At the moment we first entered the world and opened our eyes, we were consumed by visual stimulus. We began to sort and interpret these images, learning their meanings and significance. Every shape has a property. Every color has a meaning. We perceive shapes as organic or architectural based on their function in nature. We perceive colors as warm or cool based on their presence in nature. We organize many separate elements into a collective whole. We perceive, recognize, categorize and cross-reference until we have a comprehensive knowledge of how the visual world works. And as if we’re not already busy enough interpreting visuals, we are simultaneously processing the other four senses of sound, smell, taste and touch in the same manner.
We recognize what we know.
Does that sound too obvious? Through exposure, we put information into context, and thus retain the information. How does this principle apply to reaching your customers?
Effective communication comes down to one simple principle: with each of the five senses, we recognize what we know. Visual communicators learn what is familiar to their audience and select relevant imagery to communicate clearly, effectively and most importantly, quickly. When a visual message is familiar, right and appropriate, it is clear, comfortable and obvious. When it’s unfamiliar, wrong or inappropriate, it can be confusing, unsettling and misrepresenting.
Unfortunately, even seasoned professional designers sometimes stray from objective decision-making in their quest to create something new and different. Artists by nature, they sometimes forget that graphic design projects are not gallery pieces where museum-goers will stop to ponder the greater significance of the message. To the average consumer, a graphic designer's labor of love is only a snapshot seen in a fleeting moment, if perceived at all. Marketing studies indicate that as consumers zip down grocery store aisles, their eyes rest on a package for approximately .03 seconds. (Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color by Leatrice Eiseman)
. In this split-second opportunity, the outer packaging must grab attention, communicate the inner contents and create desire. That’s a lot to expect from a busy audience of consumers who are already bombarded with similar images from thousands of other visuals also competing for their attention. Really, there’s no time for lofty, Picasso-centric agendas.
This the key to communicating quickly to your audience. If the imagery you incorporate into your piece is vague, obscure or otherwise off target, you’ll miss what is likely your only opportunity to get your point across. Sure, you’ve seen those multi-million-dollar ad campaigns that attract attention through surreal product connections, but is that really
the project that’s burning a hole in your in-box? “How to Create a 30-Second Ad Spot for The Big Ballgame That Everyone Will Be Discussing The Significance Of The Next Day” is the subject for another blog post. This is about where the rubber meets the road – your project that's going on right now.
You may not know it yet, but you already have everything you need to make your project a success. Don’t underestimate your perceptions or reactions to the effects of graphic elements. You’ve seen as much of the world as a graphic designer has. Even if you’re uninitiated to the process of graphic design, you can still learn how to make objective visual decisions. This blog will give you a context for understanding, to put a label on what you probably already know, and familiarize you with what you already see.
If you can label it, you can communicate it.