sharing wisdom.

By delivering the stories that live inside our data we can communicate important insights in a compelling way. Create a chart in Visme and take the next step on your data storytelling journey. 

visual communication - data storytelling
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Get Started With Visual Communication

It’s your turn! Get started with a template, and dive into the world of visual communication. Share your creation with me on Twitter and use #MyVisme!

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About the Author

Brian Nuckols is a writer working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enjoys communicating visionary ideas in clear, action oriented language. When he’s not working on content for a transformative company you can find him analyzing dreams, creating music, and writing poetry.

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