Digital Trend: The Shift from Verbal to Visual

by / Friday, 15 June 2012 / Published in Social Shopping, Strategy, User Experience
Visual has snuck up on verbal and become the new darling of digital. What do I mean? Digital shopping, design and communication are now ruled by vivid imagery that aims to stop consumers in their tracks. This is a window shopping world of show and tell. Sharing becomes irresistible. Making a statement can happen without words.

What’s driving this trend? At Fluid we see four main factors:

1. Mobile (and tablet) first design: Mobile is no longer the second thought to web design. The minimalism and functionality needed to make mobile sing is where designers are starting. Strong mobile growth projections and the shift in consumer behavior towards mobile access are fueling this fire. Just ask Facebook and eBay. Responsive design fits into this niche nicely.

2. Facebook timeline: In January 2012 Sophos conducted a poll that found that 51.29% of respondents said Facebook Timeline worried them (32.36% said they didn’t know why they were still on Facebook). With the roll out completed these numbers have likely changed. 900M active users now see their history of interactions visually.

3. Pinterest: In February ComScore reported that Pinterest passed 10M monthly uniques faster than any stand alone site ever. In March Pinterest served up 2.3B page impressions to 4M unique visitors. That’s 4000%+ growth YOY. Pinterest serves as such a strong source of referral traffic that two things are happening: Digital commerce sites are proactively pinning on Pinterest and Digital commerce sites are adapting their site photography to make pinning to Pinterest easy (and appealing). At Fluid we think infinite scroll is Pinterest’s secret sauce.

4. Instagram: Even before the $1B acquisition by Facebook, Instagram’s 35M users knew they had discovered something exciting. Seamlessly integrated with mobile and social Instagram allows people to express themselves and their activities visually. As one Fluid’s clients put it “Verbal posts, for example on Yelp, are extreme – they tend to reflect love or hate. There’s very little in-between. Visual sharing and tagging gives voice to a silent majority we need to hear.”

Now these are not the only drivers. Sites like Gilt and RueLaLa helped kill the notion of the fold as users automatically scrolled down to make sure they weren’t missing anything. Polyvore was in on visual displays early. And Etsy even looks like the prelude to Pinterest (and is the #1 pinned brand on Pinterest).

Note: This trend is not a return to the days of brochureware (thank goodness). Images today need to work way harder than that. And in this trend, product images are trumping brand images.

Some examples to steal for your next trend deck:
The Shift from Verbal to Visual exudes the beauty of visual design. It reinforces the design of the products they sell and the brand they have built. Their recent redesign (May) reflects a shift from flash sales to social sharing – a shift we’ve seen the market make. Also Fancy is worth a look – a Pinterest-like site that started with the premise of digital shopping vs. trying to add it on later.

Volkswagen: Volkswagen ported the look and feel of Facebook Timeline to their core site for the Beetle What was Beetle doing in 1958? I now know that’s when the Bug started “breeding like rabbits.” While users can still utilize the tab structure, the whole site is available on downward scroll.

National Geographic: National Geographic is world renowned for its photography. Recently on a joint venture with The North Face to summit Everest the photos shared were via Instagram. Surely this is a sign. Both that photography has undergone a momentous shift and that National Geographic has caught on to a powerful way to drive traffic to their photographs. National Geographic

Old Spice: Old Spice continued its reign of creative ideas that yield social response with A simple site with an irresistible visual call to action. It drew 600K visitors who pressed the button in the first 12 hours – 4M in less than a week. Will it sell more product? Who knows. Do I want to interact with it? Absolutely. Old Spice

Coachella + Tupac: Tupac Shakur died in 1996. Technology brought him back to life via a hologram to perform at Coachella. It left folks in awe. It also left an industry wondering could Elvis or the Beatles or Micheal Jackson be next? Yes this is a twist on traditional digital commerce but I think it shows the power that visual + digital can yield. Tupac

Do like what you’re seeing with this trend? Is your brand on board? Bring on any other examples.