People have been telling stories for many thousands of years and believe it or not, some of the things that were effective way back when are just as powerful today. Yes, early explorers, historians, marketers, salesmen and women didn’t have digital cameras, computer graphics, audio software and non-linear editing, but through trial and error, they found out what worked. While they didn’t know they were utilizing some of the basic principles of brain science, templates of those same stories have been passed down from generation to generation.

But unlike the hit-and-miss method of yesteryear, now we know how the brain actually works and can create videos to take full advantage of this intelligence.

The first step is always to keep things simple. The reason for this is that whoever is watching and listening to a story is using what we call working memory to make meaning out of it. You only have so much space for incoming information and this new information has to connect your working memory (the present) to your long-term memory (the past) to be able to process and retain it.

But you need to have the incoming information come through at just the right rate, so that your long-term memory will be stimulated and accessed, but the working memory isn’t overwhelmed with too much new data and detail. Once there is synchronization, this creates a whole new set of information that now gets sent off for long-term storage. So new information meets old memories, they join up and create new old memories.

Stay with me, it gets better.

 Again, if you have too many ideas coming into working memory too quickly, you can’t process them all or remember them. Or you’re processing one idea and getting into long-term memory, but then you’re missing idea two, three, four, or five. So you have to be really careful to keep your core message simple and give people enough time to do the intricate elaborations and processes that connect working memory to long-term memory.

The other idea is that your brain has a certain capacity. Think of it as a watertight vessel with only so much space in it and the new information as a jug of water. We’re going to take that new information and pour it into the working memory.

If there’s more information in your jug of water than there is space in your working memory, then you have the water flowing over the sides. What that means is that you’re losing content from the message that you’re trying to tell about your company.

While we’re pouring in this new information, imagine a tube at the bottom that is also moving some of the water in the vessel into a container, your long-term memory. And it’s not that you have to stop pouring, but just do it at the right rate, so there’s a balanced flow between the incoming ideas and outgoing storage.

But it’s not only size and rate involved in the brain’s hydraulic system. It’s about combining the written or spoken word with visual images to create a hybrid form of intra-communication called visual language.

In a paper prepared for the National Science Foundation Conference on Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance, Stanford University visiting scholar Robert E. Horn talks about the impact of visual language.

“Today, human beings work and think in fragmented ways, but visual language has the potential to integrate our existing skills to make them tremendously more effective. With support from developments in information technology, visual language has the potential for increasing human “bandwidth,” the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information.”

“The deep understanding of the patterns of visual language will permit:”

  • More rapid, more effective interdisciplinary communication

  • More complex thinking, leading to a new era of thought

  • Facilitation of business, government, scientific, and technical productivity

  • Potential breakthroughs in education and training productivity

  • Greater efficiency and effectiveness in all areas of knowledge production and distribution

  • Better cross-cultural communication

Speaking of bandwidth, Switch has always focused on creating really simple illustrations because when you’re doing crazy 3-D animations, you’re often filling the working memory with information that isn’t necessary, and can often be a distraction from the core of the real story you’re trying to tell.While I appreciate great design and animation (and we have a killer team of animators and artists at Switch), if you’re filling the brain with the dazzling visuals just to show off how technically skilled you are, that’s doesn’t help your client explain what it is their company actually does, and won’t help the person watching the video retain the messaging and information.

People tell stories to convey things that are important to them. In a business context, people tell their stories to influence decision makers or consumers to purchase their product or service.

The bottom line in visual language is finding that magic equilibrium between working and long-term memory. And as the saying goes, less really can be more.


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