Are we on the cusp of a visual renaissance?
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Is a picture worth a thousand tweets?
Twitter, which rose to fame by mass-distributing text messages of no more than 140 characters, recently redesigned its interface to make it easier to share images and video with followers. Hardly earth-shattering news for interior designers, but it may be a harbinger of a larger trend: the ascendancy of visual culture.
Advances in technology have made it easier to both send and receive images and video — and of a high quality. This has made visuals the communication tool of choice for the news media, businesses, marketers, promoters and just about anyone who has something to share.
The airwaves are crammed with streaming bits of visual content. YouTube streams 133,000 hours of video every day. Facebook users post 300 million images per day. Instagram logs 8,500 "likes" per second. As a society, we are becoming more infatuated and dependent on visuals for news and information. We look before we read.
"Images have become one of our favorite modes of organizing and comprehending the profound amount of information we encounter daily," notes consumer insights strategist Sarah Browne.
In order to compete with social media, newspapers, magazines and other publications have developed more visual content, relying increasingly more on graphics as well as photos and video.
"The popularity of infographics increased by 800 percent between 2010 and 2012," says Browne.
People used visuals to capture events and tell stories long before the development of writing. They have an immediacy and scope that the written word, with its reliance on sequential comprehension, cannot match.
But visuals also had their limitations. They were not as effective for communicating complex thoughts or emotions. And in time, as the technology of disseminating writing advanced, it became the predominant form of communication. (Although, visuals have always been an important element in written and printed texts.)
Today's high-definition, computer-generated and enhanced visuals, however, are capable of conveying much richer information. Video, with its combination of visual, aural and linguistic content, is challenging the dominance of text.
A recent article in the World Future Review entitled "What If Colorful Images Become More Important than Words?" foresees a day not far off when a new form of heavily visual communication will predominate.
"We maintain that text without figures leads to incomplete communication and vice versa — especially true for the 'millennium generation,'" the authors stated. "Leaders in business should strive to communicate more visually and diagrammatically, encouraging such communication among their employees, as much of knowledge today is tacit, and so difficult to communicate solely with the written word."
The visual renaissance has not escaped the notice of corporate America. Businesses recognize the importance of visually branding their offices as well as their retail outlets. Hotels, restaurants, clubs and other hospitality venues use visual identity and communication to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Increasingly, public buildings, healthcare facilities and transportation centers — such as airports and subway stations — rely on visual design to facilitate wayfinding and provide a "universal language" that can communicate with occupants regardless of the mother tongue.
This growing emphasis on visual communication and quality has elevated the public's awareness of design, from graphics to fashion to products to interiors. Consumers are becoming more design-conscious and more educated about design. A more visual culture will create more demand for good design. That should be good news for designers of all stripes.
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