A Picture Paints 1,000 Words: Visual Thinking in the Modern Workplace

November 17, 2014

75% of the general population think, learn and respond most effectively through visuals, so why do we insist on burdening our people with text-heavy, jargon-rich documentation?

Recent research by learning and development theorists suggests that approximately 75% of the population uses visual/spatial thinking, and 25% think predominantly in words. This means that the majority of people prefer to understand information through images, pictures, diagrams, graphics, shapes, colours, demonstrations and performances. The majority of people respond to critical information that is presented clearly, practically and visually.

An important point to consider when thinking about the modern workplace is that best practice is based on ‘knowing your target market’. Not only do 75% of the workplace prefer visual communication of information, but research also shows that this trend is on the rise, with Generation Y (millennials: people born between 1977 and 1994) typically dominating the workplace. Gen Y members are much more racially and ethnically diverse and more segmented as an audience, aided by the rapid expansion in Cable TV channels, satellite radio, the Internet, YouTube, e-zines, etc. Some important Gen Y traits to note in the workplace are:

  • They are sceptical of authority
  • They are influenced by their peers
  • They skim text and information quickly
  • They get bored easily
  • They are expressive and digitally creative
  • They like to be involved/engaged

Despite this information, organisations still aim to communicate important messages in traditional ways. Gen X, who are naturally more compliant, detail-oriented and fixed in their ways, may have responded to text-heavy documentation, but Gen Y does not. This is very apparent in the Health & Safety world, where traditional methods of communication (i.e. thick safety statements, wordy risk assessments, SSWs and SOPs) are based on ticking the box and prove to be ineffective in engaging people on safety best practice in reality.

“Whether or not it has fully dawned on society, the reality is that Gen Y will soon have to assume the responsibility for a world crafted by previous generations.” 

– Charlie Caruso, Understanding Y

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