Why Visual is the New Black
Visual Platforms Take Off
Although I was an early adopter of Pinterest, I confess that it took me a while to understand it. I set up an account sometime in mid-2011 after Jens P. Berget at Sly Marketing mentioned it in one of his newsletters. And then I did nothing with it for about 6 months, because I didn’t really see it’s appeal.
I don’t recall why I reconnected with Pinterest, but as more people were using it and I saw their images, I began to understand it better. Initially it appealed to the part of me that likes to look through well-designed magazines: I found the images engaging and relaxing. Years ago I had started to create scrapbooks of magazine pictures that appealed to me (a project that was recommended by one of the creative journaling books I was reading) — eventually those scrapbooks gathered dust with a pile of images that I didn’t have the time to paste into the books. And finally I just threw them out. So Pinterest started as a virtual version of those scrapbooks for me. Then I began to see posts from people like Beth Kanter, who in January 2011 wrote about using Pinterest as a curation tool and that non-profits were using it to promote their organizations and engage their communities. My understanding of Pinterest matured and I began to see more options for using it in other ways, for example, the Social Work Apps Pinterest board maintained by Dorlee M and me and the Visions of Social Work board that both promotes the profession and highlights some aspects of our school. In his recent Wired article, In Defense of Pinterest, Clive Thompson describes how a therapist used Pinterest to help her clients communicate their moods when words just wouldn’t work.
A Big Picture View
Pinterest also intrigued me because it provided a web experience that was at odds with the shift to mobile. Pinterest was at its best on the computer, where you could view all the images together on your screen, truly replicating the experience of a cork board. A smart phone view of Pinterest wasn’t worth the trouble. As tablet versions finally evolved, they began to do better at providing a good Pinterest experience. But I still find that Pinterest is best viewed on a computer.
I don’t think it’s an accident that something like Pinterest started around the same time that popular interest in infographics caught on. While infographics have been with us (by other names) for centuries, they have grown significantly in popularity in the last couple of years. And like Pinterest, many recent infographics don’t translate well to a smart phone or even to a tablet computer. They are best viewed on a large computer screen or printed as a poster.
As I encountered Pinterest and then, more and more infographics, I declared (to no one in particular), “Visual is the New Black.” This wasn’t exactly a genius insight. After all, video sharing has been growing in popularity for many years (and transfers quite well to mobile devices). However, unlike videos, both Pinterest and infographics are pushing us toward getting “the big picture,” literally, they really communicate best when they are on large screens. This suggested to me that something else was behind Pinterest and infographics than just what drove our interest in video, which everyone was just fine with watching on small screens.
Insight from Research
Then recently I encountered an article by the BBC that offered some insight into why visual might be so appealing now. The researchers at Mindlab International found that, “when tasks were presented visually rather than using traditional text-based software applications, individuals used around 20% less cognitive resources. In other words, their brains were working a lot less hard.” They also found that people were more likely to recall more of the information at a later point in time. The BBC article had the following headline: Pretty pictures: Can images stop data overload? At a time when people are complaining more and more about information overload, this research suggests that visual may help us take in information differently, with less stress and better recollection, perhaps helping us get a better sense of the big picture in recognizing patterns and relationships. The company that commissioned the research, MindJet, applied this research to the workplace through their infographic, Evolution of Workplace Technology, which concludes by highlighting how the visual display of information increases productivity.
The belief that “A picture is worth a thousand words” has been with us a long time. At a time when we are struggling to cope with all the information coming at us, might it be that the increased use of visual imagery to communicate is suggesting a direction for more manageability in our lives? I suspect it will not be quite so simple as just making everything visual–we can become overloaded by images and infographics as well. But these trends have made me aware that I need to learn more about using images effectively because it’s clear to me that the world is becoming increasingly oriented toward using visual imagery to communicate.