Guest Column: Words are now supplementary to visual imagery

Brand messages looking to have engaging conversations with the average 8-second attention span brain, being visually intelligent is not a choice but a critical necessity.

e4m by Snehasis Bose
Updated: Aug 14, 2017 8:32 AM

As a species, we are hardwired to recognize and process visual information much faster than any other. 40% of the nerve fibres to the brain are connected to the retina, leading to 90% of the information reaching our brain being visual.

In other words, a race between text and visual would be akin to a race between Usain Bolt and me. The visual (Bolt) would reach the end post (aka the brain) 60,000 times faster than the text (me.) 

While we understand the visual immediately and instinctively, understanding words is a learned cognitive ability; something our brain has to work on.

Giving credence to the explosive growth of visual led platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and the overflow of video and pictures on Facebook feeds, words in all these platforms are increasingly being relegated to a supplementary role.

Moral of the above is that for brand messages looking to have engaging conversations with the average 8-second attention span brain (or is it 6 second?) being visually intelligent is not a choice but a critical necessity.

Think of Coca Cola’s red or Google’s primary coloured brand marks, Absolut’s bottle or the Ambassador car, Mario Miranda’s Goa or MF Hussain’s horses, Vodafone’s Zoo Zoos or the Amul’s take on contemporary India; visuals which are now embedded with rich and deep meaning and have become part of our culture.

While there are such examples of how the visual leads, truth be told, in a lot of the communication we see around us, the quality of visual excellence dithers between average to poor. More often than not, the words shoulder the intelligence and the art acts as a supplement.

While all of us get affected by the visual all the time (read paragraph 1 again if you still doubt it,) the conversations in the agencies which create communication hardly, if ever,resonate with depth of field, brand colour palette, ratios of positive to negative space or for that matter even visual basics like what a colour denotes.

Even design as a discipline, though much touted in words, is in reality constantly bowing down to economics. And the slew of pretendesigners are making things worse with their ‘make rampant hay’ focus. Ironical, considering we as a culture are steeped in visual symbolism from the shiva’s lingam, crescent on a green ground, wearing of white clothes and to the aeroplane shaped water tanks atop houses.

Part of the reason for this marginalization lies in the lack of education most of us have as to what constitutes good art or design versus otherwise. While in school, handwriting, essays, poetry and so on are given heightened focus, art classes are always in the realm of the avoidable and the missable. Part lies in artists and their stoic refusal to market themselves and their craft with as much aplomb and mystique as writers.Part lies in our impatience to communicate without exploring the optimal manner for the maximum impact.

While none of the above are going to change in a hurry, what could help prevent our visual sense from sliding further into the abyss of pretence is more exposure.

For the child, for the girl, for the man, for the elderly; the better visuals we can see, exhibit, surround our daily lives with, more chances we have of recognizing the difference and realising its impact. The more we see, the more we will discern the difference between a bunch of colors and forms to inform versus a bunch of colors and forms to communicate.

As a believer in the power of the visual, I invite you (through pure text) to remember that text is just one of the mediums through which messaging can be delivered.

The author is Snehasis Bose, Senior Vice President- Planning, Law & Kenneth Saatchi &Saatchi

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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