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All living creatures on this planet ranging from the tiniest single cell microorganism to the largest animal, the blue whale have developed methods of communicating with each other and sometimes with other species as well. It may well be a type of non-verbal communication where no words are used, using symbols, color, body language and even eye contact to name a few.
There are three forms in which people interact with each other. They can be differentiated as written communication, oral communication and visual communication. In some cases all the forms of communication or a couple of them work in tandem. All the forms of communication, even individually are extremely valuable.
As human beings, since the time of our homo sapiens ancestors or also known as cavemen who died thousands of years ago have left little evidence to suggest their lifestyle until archeologist discovered their paintings on walls in caves. Their crude drawings help shed light into the mystery of their lives. But even more remarkable was the fact that by examining their simple drawings, archeologists were able to decipher the meaning the cavemen were trying to communicate via the paintings drawn thousands of years ago.
"Communication is a process which begins when you have a message that you want to deliver to an audience. Your audience receives the message, reacts to it and responds to your message".
Elizabeth Tierney (1998)
According to Answers.com (n.d.), it defines visual as a picture, chart, or other presentation that appeals to the sense of sight, used in promotion or for illustration or narration.
Visual communication which emphasizes on the use of sight in communicating its message across to its intended audience which has many benefits and advantages in both personal and professional situations. Visual communication also helps oneself in explaining in a better manner and its proper usage can add value to a presentation.
A single visual source such as a photograph or a painting has been known to raise many though provoking points and arguments on the particular subject which in many cases may be more powerful than a thousand words put together to elaborate the scenario. Even then in some cases, there are never enough words to describe it.
2.0 Differences between visual, verbal and written communication
So what is it that makes visual communication so much better than the other forms of communication, ie oral and written communication? To understand this, we need to delve deeper in the functions of each form of communication and find the differences between each form.
2.1 Differences in oral communication
Oral communication is a form communication where information, ideas and thoughts are expressed via a spoken language which can take place in a number of scenarios which include; face to face conversations, public speaking, meetings, telephone conversations and oral presentations.
It is an effective form to convey a message or information, however it does have its disadvantages which can range from number of differences which include:
A common disadvantage to verbal communication is the cultural differences between the sender and the receiver. These differences can arise from the individuals speaking different languages, inability to understand the other person's colloquial phrases or a difference in understanding basic terms. People who often travel to foreign countries especially businessmen would cite this as a major obstacle in their field of business. An information that is not relayed correctly to his customer in a foreign land can be deal breaker.
The size of the audience can be a major stumbling block for the message to get across to its intended audience as the speaker can only speak to a limited number of people at any given time. Even though this drawback can be rectified by adjusting the location of the speech or amplifying systems, several constraints still exist.
Even if the constraints can be fixed, often its not a sure fire fix that the audience may be able to grasp and understand all the information spoken during the speech.
Verbal communication is two way process which is however placed on a single lane street. This means that when one party talks, the other has to listen to understand the message or information shared. If the other party is not an active listener and loses his concentration at any given time during the listening process then the message is not conveyed effectively. If both parties decide to talk at the same time, as in the case of an argument for instance, then neither party would be able to understand or get the information the other is trying to put across.
Most often teachers in many educations institutes admit that gaining attention of their students is a challenge but getting them to remember what was taught in the lesson is a much more difficult task. Receivers may forget the message and have difficulty recalling the message.
Jerome Bruner found in studies that people only remember 10% of what they hear (as cited in Paul Martin Lester, 1994-1996).
2.2 Differences in written communication
Schafer (2010) suggests that written communication is time-consuming as the feedback is not immediate and the encoding and sending of message takes time. This is especially true in the business and journalism world when quick access to information and details is needed. Being forced to wait while a letter or email is drafted in regards to a query and question can greatly increase the time needed before a task or an article is completed.
Written communication also requires a good comprehension in writing, language and vocabulary use. Poor writing skills and quality have a negative impact on the reader which could also lead to misinterpretation.
Another limitation of written communication is sometimes a lot of words are needed to describe a situation. An example here is in romantic novels where the author tries to describe a romantic setting between the hero and heroine by the beach at night overlooking a full moon in the sky. The author would be able describe the scene in vivid detail however, a lot of words would be required to be able to try and describe the scene to the reader and even then, its not often the case the reader may be able to imagine the scene as the author intended. A drawing or a photograph would be able to quickly and easily provide an image for the reader to picture in his or her mind.
In the business world, numbers, figures and statistics are prevalent at every organization as they try to determine their profits, losses, deficits and etc. Often organizations cite the phrase "time is money" which roughly translates that any time wasted is a business opportunity lost.
This is why, businesses often rely on pie charts, graphs and diagrams when conveying such ideas as it quick and easy to assess. This leaves the staff and directors with more time to make necessary and profit making decisions rather than ponder and try to pour through pages upon pages of numbers and figures written in no perfect or visual order.
2.3 Differences and advantages of visual communication
Visual messages surround us everyday. We watch real and fictional stories on television, we view advertisements in magazines and on billboards and we review charts, graphs and tables in books. We consider photographs that we want to display around our home, and we design visual aides to accompany our presentations at work.
Ronald B. Adler (2005) reveals that throughout all of these activities, we engage with and use visual communication to send and receive messages. Even though verbal communication, the ability to communicate messages through language, is often viewed as a more important or a more central type of communication, visual communication has many benefits and advantages in both personal and professional situations.
