Over the past several years, our quest to extract meaning from information has taken us more and more towards the realm of visual storytelling — we’ve used data visualization to reveal hidden patterns about the world, employed animation in engaging kids with important issues, and let infographics distill human emotion. In fact, our very brains are wired for the visual over the textual by way of the pictorial superiority effect.
Popova makes an error here that I’ve seen a number of other people make recently: she conflates the visual with the pictorial or imagistic. You can’t contrast the textual with the visual because text is visual.
Moreover, what she calls the “pictorial superiority effect” is actually, as you’ll discover if you follow her links, the “pictorial attraction effect.” We like pictures, our eyes are drawn to them. But our trust in the validity and accuracy of images is often misplaced, as Edward Tufte has been trying to teach us. Tufte has also tried to teach us that serious problems can arise when we try to deploy text in media (like PowerPoint) designed for images: see this reflection and the comments thereon.
Another question left unasked by Popova and the sources she cites is this: what role does the auditory play in aiding our understanding when images are accompanied by sound, whether music or speech?
Pictures are often awesome; sometimes one is worth a thousand words. But pictures can also be ugly, misleading, manipulative, etc. — just like text! Just like the spoken word! Just like music! These attempts to see one enormous category of information presentation as intrinsically superior to another are worse than useless. We need finer-toothed combs.