Seeing Is Believing: A Journey through the History of Visual Communication (2024)

How we communicate with one another goes far beyond words on a page or screen.

More often than not, our communications are filled with images, videos, and a couple of (OK, lots of) emojis. Some communications are entirely visual and rely on the reader to understand the meaning of the meme you’ve shared with your entire contact list without words… and amazingly, they do. There’s a reason for that.

Visual communication allows you to convey concepts in an entirely different way to text. As humans, we remember 80% of what we see, but only 20% of what we read. It’s not surprising that visual media receives 94% more attention than written content. Visual communication does something that text can’t: images trigger our emotions, help us literally see the point, and let us communicate ideas more authentically.

So how did we get to where we are today? Visual communication has been around since the beginning of time, and there were definitely no crying-with-laughter emojis back then. We went back to the beginning to see how visual communication has evolved along with us from 30000 BC all the way to the present day. Brace yourselves for a few surprises – and a little nostalgia – along the way.

From Cave Drawings to Emojis and Avatars: A Timeline of Visual Communication

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Cave and Rock Drawings (30000 BC–15000 BC)

Cave painting and rock drawings are the earliest known example of visual communication, dating back to 30000 BC. These paintings are found all over the globe, with many located in France and Spain. It’s thought there are around 350 caves worldwide with known cave paintings. They were discovered accidentally in 1940 when a group of teenage boys were exploring the Lascaux cave in France.

Most cave paintings feature large wild animals, such as bison, horses, and deer, alongside (what to us looks like) abstract patterns. They were drawn using materials like red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide, and charcoal. Sharpie pens definitely weren’t available 40,000 years ago! Although it’s difficult to predict the meaning behind these cave drawings, archaeologists have developed various theories over the years. Most suggest they were used to communicate survival information to other people, but some believe they have a religious nature or present dreams.

Pictograms, Ideograms, and Logograms (8000 BC–5000 BC)

Pictograms, ideograms, and logograms evolved from petroglyphs (rock carvings). This is the earliest type of visual communication reflecting text rather than images, dating back to 8000 BC. Pictograms were used as symbols to give further meaning to a specific object, while ideograms used a symbol to reflect an entire concept or idea.

The logogram primarily lends itself to Chinese, Korean, and Japanese writing systems. This type of communication is still used to this day, using a mixture of pictograms, phonetic symbols, and ideograms to reflect ideas and relay information. It’s thought that the Kangxi dictionary has over 47,000 Chinese characters – far more than the 26 alphabet letters we’re used to. Many of these characters are no longer used, but literacy in Mandarin requires knowledge of between 4,000 and 5,000 characters even now.

Egyptian Hieroglyphics and the Alphabet (2000 BC)

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Egyptian hieroglyphics were the writing system used by Ancient Egyptians in 2000 BC. While earlier writing methods typically used images for storytelling, Egyptian hieroglyphics relied on visual symbols and letters to reflect phonetic sounds.

This made it easier for people to understand each other, vastly accelerating the way they communicated. Hieroglyphics started with consonant sounds, but once these symbols spread to other countries like Greece, vowels were also introduced. This combination of vowels and consonants in the Greek language is where our alphabet is thought to have originated. Romans adopted the Greek alphabet and edited it into written texts. They started introducing punctuation and lowercase letters alongside the uppercase Greek letters, setting the stage for today’s alphabet.

The Illustrated Book (400 AD–600 AD)

Paper was first invented around 105 AD, but the first illustrated manuscript wasn’t produced until 400 AD. Printing hadn’t been invented, so books had to be created by hand. As this took a considerable amount of time and effort, books were reserved for important literature, such as religious manuscripts.

Paper was also incredibly expensive, so most manuscripts were created on parchment made of calf, sheep, or goat skin, or on vellum. They consisted of a mixture of text and color images, which, of course, were primarily religious drawings. These books would usually be found in churches, but some richer people during medieval times also had illustrated books of prayers in their homes. In many ways, these manuscripts were a clear declaration of wealth.

