The Disciplinary Concepts at the Heart of Visual Communication

In a lot of ways, effective visual communication is about a whole lot more than just finding pretty pictures to pair up with relevant text on a document like an infographic or a presentation.

Yes, human beings are visual learners, and if you match information with relevant visuals, people will always be more likely to remember it than if you don’t. Yes, visual information is easier for us to digest because it plays directly into the way our brains work in the first place.

But there are a lot of deeper ideas behind many visual communication techniques that go a long way towards explaining why they’re so effective in the first place. Understanding the disciplinary concepts at the heart of visual communication will give you the best chance of becoming a master in your own right.

Size, Spatial Relationships and More

One of the most important disciplinary concepts at play when you sit down with a tool like Visme (of which, in disclosure, I am the founder) to create your next infographic or presentation, actually has to do less with the individual elements themselves and more with their relationship with one another.

To better understand this, think of something like an Infographic less as a visual document and more as a story that you just happen to be telling using pictures.

When you tell someone a story, you use a number of different techniques to control both the pace and the impact of that story. There are certain elements that you speed through to get to certain milestones. Then, you might slow down a bit to give additional weight to certain dramatic points. In the end, you might wrap up your story in a way that puts a proverbial bow on your narrative and leaves the listener thinking long after the story itself has completed.

By understanding the disciplinary concepts at the heart of visual communication, you can accomplish essentially the same thing with infographics and other materials that you’re creating.

Think about the size of certain elements, for example, and how they relate to everything else around them. If there are certain points in your infographic that you want to highlight, you can experiment with making them physically bigger on the page to subtlety draw the readers’ attention.

If you want a particular point or statistic to stand out, you can also arrange it in a particular way it within the document. Make sure that it is surrounded by a lot of white space to separate it from everything else surrounding it.

A combination of both of these techniques can also be a great way to essentially highlight a particular fact or figure without literally doing that. It’s essentially a way of saying, “Hey, reader—this is important” without coming right out and actually saying that.

The same concept applies to other documents such as a presentation, where pace, in particular, is incredibly important because you don’t just want to convey information—you want to convey it in a way that guarantees maximum impact.

Everything from the font size and type to the relevant visuals on a particular slide gives you total control over how long it takes a person to digest the information contained on that slide before moving onto the next one.

Based on this theory, you also have the ability to control how long it takes someone to experience the entire document when these concepts are considered within the context of a larger whole.

Even sudden striking color changes can be used to influence your readers in subconscious ways. If there is a point you want to highlight that is particularly sad, consider shifting the font color (or the color scheme of a relevant video) to red to emphasize urgency. Just make sure there isn’t too much red in the rest of your document, otherwise this effect stands a chance of being lost.

Visual Communication is More Than Just the Sum of its Parts

For the sake of comparison, think of this like you would of a motion picture with a traditional three-act structure. Three of the most important plot points in any movie tend to happen in very specific locations—once at the end of Act 1, again at the end of Act 2 and finally at the end of Act 3. These are the major points where the plot shifts in some dramatic way that energizes the viewers and motivates them to keep going.

But a movie doesn’t skip over these plot points as quickly as possible. At the end of Act 2 when all hope is seemingly lost for our main characters, we don’t speed by it in an attempt to get to the finale. We tend to dwell a bit for dramatic effect. Things slow down and the viewer can get a sense of just how bad things are, which itself makes their victory in Act 3 all the more sweet and satisfying.

With the right understanding of the disciplinary concepts at the heart of visual communication, people can experience your collateral in the same way. If you understand where your pivotal pieces of information are in something like a graph or even a beautiful video, you’ll know exactly where your milestones are and why they matter.

You can then use size, spatial relation, color and other techniques to emphasize and highlight not just the piece of information itself but the feeling a person is supposed to get when they see it for the first time.

This, in turn, doesn’t just leave you with a visually compelling piece of marketing collateral. It lets you create a true emotional experience in the very sense of the term—something that will make your collateral both more effective initially and that will make sure that it sticks with your reader or viewer long after they’ve finished it. That type of brand engagement is something you just can’t put a price on.