As any hardcore gamer will tell you, GPUs rule and it turns out our brain has one monster GPU feeding it data and forming impressions. The importance of visual communication / learning was reinforced when I stumbled on a little something, something called Gestalt psychology (everyone’s seen Gestalt tests of some sort and I remember very briefly touching on this in my one college psyche class, but man was it was either early in the morning or one boring professor).
Of course the bit about the the brain being holistic and self-organizing immediately brings to mind the way popularity is distributed within human social networks.
As it turns out, there’s a pretty substantial body of academic work that looks at visual design, communication and learning through a Gestalt lens. One interesting idea is that the parallel processing employed by the brain lets sense impressions be related between disparate senses (synesthesia). So for instance an activity such as typing may appear to be mostly tactile, but is actually mostly visual. Through visual learning we shape our expectations of keyboard interactions and then if possible / needed we map our visual interactions to other senses like the sound of a key being pressed or the feeling of the keyboard (actually all of these stimuli reinforce each other and are used in parallel).
To me this explains why the iPhone’s lack of tactile response is more than made up for by visual and audible cues (the audio is actually a bit over the top for me and I turned it off after the training wheel stage).
In fact visualization is so important that we may actually map our other sensory input to our visual mental model. When we listen to music or read a book we often envision ourselves inside the story or a visual narrative of our own devising. So in some respects most learning may in fact be visual. This has obvious implications for rich media. It’s the core driver behind video on the web and things like screencasting, slidecasting, and annotated screen capture.
And that brings me to what I like to call jingtations–annotated screen capture citations created by Jing. It’s my belief that taking a snapshot of an article fragment and then annotating it by highlighting passages or adding arrows and callout commentary is often a superior way to quote and communicate with people. A jingtation provides context, narrows focus, adds emphasis and provides stylistic relief. It takes someones original thought, adds emphasis, then wraps it up in a visual bow for easier digestion. Its something we all ought to explore, regardless of the tool used, as we seek more efficient ways to communicate clearly and concisely with each other.