Words Can Underpin Visual Storytelling. Let Me Explain.

That’s right.

The basis of visual storytelling can come from words.

I call these “word visuals.” They’re perfect for PR folks who can struggle with bringing a visual dimension to communications. Words as a design technique play to our strength.

These “word visuals” come in four flavors:

  • Clever words that stand on their own: The words, sometimes in hand-written form, completely carry the day. Little or no design goes into this type of visual storytelling.
  • Speech cloud from a celebrity: I get a lot of mileage from this technique which is particularly effective for B2B companies where you don’t expect a Conan O’Brien to surface.
  • Replace the words in an existing visual: Take something that already exists and replace the words with your own.
  • The words carry a simple image: The Game of Thrones image with our friend Tyrion that kicks off this post offers an example of this approach. The words on top of elementary design give hope of a chuckle.

Clever Words That Stand on Their Own

One of the best examples of this technique comes from Douglas Wray who broke down the essence of social media platforms with the help of a donut.

Donuts - Handwriting

Again, a third grader could design this visual. The power comes from the cleverness in the words.

The imperfection of the handwriting actually adds to the visual appeal. Check out what happens if we take the same content, but package it with typography:

Donuts - Typeset Using type results in a less interesting visual. There’s a certain beauty to the rawness of handwriting.

Even a few words can create a powerful visual. Business Insider wrote a feature on Ben Silbermann, Pinterest CEO, that included the Venn diagram below.

Venn Diagram

Just three words with two overlapping circles and voila — a touch of levity has been added.

Speech Cloud with a Celebrity

I noted earlier that I deploy this technique on a regular basis.

When Jolie O’Dell, a journalist at VentureBeat, bitched about PR professionals accompanying executives in press interviews, I served up the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld:

No PR Person for You

As a second example, a post lamenting the lack of budget information in RFPs riffed off of Jay Leno and his diction during his monologues when he hosted the Tonight Show.

Jay Leno - Work with Me

Replace the Words in an Existing Visual

Literally anything with writing on it becomes a candidate for this technique:

  • Books
  • Posters
  • Billboards
  • Movie posters
  • Signs
  • Even a soda can (more on this in a moment)

In a post that examined anecdotes in business storytelling, we found a photo of a person holding a sign at a football game and took the liberty of changing the sign to cheer on the Anecdotes (GIF toggles between the two):

Go Anecdotes - Slow GIF

I mentioned this technique can even be applied to a soda can. Playing off New Coke, we inserted Twitter predicting that a new version of the social tool would come to the market.

Twitter Cola Again, these types of visuals depend on words to do the heavy lifting.

Equally important, you can create them with minimal design expertise, though mimicking a typeface on a soda does require someone at the controls of Photoshop.

Word visuals at their best can trigger that “what the heck!” moment from the reader.

Side note:  In the right hands, crafting words in SlideShare can become a poor man’s video. The post, “The Beauty of Words Can Push into Visual Storytelling” includes an example of this.

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