When the German-born illustrator and designer Christoph Niemann decides to talk about the creation of images, you must stop to listen. Not only for being a highly respected illustrator, but also for being one of the few who understands the power of visuals. Niemann knows how a drawing, no matter how simple, can deeply move the person looking at it.
The designer also understands simplicity, a concept we, here at SOAP, cherish. His work embraces minimalism in an impressive way, using few lines and colors. His uniqueness, as you can see from this TED Talk he gave, is the interaction between drawings and “real” objects, which make his illustrations striking and amusing. They say a lot with few resources.
The power of visual language
According to Niemann, what makes visual language powerful is the possibility of passing on a complex idea in a simple and efficient form, which is something we also endorse for presentations. Most importantly, images can trigger emotions. He uses the Wi-Fi symbol as an example: when we get to a new and unknown place and bump into this symbol, we feel happy, relieved.
When something is deeply engraved in our consciousness, we need fewer details to develop an emotion towards that. By using quite illustrative examples, the designer shows that happens because we are very good at “filling in the blanks”; images are drawn in our minds. Besides, images are excellent tools to start off the audience’s memory, since they are usually easier to take in than the written content of the slides.
Therefore, how much information we need to lead to audience’s comprehension, emotion and memorization? Niemann says his purpose as an artist is to use “the smallest amount as possible”. “As a designer, is absolutely key to have a good understanding of the visual and cultural vocabulary of your audience”, he says. If you read SOAP’S blog, you probably know we always insist on that matter. For a good communication, we must take into consideration the onlookers’ knowledge and references, whether it is one person, or an auditorium filled to capacity.
Niemann also says most people underestimate others’ capacity to interpret images, that’s why we see so many clichés out there. “They won’t understand this new approach, we should go for something more familiar.”
Here at SOAP, we often go through that. It is customary to have our suggestion to use metaphors denied by a client who is insecure and would rather use a most obvious strategy. However, when we make an unexpected association, we trigger the audience’s brain, enabling them to take in the message for longer. This is our job: not just to illustrate, but to develop a visual symbol that will enhance the comprehension of the message.
And Niemann reminds us we should not undervalue people when we create these symbols. After all, they are “fluent” when considering visual language (even if they are unaware of that), a fact to be considered when designing the layout of presentations.
The “Wow!” moment
Niemann considers himself successful when his illustrations have the “Aha!” effect on people. But he highlights it does not mean he had had an eureka moment when he came up with the image. “I need a presentation that has the ‘Wow!’ effect” – that is the reason why most of our clients come to us, because that is our strong suit.
Nevertheless, both SOAP’s and Niemann’s creative process is not “unsexy” at all, since it requires a number of small designing decisions that might lead to an idea. Like in poetry, the designer declares, we might unearth images that have been inside the audience’s mind all along, but they had no idea they were there to begin with.
Niemann concludes by stating what he considers to be an artist’s main feature, or skill: empathy; something we strongly subscribe to here at SOAP and in the projects we develop. Creativity is important, so is methodology, but we need to take a step back and look at the layout through the eyes of the listeners, which are the people to whom that piece of communication was developed. Once we achieved that, magic happens neither on paper nor on stage: it happens inside your audience’s mind.