The Early Days of the Printing Press (1440–1500)

Paper became cheaper and more readily available during the 13th century, giving more people access to text communications. Then, in 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing press. The German inventor’s creation allowed books to be printed quickly, without the need for handwritten texts. Approximately 48 surviving copies of the first ever printed book still exist today: The Gutenberg Bible.

This era was known as the incunabula period, since more people were seeking and reading books. Gutenberg’s press meant books became more readily available, leading to greater literacy skills and easier communication. This also paved the way for the Renaissance period, in which oil paintings and art came to life.

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Renaissance Art (1500–1600)

With typography and books more widespread, the Renaissance began: people began to question ideas, concepts, and ways of thinking, and art and drawings were particularly prominent. Most drawings centered around politics, science, mathematics, religion, and the meaning of life.

The style of art was usually oil paintings, though sketches and sculptures were also heavily used. One of the most famous Renaissance artists was Leonardo da Vinci, who was known for his illustrated notebooks around architecture, human anatomy, and mechanics. Of course, da Vinci is most well-recognized for his painting of the Mona Lisa, which reportedly took five years to paint.

The Books of the Enlightenment Period (1685–1780)

The aftermath of the Renaissance led to a new era across Europe, frequently referred to as the Enlightenment Period. European philosophers began to conceptualize theories presented during the Renaissance, spreading information through essays, printed books, scientific discoveries, and other forms of communication. Their thinking challenged everything people had been told about life and humanity before.

William Blake was also hugely influential during the period of enlightenment. Famous for his illustrated poems and versions of text, he was a strong believer in romanticism, which derived as an opposing view to the Renaissance influence. Rather than rationality, romanticism argued that imagination, emotional responses, and mystery were also important for understanding the world.

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His illustrations aimed to encourage others to think more deeply about how they interpreted information and drew conclusions, whether from text or images. He illustrated classic books such as The Canterbury Tales, but was also famous for illustrations of his own poetry. He purposely designed illustrations to be unclear in meaning, allowing readers to interpret them using their imaginations.

Encyclopedias, Architecture, Scientific Illustrations, and Maps (1600–1700)

Scientists during the 17th and 18th centuries began producing illustrations to conceptualize the ideas presented during the Renaissance, and particularly da Vinci’s sketches. Paper was becoming cheaper, making it easier and more affordable to produce books for more people.

Scientific illustrations around human anatomy, nature (particularly plants), maps, and encyclopedias were common as artists tried to present information more accurately. Drawings were primarily designed to be informative rather than creative, with various annotated diagrams, symbols, equations, and other illustrations.

The Industrial Revolution: Printing and Photography (1760–1840 )

The Industrial Revolution during the late 18th and early 19th century introduced a new wave of technology. With it, a new era of visual communication developed. Manufacturing equipment and machinery became the center of illustrations as people embraced an industrialized economy.

The printing press also developed significantly during this time. Alois Senefelder invented a printing technique using stone plates, which combined ink with water to create images as well as text. This allowed illustrations to be printed quickly and easily, which created the rapid spread of multi-color printed images.

In 1826, shortly after the re-invented printing press, photography was born. The first ever photograph was taken in 1826 by Nicéphore Niépce, a French inventor. He adapted the plate method invented by Senefelder to create a process called heliography. To test his method, Niépce took a photograph of the view from an upstairs window of his house, captioned “View from the Window at Le Gras.”

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Photographs took around eight hours to develop, and were expensive to take and fragile once produced. Despite these issues, photography revolutionized visual communication, offering a new and attractive alternative to standard printing press images or oil paintings. People could capture places, people, and objects in real time – albeit via the bulky plate method. In 1884, George Eastman invented film to remove the need for plates and make photography more mainstream. His invention was the first ever Kodak camera.

The Arts and Crafts Movement (1880–1920)

The Arts and Crafts movement in the late 19th century heralded a shift in visual communication. The Industrial Revolution had created a visual legacy in which illustrations focused on matter-of-fact and impersonal imagery around machinery and mechanics, rather than creativity and beauty. The Arts and Crafts movement fought against this.

