The Noodle

Visual Learning

How imagery is changing the way we process content in the 21st Century.

The digital age has ushered in fundamental changes to the way we communicate. Experts contend that being literate today requires more than just the ability to read and write. It’s about decoding and encoding text. Most of us can look at a photograph and quickly determine what it means. In fact, our eyes actually can register about 36,000 messages per hour. But visual literacy is the ability to not only understand a visual language (decode images), but also create a visual language (encode images). Unfortunately, many of us are not so proficient at encoding visual language. We either lack the technical skills or the artistic ability to communicate effectively with images. That makes us vulnerable to becoming visually illiterate in the 21st Century.

Do you consider yourself visually literate? Are your photos among the 250 million uploaded to Facebook each day? Do your tweets include an image? Do you know how to take and send photos and videos with your smartphone? Have you discovered the communication value of Instagram and Pinterest? Do you know how to tell a story and create an effective presentation using images in a PowerPoint presentation? Ever hear of Haiku Deck, Keek or Vine? Are you truly among the visually literate, or are your visual communication skills, unfortunately, inferior to those of most middle school students in this country?

So many questions.

For so long, we have considered text to be the best way to communicate. But now, because of techno- logical changes, we are seeing visuals taking a front seat and starting to drive the way that we communicate.

Dr. Kimberley Lyles-Folkman, Instructor, The Art Institute of Atlanta

Dr. Kimberley Lyles-Folkman, an instructor at The Art Institute of Atlanta who earned her doctorate researching visual thinking, says our culture quickly is shifting away from text-centric communication to visual-centric communication. “For so long, we have considered text to be the best way to communicate. But now, because of techno- logical changes, we are seeing visuals taking a front seat and starting to drive the way that we communicate. This doesn’t mean that text is going away, but increasingly people want to see images and use images to tell their stories.”

Truth be told, most people are naturally visual learners. “The statistics show that we generally retain information longer when it is supported with images, and technology has made it easier for us to use images to communicate,” Lyles-Folkman says. “Visual communication is becoming an agent of change. When we talk about 21st Century literacy, that now includes understanding and using visuals. And I don’t think this change would have happened without the shift to the digital age.”

Science & Art

These days, optimal visual communication rep- resents a melding of science and art – you increasingly must have technical proficiency coupled with a fundamental knowledge of artistic design to get your message across. And, while a lot of people have developed the required technical skills – they know how to download and drop in text and images – they lack an understanding of the fundamental artistic elements of good design.

“I have seen a lot of presentations and emails where the communication was compromised and the flow broken by bad haphazard design – the font is too small or busy, the photos are distorted or pixilated, the colors are distracting, and there is no deliberate hierarchy,” Lyles-Folkman says. “The power of an image is definitely enhanced when the communicator understands these basic design principals.”

Combining the effectiveness of video with the proven success of personalization, many companies are using personalized videos as part of a multimedia marketing campaign.

Like many successful graphic artists today, Sheri Wilson, senior art director for award- winning Atlanta magazine, combines strong technical skills with her artistic talent to create compelling visual communiqués. Her left brain helps her master the technical aspects, while her right brain provides the empathy and artistic impetus. For Wilson, considering hierarchy is essential to her design process.

By Lorrie Bryan