How to Improve Efficiency and Productivity with Visual Communication

By Paul Stannard  |  Posted 2010-08-26

How to Improve Efficiency and Productivity with Visual Communication

In today's fast-paced, multicultural business environment, companies are using visual communication techniques to overcome challenges such as operational inefficiencies and language barriers that can often exist between employees, customers and vendors. Visual communication techniques are being used to improve understanding of concepts, knowledge retention and long-term success.

"A picture is worth a thousand words" is a well-known saying that sums up the reasons for using visual communication in the workplace. But beyond traditional organizational charts and diagrams, the use of visual communication in the corporate environment has typically been reserved for the advertising department. For everyone else in the office, text-based communication has long been the primary means to convey information since the bygone era of the corporate typing pool.

Fortunately, a myriad of tools such as the modern word processor and e-mail emerged to make the creation of text-based messages easier and more efficient. But have these tools really improved the effectiveness of our business communication efforts? Has the mode in which we put words onto paper or screen actually enhanced our ability to understand the meaning or impact of the message?

Research has shown that visual aids are incredibly powerful tools for enhancing both the understanding of concepts and knowledge retention in a variety of settings beyond advertising. Studies have shown that people "only remember 10 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they read, but about 80 percent of what they see and do."

The Department of Labor also suggests using visual aids to achieve more effective communication. It cites studies which found that not only does approximately 83 percent of human learning occur visually, but also that "retention of information three days after a meeting or other event is six times greater when information is presented by visual and oral means than when the information is presented by the spoken word alone."

Reasons to Use Visual Communication

Reasons to use visual communication

The use of visual communication in the business environment is gaining momentum due to its powerful ability to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of communication, both internally and externally. Aside from the aforementioned research, three factors are driving the adoption of visual communication in the workplace:

1. Information overload

With so much data being generated on a daily basis, the use of visuals to compress, distill and summarize complex information can make it easier to digest and comprehend massive amounts of data. The ability to encapsulate data into a compelling visual element such as a flowchart, bar graph or timeline makes it much more comfortable to absorb and retain the information presented. If given the choice, would you rather read a 50-page report or view a four-page visual summary on the same material?

2. Globalization

In our infinitely interconnected world, global companies must have efficient, effective means to communicate with employees, customers and vendors who speak different languages and dialects. The use of impactful visuals makes it much more effective to communicate even relatively complicated information to a diverse group of people-without the worry of someone misunderstanding or something being "lost in translation." Visuals allow multilingual individuals to quickly grasp concepts regardless of their level of language fluency.

3. Brevity

When communicating with spoken or written word, it becomes easy to ramble on, especially when trying to convey complicated information. Many believe that writing or saying more will aid in understanding when oftentimes the opposite is true. On the other hand, the very act of creating a visual presentation forces the creator to refine the message or argument, clarify points and summarize explanations. This "forced" clarity distills messages to their core meaning, which helps the audience achieve a better understanding.

Visuals allow your audience to see and understand relationships between information and concepts (and the interconnectivity of processes and structures) more clearly than words can ever do alone. By establishing context for the interrelated pieces of the puzzle, visuals provide a more uniform language that is devoid of clutter, revealing the most critical information. Think about it: in an emergency, would you rather have a map to the fire escape or written directions on how to get there?

Barriers to Visual Communication Use

Barriers to visual communication use

Despite all of these benefits, the widespread use of visual communication in the business environment has been a challenge for two reasons. First, the average business person simply does not have the skills or tools required to easily and quickly create visuals. Second, the amount of time and effort required to create compelling visuals has been so great that it has often been deemed not worth the effort.

Absent the kind of tools and features we've all grown accustomed to for text communication (such as the AutoFormat feature in modern word processors), the creation of visuals requires help from the art or graphics department. Assuming you have art or graphics talent in-house, presentations and proposals must be worked into the marketing work load. This could overwhelm an already bustling art or graphics department. If you outsource graphics work, the cost for visual presentations and proposals could quickly add up.

Modern Visual Processors

Modern visual processors

Modern visual processors allow companies to implement a visual communication approach across the enterprise and overcome the aforementioned barriers. This helps boost performance, reduce operating costs, and improve profitability and competitiveness. By empowering individuals with visual processing tools to quickly and easily create and use diagrams, charts and other visuals, "visual companies" can realize significant improvement in communication, understanding and growth-without completely disrupting the current workflow.

Much like the familiar word processor, visual processors automate the creation, formatting and integration of visuals in everyday business communications. This makes it easy for anyone to develop and use professional-quality visuals in meetings, strategy sessions and reports, as well as in e-mail messages and other common documents.

Through the deployment and use of a visual processor, visual companies can see immediate ROI by relieving the work load on the graphics or art department while winning more business through more effective communication of proposals. The ability to visually communicate features and value propositions provides an edge over the competition and helps to shorten the sales cycle. Visual companies also benefit from fewer misunderstandings and errors, and expectations are more readily met because they are more clearly understood.

Just as e-mail forever changed the way we create and transmit text information, today's visual processors promise to revolutionize business communication yet again by allowing the average person to easily create compelling visuals-with an intuitive process and familiar interface for a short learning curve and quick time to competency. Thanks to seamless integration with legacy business software, modern visual processors make the adoption of visual communication, and the transformation of your company to a visual company, a natural and comfortable evolution.

Paul Stannard is the founder and CEO of SmartDraw. A self-taught software developer, Paul began his development career in 1980, founding a company that developed software for Apple computers. Since that time, Paul has written more than a dozen published applications and continues to play a key role in the development of SmartDraw's products. Paul has also written applications for Microsoft, Broderbund, Intuit and GraphPad Software. Paul has been a successful CEO for more than 20 years, founding several other startups. Paul is a pioneer and recognized authority in electronic software distribution and Internet marketing and speaks frequently on the subjects. He holds both a Bachelor's and Master's degree from Oxford University, and earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from UCLA. He can be reached at

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