Jun 25, 2013

Picture This


This post is part of a series on Design for Engagement.

Engagement > Immediacy>

Easy to picture

images speak louder than abstractions
(Edward Tufte, Detail of Dance Notation
Redrawn from la Cuisse, Cailleau & Mlle Castagnery, 1762-64)
Easy to picture means your audience can form a mental image of the relationships between the various the elements of your proposition, and the relationship of your proposition to the world. Images make
these relationships directly apparent.

Pictures can demonstrate emotions, issues, or solutions concisely and immediately. Infographics and data visualisations make it easier for our brains to grasp the relationships between different pieces of information. When you read text, by contrast, concepts and relationships between elements must be put together in your imagination, word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph.

Because of the way our brains work, relative assessments are more immediately available to us than absolute assessments. That is, it's faster and easier for us to evaluate one concrete thing against another than against an abstract standard such as a unit of measure. Compare the three data-representation formats shown in the Figures below.

Data in Text Format
Data in Table Format
Data Visualized
Relative comparisons are inherently more available to us than absolute comparisons because of the way our brains work. It’s faster to assess the data in a table than in text format because the layout makes it easier to compare similar values directly against each other. Data visualization is better still because the relationships among the data are even more obvious. Good data visualizations make the relationships in data more cognitively available to us.

When you must use text, prefer concrete descriptions (that can be pictured) to abstract explanations, and frame your message within a narrative. The human brain finds it easier to picture stories than bare facts.

Bottom line

  • Show, don’t tell, the value of your proposition.
  • Use imagery and concrete descriptions in written copy.
  • Frame your communication as a vivid story.


Is this how you see things? ...or have I missed the bigger picture? Share your view. Leave a comment below. Please engage.

This post is part of a series on building customer engagement.

If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.


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