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01
April
2012

Why Employers Value Employees with Visual Communications Skills

Skills in visual communications in the workplace have been steadily growing in importance over the last decade.

The remarkable growth of online media, coupled with the “democratisation” of image making tools from computer programs, digital cameras, and even the dreaded Powerpoint has caused an explosion in the use of images in the business environment.

This means that today's workforce needs more than just verbal and mathematical proficiency. 
Employers are placing increasing value on the ability to interpret, understand, create, and use visual communications on sophisticated levels.
So if you understand the profound effects that images can have on individuals then this skill is directly relevant to your workplace effectiveness.

The Use of an Image Can Improve Efficiency and Accuracy of Communication

The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words often understates the value of an image.

There are many cases where you can’t convey in words what can be done with a picture.
For instance how could you ever accurately describe with just words the prototype of a new product, or packaging, or an office layout, or an item of clothing. And even if it were possible in a thousand words or less – which way is more efficient and leaves less room for mis-interpretation.

This is probably stating the obvious. But what if you need to communicate something more abstract?

Have you ever had an idea that you couldn’t properly describe with words? Could a picture help? Do you have the right cognitive tools to construct the image?

This is not to say that the use of a picture is the universal solution to all communications needs. But it can often be a useful tool when words don’t quite hit the mark.

The use of a visual image enhaces Recall

Another practical example is in the use of an image to enhance memory.
In a study by researchers from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) they managed to prove people were able to remember specific details of almost 3.000 pictures they were presented.

The test had 3 stages: after watching the 3.000 pictures, test subjects then had to choose the correct items first from picture pairs of totally different items, secondly from a pair of images representing an item and a different example of the same item type (like 2 different watches) and thirdly from photos of an item and of another slightly modified instance of the same item (like a full cup and a half-full cup). 92% gave the correct answer in the first stage, 88% in the second and 87% in the third stage."

From an employers perspective – imagine if your employees were competent in the use of images and they were able to quickly construct an image that was engaging and had impact. Clearly this would have a positive impact on workplace effectiveness.

The Skills Gap

The problem is that most people are “unconsciously imcompetent” in the use of visual media. That is “they don’t know what they don’t know”.

A professional photographer who is also a student recently commented …

“Nearly nearly everyone knows a good photo when they see one. And everyone has a digital camera these days. But very few people know how to take a good photo. What they don’t realise is that a good photo has little to do with technical use of the camera. It is about how to compose an image that engages people."

The fact that there are few people who know how to construct an image is not surprising. For decades our education system has centred on written, verbal and mathematical skills. Participation rates in the visual arts dramatically decline in high school as students are guided into subjects that are perceived to result in higher grades or stronger career relevance.
What the education system has overlooked is that participation in art develops fundamental cognitive skills that directly contribute to performance at school and in the workplace.

As Betty Edwards author of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain puts it …
“the arts are essential for training specific, visual, perceptual ways of thinking, just as the “3 R’s” are essential for training specific, verbal, numerical, analytical ways of thinking. … both thinking modes – one to comprehend the details and the other to “see” the whole picture, for example, are vital for critical-thinking skills, extrapolation of meaning, and problem solving”.
Bridging the Gap

The good news is that cognitive skills are not hard wired once we reach adulthood. A neuroscientist called Michael Merzenich has researched a phenomenon called neuroplasticity - which is basically the the brain's powerful ability to change itself and adapt -- and ways we might make use of that plasticity to heal injured brains and enhance the skills in healthy ones.

This means that by actively practicing visual arts a person can expect to develop new cognitive skills.

Just because you didn’t learn to be a good artist as a child doesn’t mean you can’t develop those skills.

When combined with instruction on areas like “how to compose an aesthetically pleasing picture” and “what colours work well with each other” anyone can learn to become a better visual artist and use those skills to add another dimension to their communications in a business setting.


A further benefit is that you strengthen the critical thinking skills by becoming a “whole brain” thinker. This in turn will make you more effective in the workplace."

Categories: 8 Reasons to Learn How to Draw

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