Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Tell It Better: Visual storytelling with metaphor

Storytelling isn't just a verbal art. While you're busy minding your dramatic arcs and your suspenseful starts, don't miss out on making the most of metaphor's visual aspects.

Metaphors are tailor-made for visual treatment, calling to mind as they do the image of the thing to which you're comparing something. "The fog comes in on little cat feet" conjures up the creeping forward of a cat, or a line of fog coming in. "My baby thinks he's a train," the great country music lyric, sets the scene visually for a guy moving from town to town, fast. So why not use a visual to underscore the metaphor--in a slide, film, graphic, video, or cartoon?

This article on using metaphors in design offers lots of useful considerations for subtle and skilled use of visual metaphors, and urges you to think about the company or product's real purpose:
One annual report for the Calgary YWCA emphasized the organization’s work with battered women, so the report itself was torn and distressed. The headline on the beat-up cover: “Last year over 11,000 Calgary women were treated worse than this book.” This metaphor may even be stronger than if they had used actual photographs of battered women, since this approach is less expected. 
And don’t be too literal. Try to find metaphors that capture psychological essence more than simply external reality. Let’s say that you’re creating a poster announcing a seminar in business fundamentals for graphic designers, one called “The Business Primordial.” You may start thinking of cave men with clubs—clubs as felt-tip markers, business cards made out of stone, cave men dressed in business suits and so on. In other words, you could try to fuse some image of business or graphic arts with some “primordial” image. But you don’t have to. A visual of two dogs in a tug of war (a pure metaphor) can also express the psychological essence of basic business difficulties in a less obvious way. It’s a metaphor off to the side; the dogs symbolize not the thing, but the emotional center of the thing. They’re unexpected but appropriate.
This World Health Organization video about depression uses the black dog metaphor for depression, and the illustrations in the film offer great examples of making full use of the visual implications in this metaphor, from keeping the dog leashed to the size--large, then diminishing--of the dog.

I had a black dog, his name was depression YouTube

How will you use visual storytelling to carry out your metaphors?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by churl)
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