Media Survival Skills in a Visual World: The Eyes Have It

(Second in a two-part series about the future of newspapers and other media.)

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At last week’s Digital Life Design Conference in Munich, futurist John Naisbitt raised the issue of how various media might have to adapt to society’s rush toward more visually dynamic forms of communication.

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“Newspapers and magazines have to reinvent themselves, as people are reading less, especially young people,” Naisbitt said, noting various cultural signs pointing toward a coming predominance of vividly visual expression. “Today, architecture is the most important art form in the world. Political movements identify with a color. People wear bracelets that indicate a certain affiliations.”

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If people increasingly draw meaning from visual expression, how will media that are based primarily on words remain relevant?

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Focus on the powerfully simple, says Mihaela Lica, author of the blog: eWritings – SEO Web Design and Online Public Relation.

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“There is a clear movement toward a more simple, yet sophisticated design,” Lica Mig3_1 told me in an e-mail interview across the Atlantic. “Simple (not simplistic) layouts with a centered orientation, soft background colors (mostly neutral), big text and plenty of space. Such designs are fresh and airy. Designers have finally understood that simple web pages work well, are more usable and provide for a better browsing experience than cluttered pages.”

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Lica recommends Stylegala as a useful resource for those looking to make their sites more engaging. “Use special effects sparingly — Flash, 3D graphics, strong accent colors can draw attention to your content. Deliver content in text, video and audio files.”

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Lica is not convinced that the trend toward the visual means the end of text-based media. “Are we talking about the death of culture as a whole?” she asks rhetorically. “Are we going back to the ‘cave man’ stage when pictures were enough? I am not so sure about that! Human communication is still based on both words and images.”

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As someone with considerable experience in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Lica points out that the Internet itself is text-based. Which led me to ask her a stupid question, hoping for an answer full of wisdom, and she did not disappoint.

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Can you ever foresee the day, I asked, when search engines can sort and categorize purely visual forms?

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“I doubt that the search engines will be able to understand images,” Lica replied. “They’d probably be able to understand pixels and color codes, but are they really going to be able to decipher shapes and feelings? I don’t see how.”

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We can assign labels and cut lines to the images that a computer can recognize, but it would be a tremendous leap for a search engine to recognize emotion. And there’s the wisdom: The power of visuals lies in the emotional connection to the human. When we add visual elements, they should add to the emotional intelligence of the piece, complementing the mostly intellectual value of the text.

Together, words and visuals can tell a richer story.

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“Culture has been always visual, and we don’t need a ‘futurist’ to tell us that!” Lica says. “It’s always been about visuals: the way we dress, the way we identify a person or a product. But people will always count on words for a deeper understanding of the world.”

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- Jon Harmon

Comments

  1. Mike says:

    I agree with Mihaela’s prediction that web interfaces will become simpler yet more sophisticated. I really like the way Thinkmap’s visual thesaurus works, and I feel that its design would make a really cool search engine.

  2. Mihaela Lica says:

    To continue the idea about a text based SEO, I give you now Aaron Wall’s words:
    “On a philosophical level it also makes sense that search engines want to index richer content. The web is a series of incomplete thoughts. The more search engines can make people write in depth high quality content that provides complete answers the more they improve the value of Google. Search engines will try to push people toward writing more well thought out essays rather than empty me too cut and paste posts.”
    That’s another clear answer to what the SE need. I think that we could go on like this forever to reach the same conclusion: “the pen is mightier” :)

  3. rinch says:

    Great tutorial.

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