How product managers can use visual storytelling to make their ideas stand out
As we move into 2021, the name of this podcast is changing to better reflect our objective here—product managers become product masters. That new name is Product Masters Now.
You don’t need to do anything to keep listening, but I want you to know the name change is coming in a few weeks and it will show in your podcast player not as The Everyday Innovator but as Product Masters Now.
Product managers must communicate their ideas to others in ways that are clear and solicit feedback. Using visuals to help communicate information can be very helpful. Visual tools can make information easy to understand and also place it in context.
When it comes to visual information, Amy Balliett is a leader. Her visual communication agency has created thousands of successful information campaigns for Fortune 1000 clients. She speaks on and teaches visual information concepts whenever she can. Today, she joins us so we can understand how simple visual tools can make us better communicators.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:44] How did you end up on the path to becoming the “Queen of Visualizing Information”?
In film school I fell in love with visual storytelling. Later I pivoted my career and started my own business, Killer Infographics, creating infographics for online marketing. We evolved from infographics to motion graphics, interactive eBooks, and other visual media. We merged marketing and visual storytelling and drove success by applying what we had learned with infographics—the best practices of visual storytelling—to all these other types of creative content.
Visual storytelling makes a huge difference for businesses because audiences want to get to know the brands they’re buying from, but they often don’t want to take the time to read content that delivers authenticity and transparency. We visualize those messages so that audiences will consume them far more often and voraciously.
[8:13] You’ve been compared to Edward Tufte, the “King of Visualizing Information.” What are your thoughts on that comparison?
To be compared to Tufte is a huge compliment. I’ve followed him from the beginning, and one time I went to one of his workshops and saw that some people were overwhelmed by the pace at which he was sharing information. I wondered how I could share the same content in a way that’s easier to digest. Tufte focuses on visualizing scientific or historical information for an analytical audience. At Killer, I focus on visualizing content to advertise to an audience. We want to make content edgy and exciting while delivering a clear, succinct message. We focus on catching attention very quickly, because today’s audiences have super short attention spans.
What would you like to share about your eight rules for visual communication?
[11:04] Always think about con-text.
It’s a con when there’s too much text. The definition of visual communication is the act of graphically representing information to efficiently and effectively create meaning. A key word is graphically, but 99% of infographics have paragraphs of text next to images. That’s not visual communication. According to brain science, humans take in visual information in one-tenth of a second, but they take over five seconds to take in text-based information. If you have only five seconds to get your viewer to come to a conclusion, use visual content. If they have to read the text to understand the visuals, you’re not visually communicating. A recent study found that articles with images every 75-100 words had two times the engagement of articles that had one image or less.
[14:53] Avoid the stigma of stock.
It’s not enough to stick unrelated images into your content. Quality visual content is what succeeds online. Ninety-four percent of first impressions are based entirely on design. Lead with quality design, not stock imagery or clip art. Custom illustrations convert seven times better than stock imagery. In today’s world, we all have the tools at our disposal to quickly edit video and photos and create original content. If brands are leading with stock imagery, they’re not even doing what any of us can do. Lead with 100% custom illustration or photography and ensure that all your images have a matching style. Content is king. Visual content is the new king. But quality visual content reigns supreme. Consider using a designer to design quality content for you.
[22:19] There’s no gold at the end of the rainbow.
Color theory has been debunked. We’re a global society, and colors have different meanings in different cultures. Colors don’t invoke emotions. However, when used wisely colors convey meaning as your viewers start to recognize patterns in the colors you choose. Don’t use an overwhelming rainbow of colors; be minimal with your colors.
[24:18] Good visual strategists ask “Why that font?”
Unlike colors, fonts do invoke emotions because different fonts have different styles associated with different topics. For example, wedding invitations usually have script fonts that invoke the ideas of celebration, classic beauty, and formal wear. Use fonts to drive your audience to action. You can’t go wrong with classic fonts like Arial and Helvetica, and they have many different weights to add diversity to the look and feel. How you’re laying out your fonts matters too—instead of lining everything up on a straight line, consider using a layout that draws the eye in an exciting and different way. It takes a good eye to see which fonts work well together; I like to use the website Lost Type to put fonts together. Consider whether to use lowercase or upper case—all lowercase is more open and welcoming, while all uppercase speaks with more authority.
[31:29] Small visual cues have a large impact.
We read meaning into many subtle visual cues—everything from colors to fonts to using an emoji instead of a period.
Action Guide: Put the information Amy shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Check out Amy’s book on Amazon
- Learn more about Killer Visual Strategies
- Connect with Amy on LinkedIn
- Check out the font resource Lost Type
“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.” – Niels Bohr
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.