It’s All By Design: The Rise of Visual Communication

By: Nicola Brown, MPC2014

Look to any of the dominant social media platforms today and you’ll notice something common across all of them: they’re full of photos and videos.

Instagram visual communication

Some, like Instagram and YouTube, were born of this visual obsession and continue to be among the most popular and fastest growing platforms. Others, like Facebook, have seen an evolution over time to much more photo- and video-based posting habits. Even the text-based posts have flashy visual upgrades now. When was the last time you saw a plain line of text on Facebook?

In 2015, Facebook reported a 94% increase in video posts per person just in that one year.

The psychology of visual communication

According to the Social Science Research Network (as cited in Forbes), 65% of us are visual learners. This makes sense when you consider our brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text, and visual aids have been found to improve learning by up to 400%.

Learning through visual communication

It’s no wonder we seem right at home amid a sea of visual stimuli each day.

Adapting to visual demand

The rise of a visual-dominant communication culture is encouraging programs like ProCom to re-evaluate and shift the emphasis of their learning opportunities to account for this trend.

I’m currently working with soon-to-be ProCom Chair John Shiga on an extensive program review, and one of our primary areas of interest is how we can improve the visual communication components of the program to keep pace with industry demand for visual and design skills.

Even as a freelance writer I am continually asked by clients and editors to provide visual assets to accompany my work. I rely on the skills I’ve developed with Adobe Creative Suite regularly. It might be one of the most important pieces of software I use, even though the primary currency of my trade is language.

visual communication

What does the future of visual communication look like?

With full knowledge that visual communication is a powerful and growing force, how should we and our businesses envision what visual communication might look like in the future, and in what ways should we prepare?

First of all, the worst thing we could do is to buck the trend and stick with what we know. Even if you work in an industry or at a company that still churns out unadorned pages of text daily, you and your teams need to start thinking visually sooner rather than later in order to stay ahead of the curve. And it might get pretty curvy.

Design Week editor Angus Montgomery believes one of the primary drivers of changes in visual communication is technology, so we need to look to the most cutting-edge technological developments like brain-computer interfacing for clues.

visual communication in virtual reality

Designer Mike Dempsey says: “The creation of art, design, film and music will all benefit by dispensing with the cumbersome process of keyboards, musical notation or other handheld gizmos – thought and voice command will be the norm. Designers will simply think our creations into life at great speed and they will be capable of infinite changes and variations on that journey.”

Another designer Malcolm Garrett believes we need to break free of the limits we traditionally understand and impose on visual design work, shifting instead towards flexible, adaptable design frameworks that can attune themselves to different locations and contexts.

Where do we start?

This may sound a bit far-fetched to those still grappling with the basics of MS Paint (is this even still a thing?) for the first time, but if we consider how far we’ve come in the past 30 years, the next 30 are likely to look remarkably different.

visual design

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to start experimenting with visual tools, and the profundity of free apps out there for photos, videos, infographics and even VR experiences make it an easier sell for your Luddite colleagues, too. Try this free webinar from Adweek (registration required) to learn more about the trends that are redefining visual storytelling.

Check out our interview with alumna and graphic designer Irene Hawkings to learn more about the world of graphic design and how important it is that we all get a good handle on visual communication today.