Keep your text clear and your visuals even clearer
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Need for speed: how a picture can say a thousand words in 13 milliseconds
You have heard 'A picture says a thousand words' but have you wondered if it is actually true? More importantly, have you ever wondered if it is famous because it is true or, it is famous so it must be true? Knowing the answer to this will help you unlock the power of visuals in your message. So, let's look into it.
How it all started
'A picture says a thousand words' is usually attributed to advertising executive Frederick R. Barnard. To promote his ad agency, he took out an ad in 1921 stating: 'One look is worth a thousand words'. He claimed this was a quote from an ancient Japanese philosopher. Six years later, he changed it to: 'Chinese proverb: one picture is worth 10,000 words'. He had invented the origin in both cases; he simply believed giving the quote Asian origin would make it seem more credible. Whatever the origin of the quote might be, Barnard was onto something.
The human brain processes visual information much faster than text. About 60,000 times faster. It takes about 13 milliseconds for your brain to process an image. Want to test it for yourself? Look at this:
You probably recognised the star shape in Image 1 instantly; much quicker than you realised that the description in Image 2 was also describing the same star. This is because our brains are wonderful at recognising patterns. When you saw Image 1, your brain instantly matched it up with star patterns you have seen in the past and told you you were looking at a star. With text, a lot more goes on in your brain: you are seeing the shapes written down in form of different letters this time, you are trying to figure out which letter each shape represents, then what words those letters make, then what sentences those words make and then what those sentences actually mean. This is why it takes longer to recognise text.
Other than getting your message across quickly, visual information is also powerful because:
People will remember 80% of what they see or do, 20% of what they read and 10% of what they hear; and
It leverages off our love of visuals in general as evident by more than 95 million pictures being shared on Instagram daily.
Look at all these words we had to use to make our point. We should have just used a picture instead. So, here it is.
Visual v text....and the winner is...
It is a draw.
Visuals are crucial for your message but you still need text to tell the full story. Research shows people will usually only remember 10% of the information they hear three days later but if it is paired with a relevant visual, then they can recall 65% of it. This shows us the winning formula: use well-recognised and simple visuals paired with a well-written article. Then, your message is bound to be well-understood, effective and memorable.