Productivity

What Is Visual Communication? A Comprehensive Guide

What is visual communication, and how do you harness its power to improve your team’s efficiency and productivity? Read this comprehensive guide to find out.

Introduction

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

It's a wonder they get anything done.

Remote workers have it worse. It’s easy to feel disconnected from your team when you don’t have face-to-face communication.

In Hubstaff’s 2021 Remote Project Management Report, nearly half of respondents cited lack of communication as their biggest challenge when managing remote work.

Good thing there’s a solution: visual communication.

Using visuals in your internal communications makes it easier for employees to get on the same page, even if they're working from different time zones, locations or departments.

But visual communication can get tricky. Without the proper strategies and tools, your visual assets may end up confusing your team more instead of helping them.

In this guide, we’ll talk about what visual communication is, why it’s important and how you can use it to improve your internal communications.

We’ll cover:

  • What is visual communication?
  • Why visual communication is important
  • Elements of visual communication
  • How to communicate visually
  • Final thoughts: A comprehensive guide to visual communication

Wh‎at is visual communication?

Visual communication is the use of visuals to communicate ideas or information.

These visuals can be anything from simple diagrams and motion graphics to infographics and data visualizations. You can also apply them to traditionally text-heavy content, such as email communication, knowledge bases, job aids and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The use of visual communication isn’t limited to the modern business environment. It's easy to forget that visual communication is an ancient practice dating back to the Paleolithic drawings of the Lascaux Cave. Humans have been using it to connect with each other for thousands of years.

But visual communication is more important than ever in our increasingly connected world. We’re being bombarded by massive amounts of data and information. You have to use visual communication to cut through the noise and get your ideas understood.

Wh‎y visual communication is important

Visual communication can share ideas more efficiently, help people remember information better and clarify complex concepts. It's also more engaging than text — and more fun to use.

Let’s go over these benefits one by one.

Visual communication is more efficient

Using visual content helps us get our message across faster, with fewer words. It also allows us to communicate complex concepts in a more digestible format.

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

If used the right way, visuals provide more context and meaning than written words alone.

Using visuals helps people remember information better

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.

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

For example, here’s a Scribe that uses visuals along with text to show you how to create an invoice in Xero:

Visuals are more engaging than text

Text is great. But visual communication makes all the difference when you want to get your point across in a more compelling way.

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.

The findings make sense. After all, visuals tend to draw people in and help them understand what you’re trying to say better than words could ever do alone. And when something is so easy to understand, it’s no wonder that people are more likely to engage with it.

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.

Visuals can often clarify ideas more effectively than words alone

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. 

Infographic by the CDC educates communities and organizations on how to update COVID-19 prevention
(Source)

El‎ements of visual communication

Visual communication is made up of several key elements

  • Shapes: Shapes can draw attention to a particular item or create a hierarchy of information. For example, circles represent completion and unity, while triangles represent sharpness and strength.
  • Lines: Lines can separate different elements on the page or show direction and flow.
  • Colors: Colors can create contrast or bring together page elements. Plus, colors can represent emotions and personalities.
  • Textures: Textures provide a tactile quality to images and help give them more depth.
  • Typography: You can use different typefaces and sizes to create contrast and emphasize certain page elements.
  • Size: You can use size to emphasize or de-emphasize elements. You can also use it to create a hierarchy on the page and show direction and flow.
  • Layouts: You can use different layouts to create emphasis, direction and flow. In addition, you can use them to represent different types of information or relationships between elements on the page.
Examples of visual design elements.
(Source)

Using these visual elements correctly lets you capture your audience’s attention and guide them through your content, creating an engaging experience.

But if you use these elements without care, your visual content will only distract viewers from your message.

The most important thing to remember is that visuals aren’t simply decorative. They serve another purpose — to help you get your point across. If your visuals don’t add value to your content, they don’t have to be there.

Let’s say your visuals are too jumbled or busy. In that case, your audience might get too overwhelmed to make sense of your visual communication design.

The image below illustrates this point well.

An example of how having “too many visuals” can make your visual communication ineffective.
(Source)

Ho‎w to communicate visually

For your visual communications to be effective, follow these steps.

Define the main idea

Before you begin, ask yourself: What’s the idea behind your visual communication? The answer will inform everything else you do when creating your visuals.

With the main idea defined, you'll know your visual content is useful, relevant and aligned with your internal communication plan and subsequent goals.