Its founders emphasized simplicity, craftsmanship and aesthetics. William Morris, one of the key influencers of this movement, began capturing images of everyday objects, such as chairs and furniture, household items, and even dinnerware. He also produced many images depicting abstract textures and shapes to reflect different materials, such as wallpaper and curtains. Morris’s influence led to a greater focus on creativity in interior design and, more importantly, encouraged people to think more abstractly about visual communication with unique combinations of colors, shapes, and patterns.

Graphic and Art Design: Art Nouveau (1900–1920)

The heavy influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement led to the introduction of new visual styles, one of which was Art Nouveau. The Art Nouveau style is characterized by the use of curved edges, colorful images, and floral designs. Most images from this period include pictures of fruits, vegetables, people, and animals in deep, bold colors, surrounded by floral patterns. These illustrations offered a blend between arts, architecture, and illustration. You might recognize Art Nouveau as being typically Parsian, and in fact, many Art Nouveau designs are still displayed throughout French buildings.

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Colored posters also became increasingly popular during the 20th century – the invention of lithography allowed them to be printed quickly and easily. This enabled people to communicate ideas either entirely visually or by using imagery accompanied by just a few words. Although posters originated from the Art Nouveau style, advertisers quickly realized they could use posters to display products, share important information, and influence others. As a result, many posters arose during the constructivist era, when people used this form of visual communication to drive social and political change.

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Dada (1916–1920)

Dadaism was a radical movement that arose from World War I nationalism. It aimed to challenge tradition and highlight the surreal meaningless of the modern world. Illustrations intentionally had no meaning and made little sense so people could interpret them however they wanted to.

Images would lean into lighthearted humor and puns, using a mixture of art, graphic design, and illustrations to create something unique that didn’t fit with social standards. They were designed to be aesthetically unappealing, for example, with faces overlaid with eyes cut out from one magazine and a mouth cut from another. One artist even created a copy of the Mona Lisa, famously painted with a mustache.

Some key artists during this time include Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp, but the actual founder of Dada was a writer called Hugo Ball. It started in Switzerland, spreading into many other European countries and beyond, quickly becoming an international phenomenon. Dada’s surrealism was so popular that many exhibitions were hosted to display its art and sculptures. The first exhibition was held in Berlin in 1920, featuring a German officer with a pig’s head hanging from the ceiling.

Modernism (1917–1970s)

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Modernism emerged from the Dada movement. The popularity of Dada and the 18th century graphic design era created pathways for careers in graphic art, most notably through the Bauhaus School. Some of the most influential trends during this era include De Stijl, Bauhaus, Art Deco, Surrealism, Swiss Style, Psychedelia, Cassandre, and later Pop Art in the 1960s.

Visual communication largely reflected the urbanizing population, with images of recognizable and memorable symbols like the London Underground, as well as advertisem*nts for household goods, clothes, and cars. The image of the 1950s housewife was prevalent through magazines and advertisem*nts, alongside the working father – typical of society at the time.

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Pop Art offered a different perspective to visual communication, drawing on everyday objects and presenting them in humorous and ironic ways. This era was a response to consumerism and the mundane nature of mass media at the time. It used cartoon-style images typically featuring Hollywood stars, products, pop music, and comic books using bold, bright colors, and included everything from tins of beans to well-known celebrities. It wasn’t what you’d expect, but that was the exact intention. That cartoon-like picture of Marylin Monroe in shades of red, blue, green, and yellow you have hanging on your wall? You can thank the Pop Art era for that.

The Age of the Computer (1940–2000)

Visual communication shifted massively during the 1980s following the launch of the first ever computer in 1940. In the early days, computers were mostly used for producing numerical and textual information, but 40 years later, things changed. In the 1980s, desktop publishing and new software applications expanded their capabilities, allowing people to use them for graphic design.

Some of the most influential designers of this era include David Carson and Neville Brody, who were known for their experimental approach toward graphic design using computers. Carson, in particular, used computer applications to challenge traditional design approaches or rules, such as intense justification of text, unusual layering of images and textures, and little contrast between background colors with text or images. His expressive style, alongside Neville’s, contributes to some of the most dominating styles of this time, including Punk, Deconstruction, and The Vernacular period.

