What Is Visual Communication and How to Use It

Mehedi Hasan Shoab
December 28, 2022
min read
April 19, 2024
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What is visual communication, and what are the most effective visual communication methods and tools for your team?
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oIn Hubstaff’s 2021 Remote Project Management Report, nearly half of employee respondents cited lack of proper communication as their biggest challenge.

Visuals make it easier for employees to work more productively, whether they're in different time zones, locations or departments.

Now, it's easier than ever to build visual content that incorporates screenshots, videos, graphics and more into your visual communication strategy.

Here are the tools and tips you need to kickstart your visual communication.

What is visual communication?

Visuals can help with message comprehension in ways that text alone can’t. They bridge the gap between the message's meaning and language, particularly when the audience has various demands and backgrounds.

When it comes to internal communications, many employees struggle to keep up with all the different channels, tools and platforms they use to communicate with each other.

Visual communication is made up of several key elements, such as illustrations, typography, colors and shapes that help you convey a message, engage the audience and encourage learning retention.

Types of visual communication

An example of visual communication
Example of a visual step-by-step guide

‎In the workplace, you'll often see visual communication in the form of:

  • Charts and graphs: Visual representations like bar charts, pie charts, line graphs, and scatter plots are frequently used to present data and stats.
  • Visual step-by-step or how-to guides: These sequential guides often incorporate annotated screenshots or illustrations to walk through processes.
  • Training videos or product demos: Instructional videos combine moving images, sound, and sometimes text to convey messages and information.
  • Infographics: These combine images, charts and text to simplify complex data or information and make it more accessible and understandable.
  • Graphic Design: Graphic designers use images, typography, and layout to create external-facing materials such as websites, social media images, ads and more.

Each type of visual communication serves a function that achieves organizational goals. They're designed to convey information quickly according to:

  • The needs of the audience/department.
  • The information's level of complexity.
  • The software or processes involved.

These visual communication types all play a pivotal role in conveying messages — whether they're informational, instructional, persuasive or even artistic.

Why is visual communication important?

According to a Grammarly report, 72 percent of corporate leaders believe that better communication has boosted their organization's productivity, and 52 percent of employees agree as well.

and on that note, research from TechSmith Academy found that 67 percent of individuals grasp information better when it’s delivered visually.

Visual communication can help users digest complicated material quickly, breaking down barriers by translating difficult text into easily interpreted visual content.

Here are some other reasons you need visual communication in the workplace.

Visual communication enhances employee learning and retention

Visual communication helps your employees learn more quickly and remember what they learned.

Researchers have known for a while how important visuals are for memory. One 1969 study found that a user retained only 10-20 percent of written or spoken information but almost 65 percent of visual information after three days.

While that research is old, evidence still rings true today, with multiple newer studies backing it up.

Images are anchors that help embed messages and ideas in our memory. Combined with text, visual communication helps your message stick in the minds of your audience.

Visual communication increases engagement

In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Education and Practice, 70 percent of students and teachers agreed that visual aids increase motivation in the learning and communication process. In the same study, 71 percent agreed that visual aids eliminate dullness.

In a sea of text-based content, visual communication can attract and arouse employees' attention. Through symbols and visual metaphors, visual communication can also motivate change or elicit emotion.

To be more scientific about it, studies show that the brain’s medial temporal lobe stores our visual memory. This region also processes emotions. 

Given how emotions are key to driving strong engagement, it’s easy to see why most people prefer to look at memes, GIFs and other multimedia instead of big blocks of text.

Here's an example of visual communication on the Scribe website. Scribe is an AI-powered tool that documents processes and auto-generates visual guides.

Now, I could tell you how easy the tool is to use and how effective it is, or I can show you.

The image above does two things: it shows you what the end product looks like AND elicits an emotional response by putting the Scribe into context, combining images and text.

Visual communication is clear and effective

Visuals can make complex concepts easier to understand. Let’s say you want to learn how to change a flat tire. You’re more likely to “get” it if you look at an instructional manual with pictures than one with only text.

Our brains are built to process images faster than text. When we see complex ideas represented visually, we find it easier to put two and two together. It’s like playing a connect-the-dots game — we can already see an emergent picture before we finish.

Based on that argument, it’s easy to see why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises health care facilities to use visuals like pictures, charts and graphs to communicate health information to the general public and promote public health. 

CDC visual communication guidelines
CDC visual communication guidelines

Visual communication quickly breaks down information

Images, slideshows, graphs and charts are frequently used to reduce enormous volumes of textual information.

Take this visual employee onboarding checklist template created by Piktochart.

The company clearly communicated complex requirements in a single, easy-to-digest infographic. It uses different typography and colors to establish each section and different sizes to communicate visual hierarchy.

‎Visual communication can help employees comprehend patterns and understand processes. This can cut down on training time and free up your go-to people to focus on the getting the job done.

According to research, humans absorb visual information faster and more effectively than text alone. Visual features can help simplify complex concepts, divide information into digestible bits, and offer visual cues that improve comprehension. 

Think of visuals as “schemas” or "mental shortcuts" that help us make sense of large quantities of information faster. 