When you know what you want to say and achieve, you’ll find it easier to think of an effective way to visually represent those ideas.

Different audiences exist within any organization. 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.

You should direct most of your internal communications to a specific audience. Before crafting your visual communication, you should consider who it's for. What are their preferences, interests and needs? 

So think twice before you present an audience of sales executives with a slideshow that rambles on about the basics of sales management.

What do they need to know? How can you best communicate that information? And how can you use visuals to make your point and drive the desired action?

Decide on the visual medium

Now, you can use what you’ve learned about your target audience to identify the format that suits their personality and addresses their needs. 

The point is, you should pick a visual format that speaks the same language as your audience.

If you’re having a hard time identifying the right 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.

Now, how can you communicate that visually? 

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

Use visuals to create clarity

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.

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.

A skimmable visual employee onboarding checklist that communicates visual hierarchy.
(Source)

Maintain brand consistency

Your brand identity needs to be consistent throughout all of your visual assets. This means using the same colors, fonts and typography across all your materials. You want people to recognize the look and feel of your company when they see it, even if it’s just a logo or icon on a website or social media post.

Here are a few ways to maintain brand consistency.

  • Use a color palette that works well for your business and apply it consistently across your internal (and external) visual assets.
  • Use contrasting elements to create visual interest and convey your brand’s overall look and feel.
  • Use the same font throughout your materials, including logos and marketing materials.
  • Create a brand kit that describes your brand and how it should be applied to all materials. This will help you maintain consistency when you hire new staff or work with outside vendors.

For example, HubSpot uses its familiar orange and white color scheme and recognizable font and logo across its employee handbook. The brand is recognizable and consistent, which helps it feel trustworthy and reliable.


HubSpot showcases its brand colors in its employee handbook.
(Source)

You’ll find it easier to maintain brand consistency when you automate your brand implementation processes.

For example, with Scribe, you can quickly create written instructions (with screenshots) on how to change custom themes in Slack to match your branding.

Improve your internal communication

What is internal communication for if it doesn’t help your teams stay connected and collaborate?

The challenge with remote workers is that it can be hard to stay connected and get everyone up to speed.

Since everyone is operating on their own schedule, urgent issues can fall through the cracks. And it can take time to stay on top of everything.

But by taking a strategic approach and following good examples of asynchronous communication, your remote setup won’t have to put your company at a disadvantage.

That said, you can make asynchronous communication work to your advantage by doing the following.

  • State clear guidelines and intentions. 
  • Share all relevant information upfront.
  • Don’t favor one time zone over another.
  • Support asynchronous communication with the right tools.
  • Established a standardized procedure.

As you do all of the above, you’ll find that asynchronous and visual communication go hand in hand.

For example, the Bonusly employee rewards dashboard below shows how GIFs and emojis can help make asynchronous communication more meaningful.

Two employees support each other in an asynchronous conversation via an employee rewards platform.
(Source)

Streamline your data visualization processes with Scribe

Data visualization is one of the most powerful types of visual communication you can use. With it, you can convey complex information quickly and clearly to your team members, stakeholders and customers.

But data visualization requires a lot of time and effort. You have to analyze the data and combine different datasets to create a single visualization that tells your story. Then, you need to use graphic design to create an appealing and easy-to-understand visual. 

Your team needs to follow specific guidelines to create effective charts or diagrams. And you need to create SOPs for your data visualization processes to ensure that your team strictly follows those guidelines.

But creating SOPs can be a lengthy process, and it's easy to get bogged down in the details. 

The good news? You can create an SOP in seconds using Scribe. With Scribe, you can demonstrate the proper guidelines on your screen. The tool can instantly capture the entire process and turn it into a step-by-step guide.

For example, here's a Scribe on how to analyze and present data with Google Sheets.

On top of that, you can use Scribe Pages to collect all of your Scribes in one visually pleasing document. 

Check out this Zendesk onboarding guide made using Scribe Pages.

Final thoughts: A comprehensive guide to visual communication

Knowing the right way to use visual communication is a game-changer for improving communication, decision-making and efficiency among your teams.

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

We hope the visual communication strategies presented here will help you improve your visual content. You can create engaging and effective visuals with the right tools and a solid understanding of how to use them. 

As you implement the visual communication best practices provided here, it helps to automate processes to improve efficiency among teams. Give your organization a good head start by automating your SOP documentation. Create a Scribe today.