Marketing Best Practices

Visual Ideation: Learning to Create Memorable Visual Content

Meg Cannistra By Meg Cannistra May 16, 2016

When I was little, I preferred creating stories with words. Doodling and coloring books weren’t how I expressed myself creatively. In fact, I remember my mom giving up on buying me coloring books, opting for composition notebooks and plain number 2 pencils instead. My artistic development lay solely in the written word, although I wished I could develop my own visual works of art.

Being so focused on words, it’s a little intimidating to think about content marketing shifting toward toward interactive, graphic, and video content. Today, over half of content creators intend on making visual content a larger priority in their marketing programs in 2016, and this number only shows signs of increasing. It’s becoming more important for marketers to learn how to develop unique concepts that work on a visual level.

For those of us more verbally inclined, visual ideation can feel overwhelming. How do we even begin to come up with ideas for animations, videos, or image-driven marketing campaigns?

Understanding how ideas form and what elements make up good visual ideas is crucial to learning how to develop visual ideas of your own. Let’s explore visual ideation, what it looks like, and how to hone in on it to develop new visual content of your own.

How Ideas Form

Artistic inspiration doesn’t happen in a flash or “eureka moment.” Usually, just as with written ideation, the concepts visual artists come up with are actually living in their heads for long periods of time, growing and changing in the subconscious until they break through the surface. So that “aha!” moment is often a long time in the making.

Renowned physiologist Robert Root-Bernstein notes that all ideation comes to us in a pre-verbally, saying, “Creative thinking in all fields occurs pre-verbally, before logic or linguistics come into play, manifesting itself through emotions, intuitions, images and bodily feelings” (Root-Bernstein, R&M., 1999). Because all creative thinking starts in this pre-verbal stage, the processes for creating written and visual ideas aren’t that different.

James Webb Young’s theory on ideation aligns with Root-Bernstein’s. In 1940, Young published A Technique for Producing Ideas, in which he states: “An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.” He theorizes that our brains are constantly taking in new information and storing much of it in the subconscious. We then begin to process this information through talking and thinking. Once we’ve fully digested it, this information floats up from unconscious thought and is perceived as a flash of inspiration.

Sometimes, it may seem like you need to be an artistic genius to come up with a great idea, but according to Root-Bernstein and Young, we all form ideas in the same way. It really comes down to being in tune with idea generation and finding ways to tap into the process through ideation exercises.

Why Good Ideas are Important

When it comes to marketing, coming up with a good idea is like discovering gold. In order to make our brands stand out, we need to constantly generate original content. Incorporating ideas for visual and interactive content into your marketing program will ensure you’re making an impact on your audience.

Why are we so drawn to visual and interactive content? Below are a few reasons these types of content are so compelling.

Visual Ideas:

  1. Help people understand concepts better.
  2. Boost the power of memory.
  3. Convince people of truths.
  4. Seduce people to buy.

Interactive Content:

  1. Appeals to a short attention span.
  2. Encourages an active audience.
  3. Allows for non-linear narratives.
  4. Educates people and convinces them to buy.

To learn more about the role visuals and interactivity play in content ideation, explore the eBook we made with Oz Content!





Oz Content Visual Ideation eBook




How to Generate Good Visual Ideas

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a writer is that inspiration isn’t something you wait for. Usually when I say I need to be inspired to start on a project, I’m really too exhausted or overwhelmed to begin. Waiting for inspiration to strike isn’t a great use of time, especially when working on tight deadlines. Learning how to chase down visual ideas will not only give you more control over the ideation process, but also give you more time to polish these ideas and perhaps even generate more.

Here are a few different exercises you can use to speed up the ideation process and tap into visual ideas.

  1. Collaging: The act of clipping images or words and pasting them to a piece of paper in a pattern that inspires you.
  2. Mind-Mapping: A visual diagram that establishes a central concept and branches it into associated images that become main topics, which in turn also have related images.
  3. Reversing Cliches: This exercise involves drawing every association you can come up with for your visual concept and then combing through them for cliches.
  4. Visualize Sensory Experiences: Drawing sensory experiences such as the sound of water, the heat from a radiator, or the smell of fresh cookies, and then using these sketches to create a unique visual for your concept.
  5. Collaborative Sketching: Creating a single sketch with multiple team members. Once you finish drawing, pass it to the next person so they can add their own unique component, and so on until everyone has had a turn.

Each of these exercises can give you a better sense of which visual ideas will be compelling for your audience and which won’t. The more you chase inspiration using ideation exercises, the easier it will be to come up with great concepts.

Elements of Good Visual Ideas

Along with understanding why good ideas are important and how to generate them, it’s also important to know what elements comprise good visual ideas. Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath believe a good idea is “sticky”, meaning that it’s memorable and remains in a person’s head long after they’ve seen it.

For an idea to be sticky, the Heath brothers assert that it should be:

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. Story-Driven

When coming up with visual ideas for your marketing program, make sure they embody these six criteria. Ask yourself the following:

  • Where can I bring the story to life?
  • Does this feel new?
  • How will it make people feel?
  • Is it too cluttered?
  • Will my audience understand the idea behind it?

The Bottom Line

Good visual ideas aren’t bolts of lightning shooting down from the heavens—they don’t strike randomly without warning. They develop over time and rise to the surface after we’ve ruminated over them on a subconscious level. Ideation exercises such as collaging and collaborative sketching can help you hone in on and further develop these ideas. Once you have a good list of visual ideas, it’s important to make sure they’re executed in a sticky way.

Want to learn more about visual ideation? Explore this interactive eBook created with our friends at Oz Content.


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