The New Era of Visual Communication

One of the more interesting things I see happening is how communication is evolving to become increasingly more visual. With this evolution, I propose non-verbal communication is also becoming more intimate. This is being driven largely by younger generations but their initiative to use more visual tools to communicate is driving adoption across generations.

Communication Evolves with Technology

Technology has opened the door to many different communication options. With each new technological advance, communication has evolved in new ways as new options to communicate were invented. Visual communication is the most recent advancement. This is not just limited to static images or the wide world of Emoji which lets us express ourselves in visual ways. Snapchat has helped usher in a communication style based on self-expression via video.

More interesting examples come from messaging apps like WeChat and Line which offer unique stickers as a way to communicate. Building upon what makes Emoji a valuable communications tool, stickers bring a different style of graphic art to be used to express ourselves. But what all these things have in common are the additional options they present outside of verbal and text-based means of communicating. Where these additional expressions of self and alternate communication styles get interesting is when they become intimate in ways body language, facial expressions, and words with inside meaning do in the physical world.


Within my inner circle, very close friends and family, my wife, and my children, our many years together have led to what may only be described as our own language. I may use a phrase like, “I’m in a pit of despair”, or “I need to go do the laundry”, or “I’m the dude”, or “SIE”, or a long list of other phrases. I assure you, their meaning has nothing to do with the phrase, but each means something to someone in my inner circle and often no one else knows its meaning. Our intimacy has led to the development of our own set of words and phrases that have deeper meaning in a uniquely intimate way.

The rise of visual communication has broadened our ability to expand this unique language created out of intimacy into the digital world. There are now stickers and emoji that exist between my wife and close friends that have deeper meaning beyond their visual representation. Often, the person on the other end of the conversation is the only person who understands the meaning. Visual communication now extends the options for this unique and intimate communication style by not limiting us to just words or phrases but also pictures and images. Taking this even further, the Apple Watch has extended visual communication options into physical sensations via digital touch and drawings.

For those in my inner circle who have Apple Watches, which includes my wife and 12-year-old daughter, we have already created our own secret language using digital touch and drawings. For my wife and daughter, this is particularly more advanced between us, but we have agreed upon a number of tap sequences which mean different things. We also have a range of drawings which we created to also mean certain things. A series of taps or a simple drawn image all have deeper context and meaning known only to a few of us.

Communication is, at our core, an essential human behavior. Technology continues to evolve and give us more ways to communicate and invoke emotion with words, text, audio, images, digital touch, real-time drawings, and whatever comes next.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

9 thoughts on “The New Era of Visual Communication”

  1. I remember when Twitter first came out and I was bearish on Twitter, and couldn’t understand how they got mass adoption. Then Snapchat came out and I was bearish on Snapchat and couldn’t understand how they got mass adoption either. Then I thought back to the things I learned in sociology and anthropology and realized one should never underestimate new and novel forms of communication.

  2. I think one of the main characteristics of textspeak and now emoji is that beyond very basic stuff, they’re clique-speak, specifically designed and used to both reinforce a sense of belonging to a small tribe and to lock out strangers. That’s not a language, that’s a dialect, if that.
    I find it similar to the jargon many specialists often hide behind to obfuscate ideas and mechanisms that are often quite simple. It’s fun to do and makes one feel special/intelligent, but putting up linguistic barriers is probably counter productive in the long run.

    1. Yes dialect may be a better way to articulate what I meant.

      I don’t agree there is a similarity to insider speak since the goal of this type of communication is born out of intimacy not to make one feel superior or smarter than someone else. Life events, language, that exists between two people because of their deep and exclusive relationship. This speaks into the fascinating psychology of healthy relationships. The addition of the digital dynamic just extends what is already there and healthy into new areas.

  3. The way I see it there are “insider” people with whom we share a deep context. Within this context a simple word, an emoji or a short sentence have a meaning that may seem strange to the outsider. So it can either be used to obfuscate the meaning to the outsider or communicate a deeper meaning to the insider.

    Once I went to a lecture about the language of dance. I learned that a modern dance language expresses the individuality of the performer, while not necessarily obvious to the audience. The classic dance like ballet language in turn should be understandable by all audiences. Whether or not a modern art makes it to the classic depends on the adoption.

    Making parallels to a new ways of communicating, whether or not a particular emoji makes it to a mainstream depends if the same context can be shared to a wider audience.

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