As our world becomes increasingly digital, visual communication has risen dramatically in importance. Perhaps it all started with prehistoric drawings on cave walls, but today’s visual communication is a truly dynamic profession and field of study. 

Visual communication’s influence reaches art, education, business, advertising, graphic design, entertainment, and any other sector where visuals deliver a message.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at visual communication as a profession and a way that organizations use to enhance messaging and message retention. Additionally, we’ll explore different visual methods used to optimize communication with an audience. 

Visual AdWhat is visual communication?

Visual communication is the conveyance of an idea, information, or message in a visual format. It’s the graphic representation of information or a concept to create meaning. Whereas, visual communication design incorporates elements of design and information development. It focuses on how media communicates with its audience through various forms of content. 

Visual communication design includes the consideration of aesthetics while maintaining optimal function. Further it involves creating new media channels to further enable a message to reach its target audience. For all types of visual communication, it’s important to emphasize that the transmission of the message should be straightforward, clear, and compelling. Art, on the other hand, is abstract. That is to say, the interpretation can be highly varied and left completely up to the observer. 

Graphic design vs. visual communication

Graphic design is closely related to visual communications, and some consider the two as nearly the same discipline. 

They are not. 

Visual communication is boarder than graphic design. It includes communication through any visual means such as video, photography, graphic design, advertising, website design, etc. However, graphic design is narrow and highly specialized. Graphic designers create and assemble symbols, images, text, etc., for a broader campaign. They fit these graphics into a website, ad campaign, or print media. 

Also, visual communications can involve aspects beyond the actual communication medium. For example, it can include  broader message strategy. For instance, a graphic designer might be commissioned to create a webpage logo, images, and site layout. After that, the visual communication expert might also make decisions about message strategy, tone, and target audience. 

Components of Visual Communication

Below are some components of visual communication and how to use them:

Typography

Typography is the arrangement of letters and texts. In other words, the style and appearance of printed matter. This determines copy legibility, clarity, and visual appeal. A smartly chosen font can transmit a mood, improve readability, and enhance understanding. 

Different TypographyColor

The choice of color can transmit personality. For instance, bright pink and deep blue convey two very different messages. Colors wheels can help color matching choice. A single strong color may be used for emphasis, but many colors may be used to communicate dynamism. 

Contrast

A contrast of light and dark make words and images stand out better. If needed borders can be placed around images for improved clarity and emphasis. 

Tone

Tone is related to color. That is to say, tone can transmit intensity or emphasis. Very bright fire engine red vs. a soft bordeaux transmit different sensations to the viewer.

Texture

A shiny finish might signify boldness, however a matte finish may say something more subtle. Different textures can highlight specific visual aspects and increase messaging nuance. 

Size & Perspective

The medium used (e.g. billboard vs. business card) determines size. Still, even a smartphone screen can use a close up view giving a sense of largeness. Side-by-side size contrasts draw attention.

Orientation

This is the “where” of visuals. It including relative position to other objects. Angle of view also plays a role here. For example, looking up from the floor contrasts with looking down from a rooftop. 

Shape

Geometry can set a tone or attitude. Smooth circles and ovals on the contrary squares or sharp angles can signal the character of your message. Shapelessness could mean creativity or chaos.

Examples of Visual Communication

Here are some examples of visual communication and how they might be used:

Data Visualization

The graphic representation of data using images, shapes, graphs, or symbols to explain relationships among the represented data.

Data VisualizationInfographics

An infographic combines text and images (typically graphs and illustrations). They can be used to convey a single message or a topic summary. Some reports will use an infographic to summarize results.  

Video

Video uses moving images to transmit a story, message, or concept. It can include animation, computer generated images, or real life scenes and people in recorded or live images. 

Photography

Photography encompasses capturing still images on photographic film or by digital methods. After that images can be modified and edited to enhance artistic effect.

Signs

Displays used to describe something with words, images and/or graphics. Signs can be used for wayfinding, naming, or other informational purposes. They can be static or digital. 

Iconography

Iconography is the use of traditional or conventional images or symbols that are associated with a subject. As a result it involves the pictorial or illustrative rendering of an object, subject, or idea.

Process Diagrams

Diagrams implement shapes and arrows to illustrate process flow. Consequently, enabling viewers to understand concepts through a visual format. Diagrams can include images, symbols, and text.

Maps

Maps are diagrammatical representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, bodies of water, boundaries, etc. Color use can improve contrast and map effectiveness. Interactive maps can zoom in/out and be integrated with other media for information sharing.

Drawings

Drawings constitutes artwork, diagrams, building floor plans, or other illustrations created by hand or by digital methods. 

Drawing illustrationAnimations

Animation is a method in which figures are manipulated to make it appear as though they are moving. This is accomplished with drawing or painting on celluloid sheets which are then photographed. Moreover, modern animation uses specialized software assistance which is less time consuming.

Illustrations

A decoration, interpretation or visual explanation of a text, concept or process. Illustration is frequently used in published media. 

Why is visual communication important?

Every organization’s approach to visual communication is critical to message retention and brand success. 

The simple act of shining a light on a store sign at night improves visibility, even if you don’t change the sign itself. In fact, up to 45% of visitors will enter a business only because they noticed the sign. Plus, in 2019, worldwide advertising spending reached nearly $587 billion

Another reason visual communication is critical is that the understanding of concepts improves when accompanied by visuals. From stock market charts to diagrams to flow charts to maps to TV commercials, ideas stick better when accompanied by something you can see. The reason behind this is largely biological. Visualization works since humans respond to and process visual data better than any other type of data. 

The human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Visual communication, therefore, takes advantage of human nature to enhance concept and message processing, organization, reach, and effectiveness. 

