Whether they’re sketches on the back of a napkin, a presentation of new concepts, or the polished functionality of an app, visuals are powerful influencers. But how can we better understand and use them? In this first blog post of his series “Leveraging the Visual Language,” Deloitte Digital Illustrator Mark Morse discusses the impact and use of visuals in business and in life.

As an illustrator providing illustrated day-in-the-life scenarios and spot art for the last seven years at Deloitte Digital, I’ve had a unique opportunity to observe how internal and external clients react to the use of visuals and illustrations, especially in their role of conveying story. Project objectives can be extensive and illustrations have demonstrated a way to provide an overview of goals, within the context of human experience. I’m continually impressed by how a drawing depicting an individual engaging with a product can turn a large amount of data into a quickly recognizable experience. But how do visuals really contribute to communicating ideas and how are they different than our primary tool of writing and reading?

Over a series of articles, I’ll be exploring this question. Although my work experience has been focused on the creation of illustrations, I will use the term “visual” as encompassing everything from graphic icon, rough sketch, doodle and illustration to photography and video.

The difference between visuals and the written word

A primary attribute of visuals is the ability to communicate instantly. You may have had the experience of skimming through a social media feed or flipping through a magazine and seeing an image that in a half a second cannot be unseen. The subtleness of a visual can convey multiple points of information without declaring it is doing so, prior to the viewer’s ability to debate the topic – or even without the viewer entirely aware they’ve been given the information. Unlike a paragraph that can be challenged as it is read or disregarded before completed, an image has the unique ability to convey a message instantaneously.

My intent is not to diminish the written word. I highly respect what a writer can accomplish, and the reality is that a single visual can only encapsulate so much information. But I encourage a perspective that elevates the use of visuals beyond simply being clip art or an attractive filler of empty space. Just like a well-written sentence, a thoughtfully created visual can be a tool that strengthens your objectives.

In the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, Scott describes visuals as “received” information and writing as “perceived” information. Visuals require no formal education to “get the message.” Writing and reading is only possible through education and the understanding of the abstract symbols of language. Viewing a “dark and stormy night” does not require the same skillsets as reading or writing a description of a “dark and stormy night.”

Graphic icons are a great example of received information, as much of our daily lives are informed by their universality – whether it's finding a restroom and knowing which one to enter or making our way around our new smartphone. A well-crafted icon can bridge the gap between language and culture.

Recently I attended a lecture by Brian McDanold, screenwriter and author of Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories that Resonate. He recommended that artists should watch films with the volume off. If a film is done well, the visuals alone should continue to convey the story, often with greater subtlety than is found in the dialogue.


Using the immediacy of visuals

  • How can you take advantage of the immediacy of visuals?
  • Remember that they convey information instantly to the viewer.
  • Consider that all imagery is a piece of information. How does it reinforce your point or speak to your client?
  • Use visuals to give a human face to complex functionalities. This will foster a personal or emotional response as the viewer recognizes themselves or customers in the imagery. I’ll elaborate on this in upcoming articles.
  • See visuals as an opportunity to speak directly to your client. With the abundance of highly used generic imagery, a custom image or thoughtful use of generic imagery is a great way to let clients know you're providing more -- that you’re aware of their needs and are part of a richly skilled team.
  • Look for ways where visuals can provide a quick summary or overview of key objectives.

In my next article, I’ll clarify how visuals can elicit the viewer’s imagination, and how the spectrum of visuals, from graphic icon, rough sketch and illustration to photography and video, can convey different themes or foster different conversations.

Mark Morse is a Deloitte Digital illustrator who focuses on storyboards and sequential "day in the life” journeys for pitches and presentations, providing a broad range of experiences in visually conveying project objectives and goals.