Web Design and Communication (1990–2000)

Did you know the internet wasn’t even a thing until the 1990s? The World Wide Web first launched in 1991, which led to new streams of visual communication. As well as graphic designs, people could now view information via live websites. Early websites were primarily based on a basic HTML structure of headings and paragraphs with little to no imagery or other forms of visual communication. They might have been basic, but they were an essential building block in today’s visual communications.

In the late 1990s, Flash sites allowed people to display graphic designs alongside text, which gave designers much more control over how websites looked. Instead of basic heading and paragraph coding, designers could now build bespoke sites to fit their expressive styles. Flash sites typically hosted artistic content rather than text, so were almost poster-like in nature. Where images would previously have been printed and displayed physically, they could now be designed and hosted online and shared with a wider audience.

As digital visual communication was becoming more widespread, huge advances were being made in technology as a whole. In the 1990s, platforms such as AIM, Livejournal, and IRC opened up a whole new way for people to interact, via instant messages and live chat rooms. They also introduced a new form of visual expression: basic emoticons and on-screen display names. It proved popular – by 2001, AIM had over 36 million active users. It wasn’t quite the WhatsApp app we know and love today, but it certainly helped set the tone for the future of visual communication.

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Social Media Giants (2000–2010)

With the rising success of instant chat and the internet, technology continued to develop – this time, introducing social media platforms. In 2001, Friendster became the first social platform, followed by Bebo in 2005, MySpace in 2003, Facebook a year later in 2004, and finally Twitter (now X) in 2006.

These social media platforms changed visual communication forever. They provided people with a completely unique way of portraying themselves, expressing their thoughts, and connecting with others. They also created space for people to uncover visual content, share pictures, and upload media for others to see. Naturally, everyone wanted to be involved. MySpace became huge in its time, reaching around 75.9 million US users at its peak. It even topped the charts as the most visited site ever in 2006. It didn’t stay that way for long, though: its users dropped considerably after Facebook became the go-to platform. It was the first network to reach one billion registered accounts in 2012, and is still the world’s most popular platform with around 3,065 monthly active users.

In 2005, a new platform entered the space: YouTube. Unlike other social platforms, YouTube primarily focused on video content, allowing users to upload and stream videos from others all over the world. It was a completely unique way of communicating with others visually, with genres for all sorts of topics, from gaming to fashion and everything in between. It all started with a vlog-style video, Me at the Zoo by Jawed Karim, which now has over 323 million views – and these are increasing daily.

The Smartphone Social Media Era (2007–2012)

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The first smartphone dates back all the way to 1994, but the market stayed fairly stagnant until Apple released their revolutionary smartphone. The 2007 iPhone allowed people to download apps to communicate with others via their cell phones rather than via a desktop browser. This made visual communication more accessible and convenient than ever before. It created instant, on-the-go communication wherever and whenever you needed it.

Instagram was the first platform to offer a downloadable app on the Apple App Store in December 2010, reaching 100,000 downloads just a week after launch. By 2011, it had an impressive 10 million users, and those numbers are still climbing today. Instagram is the third most popular social networking app, with over two billion active monthly users. While other social sites at the time focused on text communication, with statuses, likes, and follows, Instagram was different. It prioritized visual content, and people could add captions and tags to their images if they wanted to.

Other social networks quickly cottoned on to this new era of visual communication, including Snapchat. Snapchat first surfaced in 2011, though it was originally called Picaboo. It changed its name in 2012 and introduced a Stories feature to go alongside the rebrand. This allowed users to express themselves with visual content, using pictures, videos, and captions that they could post to their Snapchat friends. Instagram only allowed photos at the time, and YouTube typically hosted long-form videos, so Snapchat was a new concept altogether. People’s stories were only available for a limited time before they, creating a severe case of FOMO among users. It proved incredibly popular, with over 100,000 daily users just months after launch. Even today, Snapchat has 422 million daily active users, which is increasing yearly.