The benefits of visual communications

The primary benefits of visual communications include:

  • Improved retentionLearning through visuals, can decrease learning time, improve comprehension, enhance retrieval, and increase retention. This helps with organizational communication, training, advertising campaigns, and more.
  • Improves understanding – Some signs need no words at all to convey meaning (e.g. no smoking sign). Concepts can even be understood across different languages and countries. A list of percentages is harder to understand compared to a well designed pie chart.
  • Faster understanding – Your message gets transmitted and understood faster with visual communication. Humans can grasp the meaning of a visual scene within 1/10 of a second.

Visual CommunicationHow to use different types of visual communication

What’s the best approach to using your media, content, or signage? Here are some examples:

Websites

Websites can be used by any organization or individual to communicate online. So, sites should be dynamic, comprehensive, and easy to understand. The web address and/or link should be included on all types of organizational communication.

Social Channels

Social media is very much about engaging, sharable messages that reach people where they are. Images and short video formats are popular. A captivating title or text helps as well. Videos should get to the point immediately or find a way to build suspense. 

Training & Onboarding

Diagrams and flowcharts can help assist in overall understanding. Additionally, videos can also help provide visual examples. Interactive online training can be highly effective. If appropriate, videos with live actors or animation will resonate better than lengthy text. 

Events

Billboards, social media posts, TV commercials, and street banners can all be employed. All media should be uniform in branding, color, logo, and messaging. The idea is to provide a near ubiquitous presence to build hype. Countdowns to the event generate excitement, such as a live countdown on a webpage or social media page.

Reports

Illustrations, charts, graphs, and flowcharts should be used generously in reports. Large blocks of text can be difficult to follow. Breaking up the narrative with visual aids drives the point home and improves retention. Visuals should be kept as simple as possible.

Presentations

Visuals are used in presenting a topic to an audience to inform, persuade, inspire, or present an idea or product. Presentations can include visual aids such as slide shows, models, videos, handouts, or demonstrations. 

Visual aids and levels of sophistication

For effective visual communication, the use of visual aids come with various levels of sophistication. For example, let’s say you were giving a presentation in a conference room.

What sort of visual aids you might use to get your message across?

Meeting Visual communicationAt the most basic level, a whiteboard or chalkboard can be used to transmit ideas at the moment, and these are inexpensive tools. Another affordable option is paper handouts with notes or diagrams to help explain concepts. 

The drawback to these visual aids is that they may not be as engaging when compared to other methods. If the audience has their heads down reading a hand out, they might not pay as much attention to the speaker.

If you have access to a projector with computer capability, then your communication possibilities increase dramatically. A slide presentation or video clips can go a long way to stimulate conversation or help a message to sink in more. 

However, these kinds of visual aids require careful preparation which can be time consuming and expensive. Something to be careful of when using slides is to avoid showing/reading large blocks of text. 

Instead, implement easy to read diagrams, graphs, images, and brief outlines to get your message across. The idea is to highlight the key information only. Remember, the visual aid should support the presentation, not generate distraction or boredom. 

Advanced & interactive forms of visual communication

With modern technology, visual communications has taken on an entirely new dimension. For example:

Video Conferencing

This has gained widespread acceptance at the social and organizational level.  Friends and family make video calls while companies conduct important meetings via video conference. 

Events

Large displays can be set up to show event related Twitter tweets. Also, the event can set up trivia contests or competitions, with results shown in real time. Participants can even be invited to use their smartphones to vote about something, like the winner of a presentation or performance. The main display screens can show the results. All of these methods can also incorporate learning, training, or branding messages to fit the context of the organization or event.

E-sport competitions

These are broadcast to stadiums or cyber bars where fans can meet on gaming and social media platforms. This generates a combination of social, lifestyle, and spectator interaction that all rely heavily on visual communication.   

What is a visual communications degree?

As we alluded to earlier, visual communications is a true academic discipline. It can incorporate concepts from graphic design, visual arts, marketing, advertising, and public relations. For instance, the University of South Carolina offers a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Communications. University level programs teach students how to tackle visual problem-solving through fundamental skills such as graphic design, film, web design, and photography.  

Job OpportunitiesJob market for a visual communications degree?

A degree in visual communications can help you land a job working at:

  • Media companies
  • Television Industry
  • Music & Entertainment 
  • Film Industry
  • Gaming Industry
  • Advertising Agencies
  • Website Development
  • Production Houses
  • Public Relations
  • Fashion Houses
  • Magazines
  • Social Media Groups
  • News Organizations

Job titles associated with a degree in visual communications include:

  • Graphic Designer
  • Graphic Artist
  • UX / UI Designer
  • News, magazine, or book editor
  • Photo / Video Editor
  • Animator and Illustrator
  • Web Designer
  • Web Developer
  • Desktop Publisher
  • Copywriter
  • Scriptwriter / Screenwriter
  • Production Assistant
  • Photojournalist
  • Videographer 
  • Illustrator
  • Art director
  • Social Media Marketer 
  • Filmmaker 
  • Marketing Specialist

Visual communication of the future

In conclusion, as technology advances, the potential for visual communication is limitless. With virtual reality, augmented reality, holographic transmissions, drone filming, 3D, and other technology, the way we communicate visually will continue to diversify rapidly. Also, by connecting devices in real time, such as smartphones connected with signage or display messages, the experience can become even richer and more extensive. 

Even multicasting over a wide network in sync with signage is already possible. Meanwhile, the gamerverse continues to push the envelope with multiplayer immersive games that tell a story rather than just offer a game platform. 

In the future, perhaps the only limits to visual communications will be the creator’s imagination.