The Fragile Bond Between Attention and Information

Most communication is visual. Isn’t that fascinating? Think of how much a picture, a symbol, a facial expression, or a gesture can communicate on its own.

As a child, I always felt a little strange that when I’d get close enough to read the small label next to a work of art in a museum, it rarely added much to the experience I’d already had looking at it without the guidance of a lecture. The truth is, I don’t feel any differently now.

Visual language is so powerful because of its ability to contain so much while also remaining open to interpretation — to being felt.

This is such an important insight to everyone. Though in my line of work, I feel it’s especially necessary to reflect on it regularly because of how fragile the initial bond is between information and attention. Within the first second of looking at whatever you’ve put on a screen, your viewer has made judgements about what it is and its relevance to them, and they’ve done this almost entirely on the basis of what has been communicated to them visually.

Yes, text is visual information. There’s little difference, really, between the function of the letter A and a symbol like this one: →. They both represent an idea; one is just smaller than the other. But when I highlight the importance of visual information, I’m really talking about how we scan information before we decide to read it.

Visual information — the arrangement, or layout, of text, shapes, colors, textures, and images — is always what establishes the bond between information and attention.


21 June 2023