These days, it’s usually a visual element (film, photo, illustration) that gets people to slow their scroll and react in the middle of the constant barrage of information and impressions our brains have to process. Why? Because visuals can awaken a lot of emotion – fast. Joy, sorrow, curiosity, anger, desire, jealousy – just to name a few. And it’s exactly that ability to quickly affect our emotions, and in turn behavior, that makes visual expression so powerful.
Visual by nature
We humans are visual beings. 90% of the information we notice and that’s transmitted to our brains is visual. It’s been important for our survival as a species to be able to quickly process and interpret visual impressions, so our brains have gotten extra good at it. Even as little babies, we learn to interpret facial expressions, body language and other visual cues. Today, 65% of people are thought to be visual learners, which means the majority of us need visual aids in order for us to best identify, understand and remember new things. Studies show that we remember 80% of what we see, 20% of what we read and 10% of what we hear. So clearly, the right visual aids are a powerful way to both capture people’s attention and to communicate information. A single image or film clip can convey much more than a detailed text block. Plus, images and film can cross language barriers in a way that text simply can’t.
It’s better to show than tell
On websites, people barely read the text. Rather, we scan the page looking for something that catches our interest – usually headlines and images. The typical website user reads about 20% of the text content, according to the Nielsen Norman Group. Visuals help with scanning because we process images much faster than text. The human brain is incredibly fast at processing and attaching meaning to a symbol. Researchers from MIT have seen evidence that the human brain can identify images as quickly as 13 milliseconds.
The sign to the left means: Moose may run across the road in this area – pay attention for movement along the road and roadside, and drive carefully. It takes about 5 seconds to read the whole sentence. Of course, the message can be shortened to WARNING FOR MOOSE! Either way, it’s still significantly faster to process and understand the symbol than to read a whole sentence (and much safer when you’re zipping past on a highway!). People also don’t need to know the local language or be good readers.
Or sometimes show AND tell
When it comes to learning or fixing a problem these days, many of us expect an instructional video rather than a text-heavy manual. When I wanted to get my new portable flash unit to sync with my camera's built-in flash, was my first instinct to look it up in the camera's seriously boring and fist-thick manual? Nope. Where do I turn to find out how to make a flash sync? YouTube, of course. A quick search and bingo! – at least twenty videos showing exactly what to do specifically for my camera and flash. Fantastic! The great thing about film is that the combination of auditory elements and moving images is tailormade for giving instructions. And YouTube has upped everyone’s show-and-tell game. I never cease to be amazed at how many instructional videos there are on YouTube. Everything from hacking IKEA furniture to how to impress on a first date with a perfectly executed three-course dinner. The majority of YouTube viewers watch videos for help with hobby, study or work-related issues.
Visual elements awaken emotions
Our brains love pictures and videos. The combination of images, colors and sounds helps us relate to different moods and emotions. A picture of a cute puppy gives us a stronger experience than a descriptive text about how cute the puppy is. Better yet, a film with the right pictures, colors and sounds gives an even stronger experience and we just totally melt for that sweet puppy.
Posts on Facebook that include film generate 100% more engagement than average posts.
Always start with why
When choosing images or film clips, it’s important to understand the purpose of what we’re communicating. Let’s not add graphics just for decoration or throw in a photo or film just to lighten up a long block of text. It’ll only confuse people. If we’re trying to sell an item, the graphics have to represent the item in both a correct and inviting way. If we want to convey a feeling, the visual content has to move us emotionally.
Let’s get real
A clear trend we’re seeing today is the use of authentic images and films – ones that don’t feel too staged because that doesn’t reflect our own reality. We have a hard time relating to things that look too perfect. A stock-photo model with flawless hair and a whitened smile in a pristine environment doesn’t cut it anymore. We just don’t believe in that person. Simply put: stop using overproduced stock imagery.
The larger image banks have understood this, and today we see a clear transition to images that look more authentic. With the evolution of 3D technology, which can make things look a little too good, subtle flaws and distortions are added that are barely perceived by the eye, but that help us to see an image as more authentic.
Any visual element has to give the right feeling for us to engage with it and, above all, it must be relevant to what we want to communicate.
Visual communication has a unique ability to influence our emotions – emotions that affect our memories, which in turn will affect our decision making.
5 fast facts about visual communication
65% of people are visual learners.
It’s 85% more likely that a customer will buy a product after watching product-related video.
90% of all communication happens visually.
Blog posts with images, videos, or infographics get 180% more engagement.
Our brain processes visual impressions 60,000 times faster than text.