Business communication needs visual elements in order to be effective. When used correctly, photographs and videos can enhance understanding and message retention. Communication professional Ellen Coomber writes in “The Visual Advantage” that “words alone are not enough to deal with today’s complex business problems.” In a society used to visual stimulation and pressed for time, graphics become an important form of communication for businesses.
Visual communications differentiate one business from another. Photos and the like organize complex information into a quick, easy-to-understand form. The visual can also grab the target audience’s attention. Communication researchers at the University of Lugano, Switzerland, Jeanne Mengis and Martin Eppler write of the “familiar surprise” in their article “Be Heard, Understood and Remembered in an Overloaded Environment.” A graphic with recognizable elements used in new ways will create curiosity and stimulate interest in the business.
Graphic design, videos and photography are often expensive and time consuming. Visual communication at any complex level requires specialized skills. Distribution problems can occur with visuals in that every audience member must be able to download, view, or obtain the graphics, often with different equipment. In this sense, visuals must be user-friendly and distribution must be thought through carefully.
When to use visual communication
Businesses should use graphic elements in communication to aid understanding. According to Jeanne Mengis and Martin Eppler, “The more complex, uncertain, ambiguous, diverse and novel information is, the quicker people feel overwhelmed and lose their ability to effectively absorb and use the information.” It is important to keep visuals simple and easy to decipher. Do not use visuals just to make the communication pretty. Brian O’Mara-Croft writes in his article “Every Picture Tells a Story” that “this is about real means to real results, not window dressing designed to evade legitimate problems. A picture is only worth a thousand words if the message is accurate, relevant and well constructed.”
Imagery such as photos and illustrations can show the reality of a business situation or message. To be done effectively, a skilled photographer, illustrator or other professional is necessary. Typography is used when designing textual elements. Graphic designers typically use computer programs to lay out text in a way that will aid the audience’s understanding of the message. It must be easy-to-read, but the textual design can impart information beyond the words on the page. Finally, video is useful for more complex explanations or information.
Ellen Coomber suggests using “meaningful titles to draw the viewer in and summarize the information presented.” Use business branding throughout the communication piece to reinforce the visual elements with the specific business. Brian O’Mara-Croft, owner of Visual Congruence, advises that businesses use the familiar and focus on the big picture. This requires target audience research, and designs that incorporate communication objectives.