Complex message? Make it visual

Don’t get me wrong – words are really important. But picturing a concept can bring it to life in a way that a mere description cannot. I’m not talking about the old saw “A picture is worth a thousand words” though a lot of advertising is founded on that premise and rightly so. I mean breathing life into the nitty-gritty details that give depth to annual reports, magazine articles and websites.

I saw a great example recently on Forbes.com, an interactive map that shows the patterns of where Americans are moving. Compiling data on every single county in the U.S., the map uses simple red and black lines — red to indicate folks moving away and black for folks moving in. You just click on a county and get an instant snapshot of the migration patterns for that area. For instance, in Austin, Texas, the darling of multiple Best Cities lists, it stands to reason that everybody is coming and not many are leaving.

In troubled Detroit, the news is all red.

The map holds some surprises too: In Utah County (Provo), people move in from the west but leave to go east. 

Behind and embedded in the map is a trough of data. I can’t imagine just looking at a boring chart with all the numbers and getting the same impact. The lesson here: Look beyond mere words and numbers and convey your message in ways that grab your audience and give them something to think about.

Feel free to share your own examples of visual information.