In today’s increasingly connected world, being able to communicate across cultures and languages is more important than ever. While we’re not quite in the era of universal translators yet, humans do have a meaning-conveying system that can help deliver information almost anywhere around the world: illustration.
Before you dismiss illustration as an overly simplistic or childish form of communication — as lacking the richness of photos or the depth of writing — here’s why you might want to take them seriously as an integral part of your life world and your work.
A lesson in art history
While you may believe they’re just a current design fad, icons and illustrations are as old as communication itself — going back to the first cave paintings over 30,000 years ago. Since then, they have been used to convey more and more complicated information, including data, hazard warnings and even our own emotions.
For example, the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics was developed in the 1920’s to help Vienna’s socioeconomic museum teach residents about their city. The Method uses pictograms to represent the numbers in complex social and scientific statistics, presenting complicated facts in a simple and memorable way. The Vienna Method was later standardized and renamed Isotype: International System of Typographic Picture Education.
In 1972, industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss developed the Symbol Sourcebook, a reference manual used to make products safer despite language barriers. The book acted both as a “dictionary” for symbols already in place, as well as a designer’s guide to creating new symbols for practical use. Dreyfuss also encouraged The US Department of Transportation to adopt several universal symbols, including parking, restaurant and airport symbols that are still in use today.
Today, the Information Age is presenting new opportunities — and new reasons — to create a new generation of universal illustrations. And if you’ve spent any time on the internet recently, you’ll know that evolution has already begun.
Emoticons, and later emojis, are another interesting case. They have made their way into all forms of digital writing since the first emoticon use at Carnegie Mellon University in 1982. Now, emojis are so prevalent in our day-to-day conversation that Oxford Dictionary announced 😂 was its Word of the Year in 2015.
And since then, emoji use has only grown, and not just in our text messages — between 2015 and 2016, emoji usage in marketing messages rose over 775 percent. In email marketing, the increase was 7,123 percent year-over-year.
After 25 years of constantly increasing use, emoticons and emojis are clearly not just a passing trend. But do they have any real value? Well, yes! They not only simplify the way we communicate, but add emotion and context to otherwise ambiguous messages. And for marketers, they can have a huge impact towards the public perception of a brand. Tweets with emojis have a 25.4 percent higher engagement rate than tweets without, and Facebook posts receive 57 percent more likes and 33 percent more comments and shares.
Emojis are more than a way to add personality to a text — they are an essential tool for online communication.
Illustration optimizing our world
The strongest case for illustration is the world around us. It’s been estimated that we receive five times as much information per day today as we did 30 years ago. With that much going on, it just makes sense that we crave simplicity. And surrounding ourselves with illustrations is just that: simple.
Our brains process the meaning of visuals faster and easier than text. Take medicine labels, for example. When labels have both text and pictures, they are understood 95 percent of the time, versus 70 percent for labels that are text-only. And people following directions with text and images have a 323 percent higher rate of success than those using directions with text alone.
In day-to-day life, icons, emojis and other illustrative approaches add understanding and context to the world around us. For marketers, they can create an easily-understood call to action. For everyone else, they have optimized communication — not only with our friends and family, but with people from different countries and cultures across the world.
Illustrations can optimize the way almost any piece of information is delivered — whether that means breaking down cultural barriers, simplifying difficult ideas, or adjusting the tone of a piece. And with busier lives than ever before, that optimization could be the key to innovation and advancement.
Still don’t believe in the power of illustration? Let us show you what it can do for your brand!