Your ultimate guide to visual communication

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There’s no doubt that the digital age has changed the way we work and communicate. And, in a time where many organizations are working remotely, and allowing flexibility, the importance of strong communication is essential to effective collaboration and growing a business, at scale.

To maintain collaboration and morale among teams it’s vital that all employees feel like they are working towards one, united goal. This means making sure everyone is on the same page about company objectives, updates, and initiatives.

But, how do you distribute important information to employees in a way they can easily absorb, understand and remember? Visual communication will be your most powerful tool. Especially because, research suggests that visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.

So, when it comes to ensuring that your team is communicating better, the power of design is your secret tool to success. Whether used in a broader organization or smaller teams, visual strategies foster better communication and collaboration.

In this article, we’re covering everything you need to know to know about visual strategies — including the benefits of visual communication and how you can use it effectively within your organization.

Table of contents

What is visual communication?

Visual communication is the process of using visual elements to convey ideas, information, and data. Visual elements can encompass graphs, typography,charts, maps, and graphics. You likely encounter some form of visual communication every day, from the emoji in that email your colleague sent you, to the poster in the bathroom that explains the correct protocol for washing hands.

Essentially, any medium that uses visual assets to give meaning, add context, or evoke emotion falls can be classified as visual communication. However, it differs from visual branding such as logos, in that it’s more often used as a way to transmit specific information than an overall brand identity.

Visual communication is often used in content marketing (creating and distributing valuable information to attract a targeted audience) to supplement blog posts, videos, and whitepapers. However, this article will focus on how visual strategies can be used to improve communication within organizations.

Why is visual communication important?

Given that humans are inherently visual creatures, it’s no surprise that visual communication has a multitude of benefits. When it comes to the ingredients that make a high-performing team, organisations and leaders often point to the importance of having a strong mission, clear vision and even workplace perks that consistently work to engage teams. However, in 2015, Google released a two-year study that looked into the makings of a high-performing team. Alongside dynamics like dependability, impact of work, clarity, was also found to be an essential ingredient to high performance.

Visuals can be used to communicate ideas that words simply cannot — with psychologist Albert Mehrabian estimating that 55% of communication is visual (with 93% being non-verbal overall). As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words! There’s a good reason that the advertising industry relies heavily on visual mediums, such as image ads and billboards.

One of Canva's own creative lead's at Canva, Michael Webster, found how essential visual communication was for his own team:

With so many modern teams being more time-poor than ever and spread across locations and platforms the ability to communicate visually has never been so important. The more easily digestible and visually appealing your message — the more likely it will demand attention, be understood, and retained.

So, in a busy workplace, this helps make important-yet-dry information more digestible to employees. It also helps people make meaning from information, by giving context.

Finally, visual communication leads to better information recall. Data shows that people only remember 20% of what they read and 10% of what they hear, but 80% of what they see and do. For this reason, visual strategies are extremely useful for reinforcing workplace procedures.

Types of visual communication

Visual strategies can be found anywhere from the boardroom to the company intranet and email inboxes. Here are some common forms of visual communication, and how you can use them within your organization.

Presentations

Presentations are useful for sharing important news and updates with employees. For example, you might hold a meeting to discuss results from the last quarter, and set objectives for the future.

Using apresentationas a visual aid will make it far more compelling than simply talking through the information. That means employees are more likely to actually absorb and recall the content. You can make presentations more engaging by adding visual elements such as photos, images, and graphics.

Graphs

When you need to make complex information more simple and digestible, you can’t go past a graph. These are often used to convey numerical or categorical information — such as showing company growth or comparing data to a competitor.

There are many different types of graphs, such as bar and line graphs or pie charts. If you need to communicate a large array of information, you can even combine a few different graphs into one infographic chart.

Posters

Posters aren’t just for teenager’s bedroom walls or advertising! They are a powerful visual communication tool that can be used for multiple purposes within organizations.

By distributing them around high-traffic areas in your offices (such as the elevator or kitchen) you can use them to get the word out about important news. For example, you might have a new initiative or fundraiser that you want to raise company awareness about. Or, perhaps there are new regulations around COVID-19 that you need to remind employees about.

Of course, posters shouldn’t be used as the first line of communication. There’s always a chance people will miss them, especially if they’re working from home. But, they can be a useful strategy for jogging their memory and keeping it at the forefront of their minds.

Timelines

Timelines are an excellent form of visual communication to use within teams. They can be used to map out projects in chronological order, with deadlines and milestones.

This ensures that everyone is aligned, and knows exactly what deliverables are required. They can also serve as a useful visual reminder of repeatable processes. By keeping them somewhere visible, employees can always reference them when they need to jog their memory. This can go a long way in streamlining workflow and improving employee productivity.

