The War between Words and Visuals has Begun

The lines are being drawn, and Wordies are digging in for the fight.

13 February, 2013
Excerpts from an article by Simply-communicate reporter Jon Woodcraft who attended the recent World Communication Forum (WCF) Switzerland. 

Words vs. visuals 

Text and Image. Dr Alfred Koblinger, CEO BBDO Austria and Wojtek Mierowski, Creative Director, Brand Nature Access (DDB Group) debated which channel will come out on top in the 21st century.

Koblinger turned to history to start.“The knowledge of mankind is based on words and our imagination is stimulated with words. How could we declare love for example with an image?” He believes that today the power of text is losing ground to image, and that if unchecked, could have serious consequences, pointing out, "In the 20th Century moving pictures became the rage – spoken words or the radio seemed to render the printed word obsolete. The fact is that people are reading less and less. 70% of tabloid newspapers are images. Today it’s the internet fostering interaction; the younger generation is 'ego-nomic'. What we could see in the future is a ‘speechless’ generation where people don’t talk to each other. That could result in all kinds of relationship failure."

Yet Koblinger certainly still sees the value of image, particularly in advertising. "Today our attention is captured more easily by images than words. But does that mean visual will be the communication of the future? Definitely not. Words will regain importance – language is our identity."

He remains adamant that text still has the advantage over image: "Words express and create values where images express different things. They deliver content and goals much more effectively than images do. In essence, what words capture are trust, authenticity, reliability and relevance." The future, in his words, is a happy marriage between the two, "Modern technology is based much more on words than images, but it’s definitely a case that one can’t exist without the other."

Mierowski sees image as having much more of an instant impact: "Sometimes the goal of an image is to provoke us – images can often stir up emotions much more effectively than words. But like Alfred I don’t think text will disappear altogether. The issue lies in the quality of the text itself. With an image, it’s not just a photo, but an interpretation of the word." 

Koblinger envisages a huge danger in the over-reliance on image: "There’s a risk of misinterpretation of the image – the quality and clarity of an image also has to be paramount for it to be not just effective, but transparent."

Particularly with young generations, Koblinger hints at a cultural shift in what communication means. "Personally, I imagine that in 20 or so years time we will lose 50% of our words. The young generation are not using the same amount of words as the current one. That’s expresses a part of the culture to come, a culture in which we may lose a lot of the articulation we take for granted." 

Speaking to simply-communicate, Koblinger highlighted what can be done to retain the richness of our communication. "The answer in keeping our language and inspiring a generation to keep communicating with each other is far from simple. My view is that the comms industry has to react to this situation and work with our young people, through education and even through the values that parents give their children. It's not just that I'm concerned about the next generation not communicating in general, but also about its impact upon the industry itself. Communications could see a serious loss of talent."

In short, two very compelling debates - one capturing how it is paramount for the communications department to retain a strong relationship with its different communities but at the same time, keeping its channels in check. The other, a vision of what's to come - future comms professionals need to build the future based on the foundations of language with the support of visual. The exclusion of one could spell the death of the brilliant and intuitive communication we know today.

 A regional edition of the WCF is planned for the 15th March 2013 in Moscow. Details can be found @WorldCommForum.

 Jon Woodcraft is a freelance communications professional studying at UCL.