The majority of marketing collateral employs both verbal and visual elements, with both aspects being so important that it’s borderline intuitive to incorporate them at the same time. As a baby we learn to communicate visually, and after that we have verbal language drilled into us. This order plays out as adult consumers (as we’ll see), but it’s worth noting that anyone, whether they have formal training or not, would almost instinctively reach for both elements in design.


Let’s move beyond the instinctive though and wonder why that instinct is the rule. Because if we know that, perhaps we’ll have a better shot, as advertisers and designers, of using both in a way that has the most impact on the audience.


Visual design, in order of speed of recognition, comes first. Walk around a supermarket, with that deluge of individual brands fighting for attention, and you’d recognise the visual aspects of your favoured brand long before the verbal. The colour, graphic devices and pack composition see to it that those brands that mean something to you will stand out from the crowd. This axiom even allows large, iconic brands, those with their visual design elements firmly locked into the minds of the consumer, to playfully drop the verbal element (although only ever for conservatively brief moments). Meaning that is conveyed visually and seeing familiar pattern structures is part of our biological inheritance. We recognise a favourite brand as quickly as we do a favourite face. Thus the importance of the visual in a marketplace where, as per Ruth Rettie and Carol Brewer, “73 percent of purchase decisions are made at point of sale. In scanning packs at point of sale, perception is rapid, and quick recognition is important for inclusion in the decision process.”


Verbal communication is learned. We pick it up the hard way (as anyone who ever tried to learn a second language as an adult will know), because the symbols that make up each language are, to a non-speaker, totally arbitrary. Even to a native speaker, a language comes second in terms of speed of comprehension to a familiar visual. Even the most famous and familar taglines in advertising history (here is a starter for ten) operate behind the visual.


This isn’t to say that the verbal element of design is less important however. Because verbal, linguistic, communication is inherently abstract it excels at communicating the abstract. Information that is important but difficult to comprehend visually is what separates us from cavemen, and that information is actually conveyed far quicker verbally.


Easy visual.
Difficult verbal.


Most products and services are a complex mix of easy and difficult to understand concepts. Which is one reason why most are best served by a mix of verbal and visual design. Another is that (as most teachers will attest) we have better overall information recall when a mixture of visual and verbal elements are used.


Visual and verbal design elements work better at different times of a marketing cycle, but are most successful of all, in the long run, when they are used together.


Our design and branding team know that getting design right is more than just about how striking the visuals look but also how these visuals are communicated. They are not only experts at helping you get the very most out of your branding, but also love to solve problems. So if you would like to know how we can help you or solve any design problems you may have, then get in touch today!


By Oliver Brown