Facebook and Twitter continued to increase in usage during this time too, making short, digestible content a huge trend. Thanks to the development of social media algorithms during the 2000s, finding relevant content also became easier than ever. Social media platforms began to track user habits, information, and behavior to expose them to content they’d likely be interested in. Although it opened up new concerns about data use and privacy, it didn’t stop us consuming social media content.

Memes and GIFs (2010)

With social media making bitesize content more popular, memes and GIFs slowly started to make their way into our communication. The first ever meme is thought to be the Dancing Baby in 1996 (if you don’t know, Google it), so they weren’t entirely new. Again, it was the iPhone smartphone era that took memes and GIFs to new heights.

Memes and GIFs became a way to relate to others, simply by sharing or liking visual content, often with no context. It was a “you get it, or you don’t” way of communicating, relying on those with similar interests and senses of humor to understand what was going on. Memes also evolved over time as people adapted them for their personal audiences. For example, hundreds of iteration of the Keep Calm and Carry On… meme circulated the internet, and Grumpy Cat received countless photoshops and shares over all social media platforms.

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Alongside GIFs and memes, short, viral videos spread rapidly, particularly across YouTube – 2007’s Charlie Bit My Finger springs to mind. Not only were these videos consumed on social media and shared endlessly on your timeline, they became a part of our day-to-day lives. Some of the most viral memes, GIFs, and video one-liners are still referenced in daily conversations, no matter how old they are.

The Emoji (2012)

Like memes and GIFs, emojis were around long before their peak. AIM provided a set of emoticons to elevate their communications in 1991, and Shigetaka Kurita developed a list of 176 emojis in 1998 for a Japanese phone company, NTT. After taking off in Japan, emojis began to spread further across the globe.

Emojis were finally standardized by Unicode in 2010, giving brands the freedom to create their own versions. It only took Apple a year to adopt the emoji keyboard, encouraging almost every leading digital brand to do the same. By 2012, many brands were using emojis to speak to their customers and attract new ones. They became a way to express emotion, humor, and irony, making visual communication even more relatable.

Fast forward to today, and emojis have become ingrained in our daily lives and identities. One of the best parts of smartphone updates is the arrival of new emojis and getting to see the new mini-pictures we can add to our messages. Some of us even use emojis as anagrams for whole sentences instead of typing out messages: four or five carefully chosen emojis can easily show how we’re really feeling.

The Beginning of Influencers (2013)

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By 2013, social media was quickly becoming our go-to place for absorbing content and communicating with others. Instagram was the first platform to add another type of content to the mix: its sponsored post advertising feature gave people the opportunity to communicate with others visually, with the sole purpose of influencing them to buy products. Typically, this involved paying well-known Instagram users with large followings to post a picture or video of them using the product. Once a purely social network, Instagram was becoming a retail space where we could find new brands and products.

In the same year, Instagram revamped its platform to support video content alongside photos – we could scroll through bitesize clips and get a closer look inside people’s lives. In 2015, Instagram gave businesses more capabilities to reach consumers. They could showcase multiple images and videos into a single post, with video ads up to 60 seconds long. Brands could use metrics to target consumers more effectively, with the platform sharing data on its users demographics, interests, and platform behavior. By 2016, Instagram had 500,000 active advertisers looking for future consumers.

The Instagram influencer world has evolved considerably in recent years, with most brands using the platform to drive product awareness and sales. A 2021 study by the Influencer Marketing Hub showed that 72% of marketers thought influencers provide high quality customers, while 90% believed influencer marketing is effective overall. Using visual communication for marketing converts – by 2025, the influencer marketing industry is expected to reach $22 billion, and likely more in the future.

Snackable Video (2013)

Videos continued to dominate visual communication in the early 2010s. More video-led platforms were launched, including Twitch (2011), Keek (2011), Vine (2013), (2014), and TikTok (2016). They allowed us to share videos on any topic, from dance and music to gaming, comedy, beauty, and anything else you can think of. Algorithms led us down video rabbit holes with videos we couldn’t wait to share. Perhaps it’s the easy-to-consume nature of video that we love so much, or maybe it’s because everyone else is watching them and we simply don’t want to miss out. Either way, video has quickly become one of our favorite ways to communicate.

