post banner image

The Power of Visual Communication

Published On: March 13, 2014

By Nicky Fried

People think using images. Vision was central to our evolution. For example, we have a tremendous fondness for pictures of wide, open landscapes; they evoke a sense of well-being and contentment. Psychologists suggest this almost universal response stems from the years our ancestors spent on the savannas in Africa.

When we see an image – we observe and understand it in its entirety. Text is far more recent to our development, and frankly, we are not very good at processing it. When we see words we process them individually and serially. In fact we can only process seven bits of information at once – hence our seven digit phone numbers. Visuals are processed simultaneously, nearly half of our brain function is given visual processing and 70 percent of our sensory receptors are in our eyes. We get the sense of a visual scene is less than 1/10th of second, or put another way we can process images 60,000 times faster than text.

Compare these frequently seen icons with the description. Which do you think you would comprehend more quickly?



The family in this car is made up of four people and one dog. Dad is in charge of shoulder length long hair, but we’re not sure what she likes. The son is a baseball player and the daughter is a ballet dancer. The dog looks cute.


Another interesting fact about visuals is where they are processed in our brains, and what this means for retention. When we read text it is processed in short term memory, images on the other hand go directly to long term memory, where they remain.

We also tend to have a more emotional reaction to images, and this in turn increases the strength of the memory. In fact we “see” things that have an emotional charge with greater clarity. Look at the image and related word below. Which do you have a stronger emotional response toward; the words or the image?



Though one may not think emotion is important in the business setting, it is central to our decision making process. Neurologist Antonio Damasio studied research on patients with damage to the emotional centres of their brains. Damasio discovered that the patients were unable to make rational decisions even though their ability to reason was fully functional. He concluded that reasoning “depends, to a considerable extent, on a continual ability to experience feelings.”

Academics and educators now realise the significance of visuals in instruction. Here are some strategies you can use to support your learning.

1. Take notes .Try purposeful doodling while listening to a lecture. It will help you to synthesize and summarize. Here are some sketch notes from Eva Lotta Lamm.


2. Use graphs, charts, maps and visual templates. This is a visual template I use with clients to map our important steps in their work lives.


3. Make outlines.


4. Highlight words, and colour code key concepts.


5. Create flash cards.


Author: Nicky Fried

nicky featureNicky works with entrepreneurs and internal teams to develop business ideas. One of the key strategies she uses, is a process called graphic facilitation, which involves large scale imagery to lead groups and individuals towards a common goal. It is quite literally “drawing out conversations” so participants can see and understand their discussion as it progresses, and so reach consensus more quickly.

In addition to graphic facilitation Nicky has 25 years’ experience as a communicator, trainer and change expert.

She is a recognized expert in storytelling; enabling her clients to achieve better results through linking people to a common set of values and goals. Her approach ensures employees are able to make the between their own personal journey and that of the organization. Through story Nicky helps employees to understand complexity and desired behaviours.

Current and recent clients include: Metro Vancouver, Canadian Police College, Telus, City of Richmond, UBC, the City of Vancouver, Ontario Lottery and Gaming, UBC, SaskPower, Saskatoon Health Region, Central 1 and Salmon Arm Savings and Credit Union.

What is graphic facilitation

The process of graphic facilitation uses large scale imagery and displays so people can “see what they mean”, quite literally drawing out collective thinking so we can map out our conversations and decisions as they progress. The process is highly collaborative and engaging and validates everyone’s participation because we see our words turned into visuals. It allows us to quickly make comparisons, see connections and patterns, and it acts as a reservoir for all the information accumulated during the course of a discussion; a kind of visual memory if you like.


    View All Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Submit Enquiry Form