The Power of Visual Communication

We are greatly affected by the things that we see. Essentially, it can influence our personality, our feelings, and the things that we do with ourselves. Through research and experience, we continue to learn more about the visual world and how we are being affected by it. According to psychologist Albert Mehrabian, 93% of communication does not involve or use any words. Based on some research, the human brain can decode images instantly. On the other hand, the language will be deciphered in a different way since it will be processed sequentially, which will take more time. Our brains will react in a distinctive way to visual elements.

Due to years of evolution, people nowadays react differently to visuals compare to text. For instance, humans love to see beautiful images of landscapes. This can instantly generate a feeling of contentment and happiness. According to the theories of psychologists, this reaction is due to the experience that our ancestors had when they were living on the savannas in Africa.

A media theorist, John Berger, reveals in his book entitled “Ways of Seeing”, that people think based on images. Dr. Lynell Burmark says that seeing is done before words are being spoken. As we observe children, they will look and recognize first before they can even begin to speak. Words will travel to our short-term memory which can only store 7 bits of information. This is the reason why our phone numbers have 7 digits. While images will go instantly to our long-term memory where they will be permanently stored. Hence, it is not shocking that showing a circle is much easier than describing it.

Visuals Vs. Text

With regard to clear communication, visuals definitely have an edge over text. These visual elements do not only help us in communicating effectively, yet they can also affect us emotionally. For instance, based on some studies, when people are exposed to the color red, his pulse and breathing rates will tend to increase.

When people see a particular picture, they tend to feel something about it. Images can be used to stimulate strong emotions and to influence the viewers. However, if a picture is textually described to you, then your response will not be so intense since it would take time before you can totally digest all the information.

A media education specialist, J. Francis Davis, described it well when he suggests that images are used as tools for encouraging certain emotional responses from the people who viewed them. Pictures are not only effective for communicating, but they can also influence us psychologically and physiologically.

The author of Emotional Design, Don Norman, revealed in his article entitled “The Graphics on Your Computer Screen Can Affect the Way You Feel,” that when he began his career as an engineer, he wanted something that will work. Its appearance would not matter anyway. But for some reason, he still finds himself buying attractive things that do not work as well as things that are not so attractive at all.

He got confused about it, but later on, he realized that it was a result of the tight connection between emotion and cognition. Emotion emerges when you are making a judgment while cognition deals with understanding. They should not be apart from each other. We often heard people saying that they do not believe in something until they have seen it. Some research indicates that the famous saying “seeing is believing” is generally true. Obviously, we’ve realized that what we have seen can be biased but the most important thing is visuals can be very convincing.

What Makes Graphics Very Effective In Communication?

The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab conducted a study to help them know how people evaluate the credibility of websites. Based on the responses of the 2,440 participants, 46.1% of them agreed that their top criterion is the design of the website.

It is, in fact, undeniable that using visual stimuli is quite effective in communicating as well as influencing other people. As we evolved, we tend to use more visuals in disseminating information. The key to your success is to recognize the significance of visual communication. According to the poet and author, Allen Ginsberg, the one who controls the pictures is also the one who will control the culture. Even in the late nineteenth century, advertisers believe that images can make them sold goods. During World War II, they create posters to influence the opinion of the people, fortunately, it was quite effective.

An article entitled, “Good as a Gun: When Cameras Define a War,” published in the Sunday New York Times reveals the influence of the images captured by the photojournalists. Even if the politicians, generals, and other people that are involved in the war have exerted efforts, it is still the images that prevail. Seeing is truly different from just reading or hearing about a certain event.

Visuals Can Help In Convincing Your Audience

A study conducted at the University of Minnesota School of Management showed that visual aids are very effective in convincing the audience to take some action. Presenters who use visual aids are more successful than those who don’t. The objective of the study was to motivate the undergraduates to devote their money and time to participate in time management seminars. It was participated by presenters with different skills. Researchers discovered that an average presenter who included visual aids is more efficient than an advanced presenter who did not use any. Also, it was expected that an exceptional presenter will use high-quality visual aids. How about you? Do you use visual aids when making a presentation?

We’ve been using communication for more than 30,000 years now. However, when we start recording history, the communication being used was not text-based. The fact is, we started using textual communication for about 3,700 years only. The text became significant when the printing press was invented in 1450. However, the graphics were too expensive, so it was excluded. But once the price of printing has dropped, graphics began to resurface, and it became consistent.

It was in 1995, when the chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, Charles Brumback, suggests that we have started to evolve from textual to visual learning. This finding was confirmed by a professor at the University of London, Gunther Kress. This was proven when Kress compared the textbooks from 1936 to 1988, he found out that there was a major development from having more text to using more graphics.

However, this progression is not only found in textbooks and newspapers but also in maps, signs, packaging labels, posters about warnings and directions wherein words may not be enough. Graphics have become prominent in appliances, vehicles, restaurants, malls, TV shows, computers, grocery stores, museums, Web sites, and more. Professions that greatly depend on communication and influence are now embracing graphics.