After TikTok merged with in 2015, it started to gain traction, particularly during the height of Covid in 2020. The platform offered a way to connect with others using short-form video, which was even more important given that we couldn’t meet up in person. People turned to TikTok for lockdown entertainment, consuming thousands of hours of videos and re-creating videos to viral TikTok sounds. It’s no wonder it was the most downloaded app of 2020 and 2021, with 286 million downloads in Q1 of 2020 alone.

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Introducing VR (2014)

The first interactive VR platform launched in 1975 with Krueger’s VIDEOPLACE. It allowed users to see silhouettes in a dark room and interact with other silhouettes in the same place. Developers have been working on the idea of visually communicating with people in a virtual world ever since. In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus VR, which caused the VR market to gain momentum rapidly. Since 2015, more VR products have become available to the wider public, including headsets and eyewear from tech giants including Google, Apple, and Amazon, encouraging consumers to enter the virtual world.

Despite the long-standing history of VR, 2019 is often referred to as the year virtual reality got “real.” People wanted to immerse themselves into the virtual world, especially in gaming. Use of VR headsets climbed considerably, with one million Steam users connected every month by May 2019. With VR, gamers have the ability to truly become and communicate as the character they’re playing.

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Apple released the Apple Vision Pro in 2024, making hands-free mixed reality headsets accessible to everyone. Within 10 days of launch, Apple sold over 200,000 Vision Pros, and is forecast to sell one million by the end of 2024. The world of virtual reality is proving too good to miss for many of us and demand for this type of visual communication is at an all time high. Shipments of VR/AR headsets are expected to grow by over 46% in 2024 alone, with global revenue estimated to increase by $1.5 billion between 2024–028. It seems VR will continue to work its way into our daily lives and activities, becoming a way of communicating with others even outside of the gaming world.

Communicating via Filters (2015)

In September 2015, Snapchat released a version of face filters called Lenses, which brought a new dimension to visual communication. They let users transform their faces into something else using an AR filter, such as the ever-famous dog ears or rainbows. It might sound gimmicky, but they were incredibly popular – so much so that by April 2016, Snapchat was generating 10 billion video views per day.

Other social media giants clocked on to Snapchat’s success and it wasn’t long before Instagram and Facebook launched their own versions. By 2017, we could adapt our videos and pictures on almost every social network to include anything from bunny ears to a crown. Although these filters were designed for harmless fun, filters have evolved over the years, often blurring the lines between reality and illusion. Many users have slated filters for their negative impact on natural beauty and placing unrealistic expectations on what we should look like. Social media filters have given us the ability to communicate ourselves visually anyway we like, whether that’s what we truly look like or not.

The Smart TV (2015)

Samsung was the first to release a smart TV in 2008 with the launch of the Pavv Bordeaux TV 750. As well as watching TV, it allowed people to check the news, weather, and stock prices, and watch video content via YouTube. Other brands like LG and Panasonic were clearly working silently behind the scenes, as it wasn’t until 2015 that we saw a revamped smart TV.

Many of these smart TVs had new features to elevate our visual communication, such as access to social media, use of on-demand streaming apps like Netflix, and built-in internet browsing. Smart TVs also started to offer integration with smart home devices, like Alexas and Google Assistants, with increasing personalization and customization. Using them like this means sharing personal data with your home devices. Smart TVs can collect everything from your viewing habits to your voice via mic, which has created some concerns around data privacy.

Approximately 72% of US households with smart products are concerned about data privacy and security. Using a VPN for smart TV can help you protect your privacy, especially when you’re streaming shows as it can stop others from collecting your data or seeing what you’re watching. A VPN can also secure your internet searches if you use the smart TV for browsing, adding another layer of privacy to your data.

Avatars (2020)

Ever wondered what you’d look like as a cartoon character? In 2020, Facebook made that possible with its Avatars feature. This rivaled Snapchat’s Bitmoji which had been around since 2017, but Facebook made it considerably more lifelike.

