We live in a highly visual world surrounded and triggered by visual signs, images and movement every single moment. It is claimed that visual media has become central to living a contemporary life. Due to technological development visual communication products are used more than ever in today’s consumption society.
Since I work within the visual field my interest in visual communication and media has grown over the years to examine the topics more deeply. My thesis research intended to explore the neuropsychological aspects of visual communication and subsequently explain the effects of visual communication and visual media on individuals, both on conscious and subconscious levels. I personally consider that there is more to design and visual communication than just “good design”, and I strongly believe that not every visual communication is good communication. Qualitative research method such as literature review and interviews were applied for gathering data for this thesis.
Visual communication is defined as the use of visual elements and symbols to convey information, messages, and ideas. Visual communication can be tracked to prehistoric times when wild animal paintings and hunting scenes were depicted in caves during the time when there was no literacy at all; these are the earliest expressions of visual communication. Until the present day, “the most powerful advertising ideas are non-verbal and take the form of statements with visual qualities made by archetypes. Their true meanings lie too deep for words” (Burnett in Broadbent 1984, cited in Barry 2020).
Visual communication is probably the most effective communication because it can be processed much faster cognitively and emotionally. In order to understand visual communication and how it works, primarily, one needs to get an overview of how a human brain works, starting from brain structure, perception and memory. Ware (2012) states that “human visual system is a pattern seeker of enormous power and subtlety. The eye and the visual cortex of the brain form a massively parallel processor that provides the highest bandwidth channel into human cognitive centers”. Understanding of perceptual process is essential to realizing the power of visual images to move us emotionally and to prepare and influence our conscious (and unconscious) thoughts (Barry 2002).
My thesis research intended to find answer three questions: What is the role of visual communication in today’s digital media? How does visual media impact our everyday life? How does motion graphics add value to digital media?
The findings of the study confirm that digital media and technology have a tremendous influence on our life affecting the way we live, work and interact with each other. The role of visual communication in today’s digitized world is significant to the extent that we have become dependent on digital technology. Motion graphics does add value to digital media to some extent; it is engaging and more memorable, but on the other hand, it is also perceived disturbing and unpleasant.
Our dependency on technology is critical to acknowledge because as a result of evolutionary development of our perceptional system, we continue to learn from mediated experience and from actual experience alike. A perceptual approach to media suggests that media is both a major social influence and a contributor to individual attitudes through its ability to mimic reality in the basic, unconscious systems of the brain. The fact that visual perception is a complex system evolved over long period of time is especially significant in terms of visual and digital media, which is on the other hand, considerably new. When we watch TV or social media feed, the phylogenetically primitive unconscious part of our brains perceives what is happening as reality and continues to learn from and to respond to what it sees. (Barry 2002, Barry 2020)
The study suggests that criticism towards media, news outlets, businesses and advertising has grown due to overload of information, resulting to an increase in visual literacy and critical thinking. However, passive use of visual media disconnects us from our real life and our real needs. When we walk through the world on autopilot, our eyes might seem to take everything in, but in reality, we are seeing less. Herman (2016) writes that our perpetual, byte-size interactions are not only a detriment to our concentration, focus, productivity, and personal safety, but they’re also hurting our intelligence. Portable technology is not just a sensory distraction; we allow it to be a sensory substitution. When we take in too much information or make it switch focus too quickly, our brain simply slows down. It’s important to recognize that in current digital age, looking at things from all angles before we act is imperative for our own protection.
To avoid ”digital illnesses” we need to educate ourselves, become visually literate and promote visual intelligence. Visual intelligence implies an understanding of exactly how far can we trust perception to tell us the truth, and an appreciation of how perceptual process can be manipulated through various media to alter our attitudes and behavior (Barry 1997).
There are many examples provided in the thesis work illustrating that “media is not merely mindless entertainment apart from life, but rather the very fabric of life itself, teaching values, attitudes, and lifestyles” (Barry 2002, 98). Therefore, media managers should take full responsibility of the visual content through which they promote these attitudes and values within groups and society. In addition, there are, most of the time, involved the interests of big corporations. The ideal goal is transparent diverse multicultural and democratic media rather than centrally controlled corporate commercialized media.
Major takeaway during this research was that no matter how much effort is put in constant technological development and change, we should never underestimate and, certainly, neglect our roots, our human nature and history. We should be developing and evolving from it and with it, not against it. In a way we are newbies in this high-tech world. We are also guinea pigs because considering the human evolution, we are familiar with media only for about a century and digital media for just two decades. Therefore, the real effects of media and technology shall be seen after several generations.