Mind maps

When in doubt, map it out! There’s no better way to visually organize abstract and non-linear information than with a mind map. They use the concept of ‘radial thinking’, where lines and links show the relationship between the central concept and other, related ideas.

For this reason, they are extremely helpful for brainstorming ideas or conducting A SWOT analysis (assessing an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) Mind maps are also particularly useful for communicating information to employees who are creative, big picture thinkers.

Checklists

Nothing improves workplace efficiency quite like a checklist. They are designed to eliminate the chance of error—because no matter how good your employees are, we can only rely on human memory so much!

Checklists are also extremely versatile. They can be used to ensure all steps have been completed in a project, or that all moving parts are present before submitting an important document. They can also be used to keep track of office inventory, for example, stationery supplies.

Step-by-step guides

Like checklists and timelines, step-by-step visuals are valuable for increasing efficiency and reducing human error. They mean that employees don’t have to rely on their memory in order to complete complex tasks — they can simply reference the instructions.

Step-by-step guides are also useful for onboarding new employees. It takes guesswork out of new procedures until they gain more confidence and it becomes second nature.

How to incorporate visual communication into your teams

Visual communication isn’t just something used by management or your design team. It’s one of the most valuable skills of the modern workplace and something that should be fostered in employees of all levels.

By encouraging employees to utilize visual strategies, you can set them up for success. It will help improve both their efficiency as individuals and their ability to work cohesively within teams.

For his own team, Michael's team have incorporated visual communication into everything they do:

My team has been using visual communication to enhance even the most mundane content. For our daily sync meetings, spreadsheets have moved over to a colorful and dynamic presentation. Our weekly wrap-up is now simultaneously edited into a presentation full of videos and graphics, and even our project platform has colorful graphics for each brief we are working on. Visual communication can help teams communicate more effectively in many ways we are still discovering.

Here’s how you can facilitate visual communication within teams.

Create team templates

Unless they happen to be graphic designers, your employees likely don’t have the time to create visual assets from scratch every time. Whether it’s a presentation for a meeting or a checklist for their workspace, it’s important that they can quickly plug in their information and move on.

Templates make visual communication quick and easy. With Canva Pro, you can set up templates and share them within specific teams. This means that everyone can access the relevant templates for their department, and customize them for use over and over again.

Encourage collaboration

They say that together we can go fast, but together we can go fast. But, we would argue that you can achieve both when teams work together on visual projects!

Organize with folders

Communication and clarity go hand in hand. By organizing your visual templates into folders, you can ensure everyone in the team has exactly what they need when they need it. For example, you might set up a folder for quarterly meetings, another for creative projects, and so forth. Having these systems in place can help eliminate any confusion or conflict later down the track.

How to create on-brand visual communication

First impressions count, and visual communication plays a huge role in shaping this. From the graphics you use in your presentation to the flyers you hand out at a conference, those little visual touches can subconsciously influence perception. Whether it’s potential new hires or clients visiting for a meeting, you want to leave a positive and lasting impression on anyone in contact with your organization.

Here are some ways to ensure you’re sending the right message with your visual communication.

Consider your brand personality

If your organization was a person, what would their personality be like? Are they warm and family-oriented? Or, perhaps they value creativity and freedom, over sticking to any set rules? Think about the overall values of the organization as well as your existing visual branding. These should set the tone of your visual communication assets.

For example, if your organization is quite corporate and serious, it may seem quite incongruent to start using fun and playful graphics in posters and presentations. Unless, of course, you are strategically attempting to change how your organization is perceived. The important thing here is that you are being intentional.

Keep your communication visually consistent

Consistency is key when it comes to visual communication. Otherwise, you may end up sending mixed messages, which can muddy your brand reputation. Plus, when your brand is visually consistent, it tends to make it appear more credible, trustworthy, and professional.

Where possible, use the same colors, fonts in your internal communication as you do in your external branding. Adding a logo in the corner also never goes astray to make things feel more official.

Building a brand kit can help here.

The easiest way to keep your team always on-brand? A Brand Kit. Learn more about the importance of your brand kit from James Gilmore, the Creative Director of the agency Design Studio.

Think about visual hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is one of the most important considerations of visual communication. This is what gives all those shapes and lines in your graphics context! Essentially, it means arranging and grouping elements in accordance with their importance.

When you’re designing visual assets, think about the most important elements you want to draw attention to. For example, if you’re designing a mind map, you may have one, large phrase in the middle, with all of the concepts and ideas radiating outwards from it. Taking this into consideration helps ensure employees will take in the most important information first.

No matter how big or small your organization, visual communication strategies will set you up for success. They help teams learn from the past, stay productive in the present and look forward to a brighter future.

Learn more about How Canva can help your team with visual communication, today.

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