Visual communication improves accessibility

Some employees may struggle to comprehend specialized information.

Visual aids can help personnel from all departments understand specific information about internal processes or operations. This can improve access to critical data and help different departments coordinate more efficiently.

For example, we often will use a chart to outline core data instead of sending spreadsheets. This preserves the most important details without bogging readers down with any excess.

Putting the information front and center on a well-designed display will help the internal distribution of your most critical information, along with acceptance of new rules and processes.

Visual communication promotes company culture

Another advantage of visual communication is that it strengthens your corporate culture over time. When your employees believe management has taken significant measures to communicate information, they’re more inclined to listen and take it seriously. They'll also instill that work ethic in their own efforts to give knowledge. Making visual communication a company-wide norm sets everyone up for success.

Using consistent visual components such as colors, typefaces, and graphic designs helps businesses reinforce their brand image and create a cohesive visual experience for employees. Plus, when your brand is visually consistent, it makes your firm appear more legitimate, trustworthy, and professional. 

The truth is, successful visual communication requires work. But it’s definitely worth the effort!

How to use visual communication at work

Visual communication can simplify our lives, promote our ideas and secure profit — but only if we with a concerted effort in the workplace.

Here's out to implement a visual communication strategy in your workplace.

#1. Identify your target audience

Who are you talking to, and what information do you need to convey to them?

Some of your internal communications target the entire company. But other messages don’t need to be shared with everyone — or else they’ll tune out due to information overload.

Before crafting your visual communication, you should consider who it's for. What are their preferences, interests and needs? 

Maybe you're launching an employee training program and want to create content for each department. In this case, you'll want to:

  • Identify the go-to people (often managers or subject matter experts).
  • Outline the team's processes and tools.
  • Include relevant company policies.

#2. Choose a type of visual communication

Once you know your audience, it's time to choose how to get your message across.

As we mentioned above, there are several types of visual communication. They all serve different functions.

First, ask yourself about the overarching goals of your organization. Do you need to:

For example, standard operating procedures, employee handbooks and process documentation are especially helpful for onboarding new hires, adopting new software or even training clients.

However, if you're looking to introduce employees to new concepts or information, you'd likely want to build an infographic or create a video.

Or maybe you want to build out an organizational chart using an organizational chart maker, or draft a long process with several different options to choose from.

Example of a simple process map or flowchart

If you’re having a hard time identifying the right visual communication format, take a step back and start with the main idea again. Then, zoom in, draw out supporting ideas and create a structured narrative. 

Remember, the purpose of your message drives the structure.

For example, you can communicate high-level goals to the finance department with graphs showing revenue, cash flows and cash balances.

#3. Pick the right visual communication software

Now you know what type of visual communication you want to create. Take advantage of visual communication tools to help you build the materials you need.

For example, if you're trying to build SOPs or other work instructions, you should try a tool like Scribe. The free extension captures your screen to instantly create step-by-step guides — complete with annotated screenshots, like this one:

Scribe is a great visual communication tool for process documentation

Scribe is perfect tool for creating job aids, training manuals and more — in half the time.

On the other hand, if you want to build flowcharts or create website materials, you might want to try an instructional design tool like Figma or Miro.

#4. Start building your content

If you want your communication to be clear to your audience, make your visuals skimmable. Visuals are meant to be scanned, not read. 

Provide clues that tell your audience at a glance how the information in your visuals relates to the rest of the document or presentation. 

Let’s say you made charts showing the relationship between sales results and marketing spending over time. You can include a visual clue, such as a line connecting the two charts, to show they’re connected.

Here are a few tips for combining visual elements to create skimmable visual content.

  • Use contrasting colors to draw the eye.
  • Use white space to create emphasis.
  • Use visual hierarchy to make the content easy to understand at a glance.
  • Use visual elements to group similar items and create connections between related concepts.

#5. Create a collaboration and approval process

This is only necessary for company or department-wide procedures. Internal approvals help you make sure that you're only distributing best practices.

To do this, you'll want to assign visual content creation roles. You'll probably have a few stakeholders, such as:

  • The content creator (usually an individual contributor).
  • A collaborator (this might be a subject matter expert).
  • The final approval (this is probably a Manager or team lead).

A lot of tools have approval features built into their functionality, so you can easily comment, verify and publish documentation.

Scribe review queue

#6. Publish and distribute your visual content

Now, it's time to share your visual communication materials with all stakeholders!

If you're only sharing your content with a few employees, you can usually share via a quick link and by giving them permissions to view or edit.

If you want to share your visual communication department or company-wide, consider adding it to your knowledge base, creating an email thread or posting on your internal communication channels (like Slack).

‎If you prepared training or onboarding materials for new employees, it's best to store them on an online portal that new recruits can readily access.

Pick the format and channel that best suits your message, audience preferences and your available resources.

Final thoughts: A comprehensive guide to visual communication

Knowing the right way to use visual communication can improve how you make decisions, train and function as a team.

Whether you’re using infographics, visual presentations or step-by-step guides, visuals help you get your point across and get people on the same page.

You can create engaging and effective visuals with the right tools and a solid understanding of how to use them. 

Build visual guides in seconds — for free.

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