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The art of visual communication

Accessible anywhere, anytime, information inundates our brains on a daily basis. More than ever before, we are accosted by input, and capturing our attention has become a real challenge.

Human beings are easily distracted, turning their attention to something new, or even tuning out everything around them. We know that our attention span has fallen considerably in recent years. According to a 2015 study* by Microsoft Canada, the average human has a shorter attention span than a goldfish – our attention span has apparently decreased from 12 seconds (2000) to 8 seconds (2013), while that of a goldfish is 9 seconds. How did we get here? Infobesity. Our brains receive more information than we are able to process. To deal with that, we filter the information we perceive.

What, then, is the best way to capture people’s attention and deliver your message? Why not try visual communication?

The advantage of using images

There are a number of advantages to using images to communicate:

  • Images are universal: They can convey very simple messages that everyone can understand.
  • The information is processed fast: The human brain processes an image faster than text – 60,000 times faster! The human eye alone captures 70% of our sensory information, so when your eye sees an image it quickly sends information to different parts of our brain. Words need to be processed, and more energy is required to interpret them and then react.
  • Images appeal to our emotions: We retain information better when it generates an emotion. An image is an excellent means of evoking an emotion, especially when it has the effect of surprise.
  • Images appeal to our visual memory: 65% of the population has a visual learning style.

The rules of good visual communication

Before you get started, here are some visual communication tips to consider:

  • Lay out the page: Our brains perceive a page as a unit, a single image, but we retain it more easily if the various elements are arranged in blocks.
  • Think of the visual path: The way we look at an image is conditioned by how we read: we start at the top left, then scan the text from left to right before moving diagonally down to the next line. The reading movement traces the shape of a Z. The eyes also tend to move clockwise.
  • Create contrast: Contrast with rest areas will highlight the important information and maximize the impact of your message.
  • Adapt your font: But wait, isn't a picture worth a thousand words? An image makes it easier to illustrate an idea and explain it, but if it’s not accompanied by words, it might be misinterpreted. The goal is therefore to ensure that the two complement each other. Your font can boost or undermine your message.
  • Use the right colours: Our perception of colour is linked to culture: for instance, in Asia, white is associated with mourning and death, while in the West, it denotes purity and innocence. Certain colour combinations also have meaning: for instance, black and white will convey a simple, serious image, while brighter colours will make for a friendlier image, with echoes of childhood.

To deliver an effective message, you need to capture the attention of your audience. Visual communication makes the best use of the short window of attention time you have to achieve that. Why not use it?

Paula Alvarez


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