The rise and rise of visuals

The rise and rise of visuals

October 08, 2012

If you need further proof that visuals have become the dominant form of communication in today’s world, consider this: Facebook users (who reached the 1 billion mark last month) have uploaded 265 billion photos since the social network introduced photo sharing in 2005.

You might argue that many of those photos aren’t very good (If you’ve seen a college student’s party pix, you know what I’m talking about) but the fact remains that Professor Lester was right: We have become a visually mediated society. Words matter less and less; images are key.

In 2006, Paul Martin Lester, Ph.D., professor, Department of Communications, California State University at Fullerton, wrote a paper, Syntactic Theory of Visual Communication, which accurately predicted the rise and rise of visuals.

“There are strong indications that the status of images is improving,” wrote Dr. Lester. “We live in a mediated blitz of images. They fill our newspapers, magazines, books, clothing, billboards, computer monitors and television screens as never before in the history of mass communications.”

As a result, we are becoming “a visually mediated society. For many, understanding of the world is being accomplished, not through reading words, but by reading images.” 

Dr. Lester predicts: “Shortly, words will be reserved for only bureaucratic transactions through business forms and in books that will only be read by a few individuals. Reading is losing to watching because viewing requires little mental processing.”

If you’re a writer or language lover, this may make you sad. (I am a recovering English major, and have been on a long journey to understand that just because I spend my spare time long novels doesn’t mean anyone else wants to read even one paragraph.)

In fact, the rise of visuals is a great opportunity for communicators. Visuals quickly get a message across. They don’t require translation. And photos are a form of communication every employee can participate in. It requires skill to write an article, but it’s easy to take a photo, especially on a smart phone.

So embrace the visual revolution. Write less, use visuals more. And see how employees become more engaged as a result.

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