In today’s digital world, visuals are a necessity, not a luxury or a disposable thing. The spread of smartphones and social media has made them an essential part of communication. Visual is the broad term for anything we look at, from photographs to illustrations, videos, etc., that are used for communication. Visuals are a more effective and efficient means of communication than the written word, and visual metaphors are one of the many tools that a designer needs to succeed in this career.
We are visual learners, and we correlate seeing with the truth. Our brains process visuals a lot of times faster than text, and most of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. Not surprisingly, we remember approximately 80 percent of what we see compared to 20 percent of what we read and only 10 percent of what we hear. Compelling images account for 94 percent more views than content without images.
That is why visuals are a ubiquitous presence in our lives. The challenge facing communication professionals is how to make their message stand out. Visual metaphors offer an opportunity to penetrate clutter and reach an audience in a more efficient way than other tools.
Designers are constantly working with metaphor, often without realizing how much of a role it plays in their practice. This is not surprising, though. Metaphor is an inherently human tool that helps people make sense of the world, and so it is a natural material for designers to play with. Without an awareness of how we are using a metaphor, we miss out on its full potential, such as its ability to spark conversations about change. This is particularly important for design leaders, who are trying to influence organizations to bring a customer focus into decision-making.
Trying to be more intentional in your use of metaphor can help elevate your design practice. Visual metaphors are visual tropes. They are highly structured images that stimulate viewers to understand one concept in terms of another idea. Visual metaphors perform better than verbal metaphors in advertising. The reason why this happens is very simple. The inclusion of the visual eases comprehension because viewers do not need to create mental images. Visual metaphors are more common than you might think. According to research on the subject, slightly more than three out of ten print ads contain visual metaphors.
Interpretation of Visual Metaphors
Visual metaphors are not read literally. They always require interpretation and always have a specific connotation. Visual metaphors deviate from viewer expectations. It is the unanticipated deviation that causes viewers to think figuratively and make inferences about the advertisement’s intended meaning. What viewers do is find the first plausible meaning that seems relevant to the message.
Think of visual metaphors as puzzles. When we see them, we instinctively need to solve them. In our quest to solve the puzzle, we are going to be lazy and use as little energy as possible. We are also going to assume that the amount of effort it takes to solve the puzzle equals the amount of reward we will gain from finding the solution.
Receivers are inclined to expend as little effort as possible to understand the message and at the same time, they will try to gain as much effect as possible from the message by processing it. In other words, receivers expect that the more processing costs a message require, the more effective it will be.
Viewers trade cognitive effort for information and pleasure, the satisfaction gained from finding the visual’s meaning. This exchange of cognitive effort for information and pleasure is visual metaphors’ value for advertisers. It is also an inherent risk because the information and pleasure effect is contingent on viewers ascertaining the visual’s intended meaning, therefore solving the puzzle. Without the payoff, visual metaphors can frustrate viewers and can be a brand liability.
In visual metaphor research, when an audience can easily understand an advertisement’s meaning, it is called strong implicature. On the other hand, it is called weak implicature when an audience has difficulty finding meaning.
4 Types of Visual Metaphors
In this section, we will go into detail about four types of visual metaphors: juxtaposition, fusion, fusion, and replacement. The four types have different levels of complexity based on the number of inferences viewers need to make to come to an acceptable conclusion.
Juxtaposition, also called similes, includes two images side-by-side. The visual includes the product or target next to what it is being compared with, or the source. Juxtaposition can be defined as taking two objects, themes, or materials and combining them or placing them together to create a striking contrast. In interior design, this can be interpreted as adopting two different styles, such as rustic and ultramodern, within the same space, for example.
This activity is called “anchoring,” It provides advertisers with a lifeline to ensure viewers understand the metaphor and the ad’s message. Almost every visual metaphor includes a text anchor to explain the metaphor’s puzzle if viewers cannot work it out for themselves. The desire for text anchors makes sense. Text anchors are a double-edged sword for advertisers. They are proven to aid in viewer understanding but decreased consumer pleasure in interpreting the message
Fusion, also known as hybrid or synthesis, combines the product or target with what it is being compared with to form a single visual element, which is called gestalt.
The final and most complex type of visual metaphor is a replacement. Replacement happens when either the product or what it is being compared to is absent. Replacement is also called a contextual metaphor because it relies on context for viewers to find or infer meaning.
Visual metaphors are an excellent tool for UX design. If you understand how to use them properly, your work will be understood in a much faster way and it will get to more people. With the information on this blog, you are now able to start experimenting in the field of visual metaphors.