Users could create their very own 3D cartoon Avatar with various customization and design options to make them as personalized as possible. They weren’t designed just to look nice, either. Using your avatar, you could communicate as the virtual version of yourself across all Meta apps. They could even be used to reply to comments and send messages in Facebook Messenger, making virtual communication ever more exciting.

The Reel (2020)

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Seeing TikTok’s success, Instagram launched Instagram Reels in 2020. People could create 15–30 second videos that they could post and share with others on the platform. Reels cover all aspects of day-to-day life, including tips and tricks, daily routines, gaming, shopping hauls, brand reviews, and even fitness routines. Truthfully, you’d struggle to find something there isn’t an Instagram Reel about.

Reels are an incredibly powerful tool for communicating with others visually as we can express ourselves more authentically and maintain the short attention span of addicted Instagram scrollers. Social networks were primarily used to post text and message others, but now 50% of the time spent on Instagram and Facebook is spent watching videos. People also reshare reels 1 billion times a day via DMs – that’s a lot of funny dog videos to get through.

Even advertisers and influencers use reels to influence them into purchasing products directly via the app, thanks to Instagram’s shop feature. Around 130 million people use Instagram’s shoppable posts every month. Studies show that a further 60% of people say they learn about products directly through Instagram, making it an important part of product discovery.

The Future of Visual Communication

Visual communication could truthfully go anywhere. Take a look back at our timeline. We’ve moved through printed biblical books, oil paintings, and unusual 3D structures hanging from the ceiling, all the way to social media platforms, virtual reality, and cartoon avatars. Some trends are beginning to shape the landscape already though, giving us a glimpse into where visual communication might develop next. Here are some of the biggest trends to watch out for.

User-Generated Content (UGC)

When a brand wanted to be seen and increase sales, all it took was a sponsored post from an influencer. Soon though, Instagram became dominated by influencer posts promoting the latest product promising they’d tried and tested it – only to find out they hadn’t. This had a knock on effect, creating questions about how trustworthy both influencers and the brands they promote are. Now, people are looking for authenticity over product placement.

Many brands are moving toward UGC to promote products, using real consumers rather than well-paid influencers posing with a product. How-to videos, unboxing reels, and favorite feature shorts are some of the most common UGC video types circulating our social networks. It’s likely we’ll see much more in this space too, as brands move away from Instagram famous faces to real consumers testing products.


AR/VR has already taken over the world of visual communication, and it’s not showing any signs of stopping. This will likely continue to revolutionize how we communicate, creating more immersive experiences that let people live in the virtual world as if they’re really there. Perhaps it’s the fact VR/AR appeals to all senses that keeps us so engaged and captivated – or maybe we just want to join in the hype by purchasing the latest and greatest tech product. Whichever it is, AR/VR will certainly keep developing and we’re excited to see what’s next.

Visual Search

We’re already seen voice-activated search. Now we’re starting to see visual search too. Using snapshots of images, people can look up similar items, find answers to queries, or search for information about the specific object in the image. We no longer need to type searches or use keywords – we can simply crop part of an image and find the information we need. This will likely surface in all industries, particularly fashion, home, and e-commerce, but many other brands can make use of visual search to appeal to consumers. After all, anything that makes consumers’ lives easier is bound to be a success.

Visual Communication through the Ages

Visual communication has come a long way since 30000 BC thanks to changes in the way we talk, how we want to communicate, and technological developments. We’re well and truly in a video-dominated world, where we primarily want to communicate visually using short-form, easily digestible videos that give us everything we need in 60 seconds or less.

If you think about it, we’ve come full circle in the way we use visual communication. We started with Egyptian hieroglyphics, and we’ve ended up back there too – with a little technological advancement of course. We might not be drawing on caves and rocks anymore, but we’re still using images and icons to express ourselves. Think about it. If your friend sent you ‘👫😋🍔❓’, you’d know what they meant straight away. We’ll meet you there.

Seeing Is Believing: A Journey through the History of Visual Communication (2024)


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