A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the majority of businesses are buried in text. Outside of marketing teams and graphic designers, most people in the office still communicate via text-centric emails and documents, with the occasional emoticon. Yet as the sheer volume and complexity of business data grows, organizations need more effective ways to streamline information sharing, and visual communication is key to this change.
Imagine reviewing global sales figures or years of historical data. When laid out in numerical spreadsheets, processing the information requires a lot of time and mental effort. Yet when that same data is displayed in a bar graph, key concepts are apparent in an instant. The right visuals streamline information sharing, leading to a more agile and effective organization.
The consumer world of emojis, Instagram, and Snapchat is bleeding into the workplace and new tools are democratizing visual communication. Now anyone in any industry can use design elements and visual storytelling in the workplace.
Below are five ways visuals can improve communications and enable people to share information in the workplace more effectively than ever before:
1. More effective on-the-job training
People gain 75 percent of what they know visually, 13 percent through hearing and 12 percent through smell, touch and taste. Because people learn by seeing, the use of visuals makes for more effective training and minimizes the chance for miscommunications.
Flowcharts are a commonly used tool to clarify and standardize business activities, particularly in daily repetitive processes. For example, phone support staff members need to follow a set of established responses for common and not-so-common situations. Illustrating each scenario in a series of charts makes it easy for each staff member to consistently follow the best practice for each situation.
2. Interactive brainstorming and scoping sessions
When building a complex product like a website, mobile app or end-user survey, it’s best to gather feedback from key stakeholders as early in the process as possible. Since design is subjective and difficult to convey via words, interactive design mockups make it easier for everyone to visualize the end product and hash out the details.
For example, Curve, a web-design agency, uses wireframe mockups to communicate and collaborate with clients. “Simple things like being able to link hotspots together on a wireframe and have them act like live buttons can go a long way to explaining a concept or design to a client,” said Simon Read, Curve’s user experience designer.
“Previously we would have had to annotate them with fake notes directly on top, which helped, but wasn’t quite as effective as having the client interact with it themselves,” he added.
3. Communicating complex relationships like product ecosystems
Visuals let people convey complex relationships between information, concepts, or objects more clearly than speaking or writing ever could. Whether it’s a mind map, flow chart or diagram, visuals offer a clean way to share all the inter-connected pieces of the puzzle to let people see the big picture.
For example, Pearson, a provider of learning and educational materials, has thousands of products spread across different business units. Gabe Gloege, director of learning and development at Pearson, decided to create a mind map of all the products. The visual proved so valuable they decided to create 10-foot posters to hang in each of the North American offices.
According to Gloege, the visual brought a lot of clarity and a new way of thinking to Pearson’s product landscape. “It’s powerful, being able to see all that information at a glance, and the visual way changes your understanding and your perception of the content itself,” he said.
4. Mapping variables during product design
Humans are visual creatures and visualization makes it far easier to access and assimilate information. This is particularly true when planning for the wide range of scenarios and variables involved in product design. Walking through a visual chart enables teams to discover and plan for more variables upfront, rather than having to retroactively address new scenarios after the product has been developed.
For example, Firespotter Labs develops UberConference, a conference call solution where there can be a multitude of potential scenarios: what happens when someone calls in before the scheduled call time or doesn’t have the right PIN number? Rather than describing each scenario in a 20-page document, the team uses visual flow charts to convey each scenario. “It’s very simple to make a step-by-step process that engineers, product managers, and other stakeholders can refer to. That way, we’re all on the same page,” said Craig Walker, Firespotter Labs CEO.
5. Communicating the overall mission to improve morale
When employees lose sight of the big picture, their jobs feel mundane and robotic. Since this kind of disconnection is incredibly demotivating, it’s important to remind individuals how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture.
Visualization is the perfect vehicle for conveying how even the smallest task fits into the overall operation. For example, instead of just asking copywriters to churn out page after page via email each week, a large chart helps connect the dots between each page of content and emphasizes how it all fits into the broader strategy.
Just as email, texting, and the cloud have changed the way teams communicate, visualization is the next wave to transform business communication. New tools are making it easier than ever for individuals to apply their own visual thinking via flowcharts, mind maps, and mockups. Visuals add another dimension to traditional text and oral communication, bringing new clarity to increasingly complex workplace information.