Today, some of the most compelling stories are visual in nature, as graphic designers, data journalists, illustrators and the like have dramatically evolved the contemporary visual vocabulary of storytelling. In fact, engaging text and visuals in the service of clear, concise explanation can have a powerful effect on a person’s ability to understand and remember information. However, visual storytelling isn’t so different from other types of reporting.
In our complex, data-rich world, the ability to analyze and visualize data-driven information is a valuable skill. Information graphics provide a great opportunity to bring clarity to even the most abstract or complicated ideas. This book is intended to serve as an introduction to understanding the methods, techniques and tools for visual storytelling.
This chapter covers the evolution of visual communication from-from cave paintings to complex interactive graphics. We will look at the visual perception, dual code theory and the cognitive theory of multimedia learning to better understand how audiences process a graphic reporters work. This chapter will also explore the role of a graphics reporter and introduce some of the general types of information graphics that will be further explored in later chapters.
Evolution of Visual Communication: Visual storytelling has been a primary form of communication since early humans first drew on wall caves. From early maps depicted by Ptolemy to the scientific sketches by da Vinci, the ability of visual stimuli to communicate and influence is undeniable.
Visual Perception: Visual stories are easier to consume, digest and understand. But why? Visual perception is the brain’s ability to make sense of its surroundings by processing information contained in visible light. As light enters our eyes it is filtered through photo-receptors that send electrical signals to the brain to stimulate the cognitive process.
Dual Coding Theory: Dual coding theory derives from early research on the core structure of the brain. The theory explains why information graphics can be so powerful when it comes to storytelling and understanding. The theory proposes that memory consist of two separate but interrelated codes for processing information-one verbal and one visual. Illustrations integrated with text-based explanation prompts the brain to encode information in both verbal and nonverbal forms.
The Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning: Psychology professor Richard E. Mayer has spent more than a decade maturing the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning. The theory adds two more assumptions to Dual Coding Theory. First, there is a limit to the amount of information that working memory can hold at one time. Second, learning is an active process of filtering, selecting, organizing and integrating information.
The Role of a Graphics Reporter: The terms “graphic artist” and “graphics reporter” are often used interchangeably. However, the decision to focus on the “graphics reporter” is deliberate because we are more than just artists. A graphics reporter is a journalist, storyteller and information architect. A graphics reporter should advance the audience understanding through clean, clear and accurate presentations. A graphics reporter also should spot graphics potential in stories and become a visual editor.