Infographics and the Science of Visual Communication

by · July 3, 20129 comments

One of the primary reasons infographics work well as a communication tool can be linked to eyesight and the neurological connection of our eyes and brain.

The dynamics of sight and how we use our eyes to process information present some compelling reasons to consider using infographics to share information and ideas in order to connect with your internal and external audiences.

Hard wired for infographics

Vision directly or indirectly accounts for about 50% of our brain’s real estate.

An article about the relationship of the eyes and brain in Discover Magazine touches on the expansiveness of the cell highway that hosts all this activity. For example, the retina alone is made up of more than 150 million cells. In addition, vision neurons account for approximately 30% of our total grey matter compared to neurons for touch and hearing which make up only 8% and 3%, respectively.

Infographics are easy on the mind

Considering all this hard wiring is already in place, it makes sense that it might be easier for us to process infographics than pure text.

Robert Lane and Dr. Stephen Kosslyn offer an explanation for what the brain sees when it comes to pictures vs. words. Each letter in a word is essentially a symbol. To read text, the brain needs to act as a decoder first, matching those letters with shapes stored in memory. From there the brain must figure out how all the letters fit together to form words, how words form sentences, and how sentences form paragraphs. Although all this comprehension takes place in only a split second, relatively speaking, when compared to how the brain deals with images, the process requires considerably more mental effort.

One of the reasons we can process images faster than text is because of how the brain handles information. It processes data from pictures all at once but processes text in a linear manner.

So, in a way, by using infographics to communicate, you make it physically easier for your audience to relate and connect to your information.

In a TED talk about the beauty of data visualization, writer and designer David McCandless expands on the idea that infographics provide a sense of relief in a landscape filled with a mind-numbing amount of information:

There’s something almost quite magical about visual information. It’s effortless. It literally pours in. If you’re navigating a dense information jungle, coming across a beautiful graphic or lovely data visualization is a relief. It’s like coming across a clearing in the jungle.

Infographic novelty

Another interesting thing about the brain is that it is designed to seek out things that are different. Think of the mind as a computer hard drive. For the brain to remain nimble and operate efficiently, its memory can’t get filled up.

In Brain Matters, Patricia Wolfe cites that the brain, in order to to maintain an optimal processing speed, filters incoming data and ends up discarding 99% of all sensory information almost immediately after perceiving it . Wolfe says that one key component of this filtering process is assessing whether the incoming information is different from what the brain is accustomed to seeing – Information that is in some way novel or unusual attracts the brain’s attention. Infographics provide an opportunity for your organization to add that element of novelty or uniqueness to your information and make it more noticeable to your audience.

Information overload

In the age of information overload, data crashes over us like a tidal wave with our attention spans becoming fractured as technology and digital media become more prevalent in our personal and professional lives.

With the average person exposed to the equivalent of 174 newspapers full of information every day competition for your audience’s attention is fierce. As a result, the person your brand is trying to connect with probably spends only a few seconds on your content before deciding whether to move on to the next post, site, or network.

As we continue to gain access to vast volumes of information, our attention spans are becoming more fractured. Because the brain seeks out and notices things that are different, it can be easier to attract more slivers of your audience’s attention by communicating your information visually.

Differentiating your organization, brand, or ideas is critical. That fact that infographics are unique allows organizations an opportunity to make the content they are publishing stand out and get noticed.

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This is the first post in a 4-part series covering some of the themes included in The Power of Infographics: Using Pictures to Communicate and Connect with Your Audiences – my new book now available on Amazon and Indigo.

 

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About Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas

Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is also the managing editor at Solopreneur.ca and is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.

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