Based on the article written by author Sacha Pfeiffer, “Courtroom Graphics Come of Cyber-Age,” using visual images was very valuable in the courtroom. More prosecutors have considered high-tech graphics as a necessity rather than a luxury.

How Can Graphics Influence Us?

Graphic communication has become global now more than ever. Perhaps you might be wondering why. Well, it’s because graphics can do more. Graphics can influence us both emotionally and cognitively.


Pictures can affect our feelings as well as our attitudes. Graphics can motivate our imagination and intensify our creative thinking. Sometimes our decisions are influenced by our emotions.


Graphics can accelerate our level of communication. They can help in improving our memory, comprehension, and retention. Visual signs can make us decipher text quickly. At the same time, it can grab attention to the information that you have provided. The immediate attraction can make your audience remember easily.

How Can Graphics Affect Our Decision Making?

According to behavioral psychologists, our decisions primarily depend on our emotions and intuition. Nobel Prize winner, Herbert A. Simon, conducted a study about corporate decision-making and discovered that most people would likely disregard formal decision-making techniques. Probably due to time limitations, insufficient information, inability to determine the outcomes, as well as other essential variables. Most decisions are likely based on instinct.

Rational Decisions Will Depend On One’s Emotions

Neurologist Antonio Damasio made a study on patients who have issues with their ventromedial frontal cortices of the brain. These patients have no emotions, yet they can think logically. Damasio found out that these patients are incapable of making rational decisions even if there reasoning is still functional. Because of this outcome, he made a conclusion that reasoning will greatly depend on the person’s persistent capability to experience emotions.

Additionally, psychologists Amos Twersky and Daniel Kahnerman, suggest that decision making will likely depend on how the problem was formulated which can likely result in some mistakes in judgment and apparent cognitive patterns.

Images Can Be Processed Quicker Than Text

Humans can process visuals much faster than text. Images can likely affect our feelings. And our decision making is greatly influenced by our emotions. So, if most of our decision making depends on our emotions and intuition, then how much of it is motivated by the enticing visuals. The advertisers are the experts on these.

Every year, companies spent a lot of money searching for the perfect image to represent their product or service so they can generate more sales. In 2001, Nike has spent $269 million on its imagery so they can sell their products. During the same year, Pepsi allocated more than $1 billion on its image but Coca-Cola has a larger budget of $1.4 billion. Anheuser-Busch even spent a staggering $440 million just to promote their products. Even the United States Military had to spend $598 million so they can improve their brand identity and fulfill their recruitment goals.

Graphics Can Help In Improving Your Brand Identity

Graphics are beneficial in creating your unique brand identity. By simply staring at the visuals, people will know who makes that advertisement and what are their goals. The audience will also realize if this product or service can be beneficial to them. Graphics have helped in selling a particular brand because of its capability to influence consumers. Your business will be perceived through the graphics that you use.

Indeed, graphics have an enormous effect on people’s perception of various things due to neurological and evolutionary factors. And this has been proven through several studies and experiments. The way the audience perceived the presented subject and how it was being presented is crucial in any decision making. Undoubtedly, graphics have a tremendous effect on the audience’s decisions. If you use graphics in advertising your products, then you have a great advantage over your competition.

Images Can Result In Positive Reactions

Larry Tracy, who has been working with the Department of State for several years, is aware of the significance of graphics when making purchasing decisions. Sometimes bad buying decisions were made due to the quality of the visuals that are being presented. As a result, the government has to put some limitations on the graphics being presented. Most often, they require black and white presentations or without any graphics at all. In this way, it can help in reducing the chances of persuading the evaluators based on the high-quality graphics that are being used on the presentation.

The industry is aware that graphics are very important to their audience. It can help companies in obtaining government business. Obviously, it is difficult to deny that government evaluators will highly recognize the presenters who are using exceptional graphics. Most often, they even include the images of eagles, flags, and other symbols that represent patriotism in order to obtain positive emotional reactions from the government evaluators. In doing so, the presenters will be viewed as reliable, patriotic, trustworthy, and supportive. Ultimately, the government evaluator can generate a positive outlook when reviewing the proposal. And there are greater chances that the evaluator will agree with the presenter.

Graphics Should Be Combined With Words

However, we are not suggesting that graphic communication is more exceptional than text. However, when graphics and words are combined it can make communication more powerful. Without using graphics, it seems that your ideas will just be meaningless. On the other hand, if your graphics are not accompanied by words, then it will become vague. The award-winning scholar, Robert E. Horn, believed that when words and visuals are closely associated, you can create something unique that can help to strengthen communication. Visual language has the capability of enhancing people’s ability to understand more efficiently and absorbing more information. Therefore, it is easy to say that our concept of communication is definitely evolving.

Compare Hare