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4 Reasons to Be More Visual

Human brains process visual information in very specific ways. Here's how to tap into brain science to get your message across.
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Visuals convey the power of ideas very effectively--and in way words alone cannot. But unless you work as a graphic designer, or perhaps as a cartoonist, it's rare for your first inclination when starting a project to be delivering an interesting visual package.

Maybe it's time to reconsider. To do so, we sought out some folks whose jobs are to deliver those visuals: Jeffrey Sass, co-founder of Social Object Factory, the content division of cartoonist Hugh McLeod's Gaping Void company. 

"Our brain is designed for pattern recognition, which is one of the reasons why symbols have been around since caveman days. Cartoons capitalize on that unexpectedly," Sass says.

Gaping Void CEO Jason Korman agrees, saying: "We're overwhelmed by data and info, we want things that make communications more simple, less complex."

Recently a client asked for a slide deck that explained Social Object Factory's product, and Sass posted it on SlideShare.net, not knowing the client would turn around and share it widely. Within a few weeks, the slides have been viewed more than 40,000 times. The slide deck itself became a "Social Object"--a thing around which people share and connect. (As McLeod explains, if you and your buddy see each other every Tuesday to bowl, bowling is the social object. On Facebook, pictures are often the social objects that bring people together and provide a shared experience.)

The slide deck is full of cartoons and bold visuals that explain best presentation practices. Thinking of following suit? Here's the case for doing so.

1. Remember: Out of sight is literally out of mind.

So says Robert Cooper, founder of Cooper Strategic.

"Out of sight is almost always out of mind and out of action. The brain has certain inherent hardwired tendencies. It is trying to take care of us, but in an antiquated way," he says. "It tries to conserve resources, and one way it does that is by not paying attention to what is new if it requires much concentration."

Cooper also noted that we also tend to remember such images more readily and longer. Result: these visuals can have more ongoing value or impact that a big, bloated, Word document, or PowerPoint, ever could.

2.  Visuals allow the brain to take shortcuts.

And that makes a presentation easier for everyone to take.

Think for a moment about a Steve Jobs product presentation: few words, iconic images, and brief spoken phrases to evoke a whole set of concepts.

"Once a visual has our attention, our brains will give it a second look," Cooper says. "You can then get the brain to pay more attention, but you have to give it a reason to want to. Visuals and phrases that evoke concepts people want to think about, things that resonate, things that are funny and novel are what catch us."

3. Brains like the familiar.

Cooper notes that, by hard-wired nature, we don't tend to spend much time on "new." Unless is it a danger, of course.  Otherwise it's easy to get caught in the everyday "blur" and see less of what's going on than we realize.  (If you don't believe it, take the Awareness test.) Visuals such as cartoons ground us in a familiar concept, while allowing us to process hard ideas. Korman says: "Cartoons are a visual shorthand. The actual illustration itself is just an enticement to an idea, and the three-to-10 words have really great clarity. You wind up with an illustration that gives you a feel, and with words it resonates."

4. Making hard stuff friendly improves communications.

"In business school, we're taught about quantifiable metrics, but mind doesn't always work that way," says Korman. "If you want to talk about insurance or server farms, people's eyes glaze over. If you can do it in a way that's fun and whimsical and interesting and unexpected, you have a level of engagement that's hard to get other ways. You provide a sense of play and learning. To the extent you can do that with really technical stuff, then you've got something magical."

Cooper cautions: "Don't just make everything visual and expect that to work." You need to connect the pictures, the words and the ideas to make an impact.

Do you have you got some great examples of how visual communication has moved your business forward? Share them with the crowd below.

IMAGE: Hugh McLeod--Gaping Void, http://www.gapingvoidart.com/
Last updated: Sep 17, 2012




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