Blog Post
April 8, 2020

5 Rules for Effective Visual Storytelling

Finding the right way to tell your brand’s story can be a difficult task to do so unless you know the right way of pairing words and imagery together. We used to tell our stories in long-form and hoped that our audience would stick around to read every word through.

In this day and age, though, people get bored quickly and aren’t as interested in reading paragraphs of content in one sit-in. The question becomes, how do we increase the chances of our audiences to stick around and hear our story?

We do it through visuals—illustrations, graphics, photographs, animations, videos, gifs, etc.

Below you’ll find my 5 rules for visual storytelling that will help uplift your brand’s story and all the future stories you wish to tell in the future.

1. A Picture is Worth More than A Thousand Words.

In 2018, I wrote about how illustrations could help reach visual learners. Within that article, I mention how about 65% of the world population fall within this category—visual learners.

Visuals help to not only grab your audience’s attention and pull them down the page to learn more, but they also help to break down complex ideas and help to educate them on what it is you do, who you are and how you do it.

Effective marketing sites grab their audience’s attention with a powerful header—potentially even an illustration. This causes the person viewing the site to be intrigued by the visuals and read the copy. In my experience, an eye-catching header will drive a good bit of attention down the page, but when paired with the right copy, it decreases the chances of your audience bouncing from the site.

This relationship of visuals and copy pull your audience down the page and spark interest to learn more. When you compound this effect throughout your marketing pages or blog posts, you increase this effect moreover by including additional illustrations or visuals throughout.

2. Visuals Support the Story, Not Replace It.

The visuals that you use to tell your story are more powerful and impactful when they are supported by the copy. Creating the right balance between the visuals and the copy is essential, and one shouldn’t be left alone without the other.

In my year working as an illustrator, I’ve had countless clients come to me wanting illustrations that explain their whole story without copy to back them up. The truth is that just having an illustration on your site without any context is a waste.

If we take a look at children’s storybooks, we see a relationship between imagery and text. If you simply have a book with no words in it and only pictures, then you’re forcing the reader to guess what’s happening. Likewise, if you have a book with only words, then you’re not giving the visual spark to the child’s imagination.

It’s when you combine the text and the imagery together that you have a compelling story to tell. The marriage of visuals and the copy are what make a story worth sharing and one which your audience will want to hear.

3. Simple is Better than Confusion

One thing that I’ve found clients love to try and do in regards to visual storytelling is jam so much information within one single visual element.

Just last year, I had a client who wanted a hero illustration to express everything that his company did, plus the values that they lived by and do so in just a third of the space on the page. Can you feel the migraine I had?

I’ve found that the more information you try to cram within your visuals, the harder it is for your audience to understand what you’re trying to convey from it—even with supporting copy. 

It’s our job as visual storytellers to tell our story as quickly and simply as possible while making it impactful at the same time.

When you add layer after layer to what you’re trying to express, you’re basically putting yourself in quicksand and throwing away all of your lifelines. It’s essential to keep your visual story simple and easy to understand and absorb.

4. Be Cohesive, But Don’t Repeat

It’s important to always be cohesive in the visuals that you share within the story you’re trying to convey—whether it’s on a landing page, within a mobile app, or in a video explainer. However, it’s not good to repeat the same visuals when telling your story.

Let’s borrow the same idea from above of a children’s storybook. Imagine you’re sitting there reading your children a bedtime story, and halfway through the story, you realize you’ve seen this same image before a few pages back, and worse off, you see it again at the end of the story. Wouldn’t you think that this was a cheap or lousy storybook? 

The same thing can happen with your audience or users and the visuals you use to tell your stories. When you reuse the same visuals over again, you cheapen the experience they have, and you lessen the potential impact your story has on them.

Sometimes, it is ok to reuse imagery, but only if it breaks from the original source. For instance, reusing an illustration on your landing page and then using it within the onboarding of your mobile app or within a sales deck for investors. These instances are ok to repeat visuals, but you want to stay away from resulting them elsewhere within the same source.


5. Make Sure it Flows

It’s vital that everything that you craft together—the copy, the visuals, and the container or source that it lives within—flows together in harmony with each other.

Think of the experience of telling your story as an orchestra, and you are the conductor. For the whole performance to be a success and leave the audience satisfied and happy about their experience, you have to make sure all of the different musical sections flow together perfectly. If one piece is out of place or doesn’t fit, then the whole thing comes crashing down, and instead of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, you’re left with a clash of musical instruments with no rhythm. 

So you must make sure that every part of your storytelling process flows together both visually and in the message that you’re trying to convey.


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