A psychologist, Jerome Bruner (as cited in Paul Martin Lester, 1994-1996) reveals that people remember a good 80% of things they see as compared to 20% to that they read and 10% of what they hear.
Jerome goes on to reveal that "training materials used by the federal government cite studies indicating that the retention of information is six times greater when presented in visual than oral and spoken means. The same materials also cite studies by educational researchers suggesting that 83% of human learning occurs visually" (as cited in Paul Martin Lester, 1994-1996).
The statistics and studies do not lie when communicating visually has a greater impact in getting the message across. Apart from charts and photographs, road signs that are used along the road mainly consist of an image which is often instantly recognizable by road users. Add color into the mix and a road user may be more aware of the importance of the message given out by the road sign. Red often translates as danger and be extra cautious.
Take for instance a road sign to indicate a sharp bend at the end of the road, a driver upon seeing the sign with a bent arrow to the right would immediately realize he is approaching a bend to the right and would need to slow down his vehicle in anticipation of the approaching bend. Similarly, a driver when approaching a junction equipped with a traffic light would stop when he sees the red light and only continue driving once the light turns green.
Another advantage to visual communication is simplicity. For example, if you seek to give driving directions to a friend, you may find it easier and even quicker to draw a map. Often, visual communication can simplify the information or ideas that you are seeking to pass on to another person or group of people.
Have you ever noticed how some websites seem to draw you right in immediately, while others lose your attention in a matter of just a minute or two? J. Walker (2006) reveals that "the right pictures can help draw your visitors into hearing what you have to say, as long as they add to your content, without detracting from it".
Darren Rowse (2010) suggests that a photograph has the ability to convey emotion, mood, narrative, ideas and messages - all of which are important elements of story telling
Most newspaper photography fits into this category of story telling - one image that attempts to capture the essence of an accompanying written story. They do not have the luxury of multiple frames to introduce, explore and conclude so almost always tell the story of a single event rather than a longer one.
According to Mark M. Hancock, a professional photojournalist is a visual reporter of facts. At all times, we have many thousands of people seeing through our eyes and expecting to see the truth. Most people immediately understand an image, (as cited in Aquil Akhter, 2009).
4.0 "A picture is worth a thousand words"
Figure 1. Source www.thestar.com.my
What immediately strikes in my mind looking at the picture in figure 1, is a girl planting a tree sapling into the ground as she is helped by an adult which the photo focuses on the subject on nature and conservation. In the background, I also notice other people as well who are in the midst of planting tree saplings into the ground to indicate that it surely must be an event where nature lovers have gathered to plant tree saplings as part of a conservation effort. Also noteworthy is the weather looks bright and clear and the ground that the people are planting the tree saplings is wet.
However, upon closer observation and with a little more thought process, one can suggest that the adult in the foreground, on the right is helping instill conservation values into the girl on the left. When she grows up, she is likely to be someone who cares for the nature and understands the ecosystem that she lives in. This observation can also provide a sense of conviction for people who have neglected their surroundings and never taken time to appreciate the nature around them. They may ponder "if a child can do it, surely I too can do it". This type of message can be thought provoking and have a profound effect in a person's mind and would likely be able to remember the conservation message told in the picture for a long time afterwards consciously and sub-consciously.
From the same picture too, one can accurately guess that the people were near a place close to water because the ground is wet suggesting that it is near a mangrove forest area close to the sea. Surely one cannot suggest that it had rained to leave that much water on the ground because the sky above looks clear and bright. The fact that everyone in the picture including those in the background was wearing some sort of headgear to shield their faces from the sun suggests that it was a hot day as well.
The picture also reveals that many other people are involved in the tree planting activity which suggests that many more people are interested in conservation and are doing their part in looking after and taking care of their environment.
In July 2010, Time magazine front paged a photo of a woman, donning a headscarf who looked rather pretty - minus a nose. The 18 year old woman alleged that she was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws in Afghanistan, Richard Stengel (2010).
"Bad things do happen to people, and it is part of our job to confront and explain them. In the end, I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening - and what can happen - in a war that affects and involves all of us. I would rather confront readers with the Taliban's treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan", Richard Stengel (2010).
Richard Stengel, the managing editor of the magazine in his editorial acknowledged that the photo would be shocking and cause a lot of anxiety and fears to those who saw the photo. However he admits that unfortunately, that is the stark reality of war and oppression in Afghanistan. Despite, the best efforts of hundreds of journalists writing about the war and its effects and devastation. That single photo published on the front page of the Time magazine may have had a more profound and thought provoking effect on its readers on the situation in Afghanistan and thus giving a concrete basis to give credence to the adage "a picture is worth a thousand words".
Among the three forms of communication, oral, written and visual communication, it is clear that the latter proves to be the most effective in trying to get a across a message most effectively and quickly with little chance of misunderstanding and breaking cultural boundaries.
It is also noteworthy of the power of visual when people remember a good 80% of things they see as compared to 20% to that they read and 10% of what they hear which makes it an effective tool when dissipating information.
Such an effect would greatly benefit the education system, business world, marketing, mass media, culture, lives and society on the whole. In fact, the National Education Association (2001) revealed in a study that "Western civilization has become more dependant than ever on visual culture, visual artifacs and visual communication as a mode of discourse and a means of developing a social and cultural identity".
The findings above show that there is evidence to suggest that people not only communicate visually more often than ever, they also communicate better when communicating visually.