#14 Three Ways the Brain Creates Meaning
April 27, 2021
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Three Ways the Brain Creates Meaning – Marketing Design Insights

You know that you can reach audiences, capture their attention, and persuade them with graphics and animations, using images to convey meaning. But have you ever paused to think how that works that at a deep level? Let’s consider how the brain creates meaning and the marketing design insights that arise when we think about how we mentally process images.

Tom Wujec is an information designer. In one of his TED talks he explains three ways that the brain creates meaning. As Wujec observes, the better we understand how the brain creates meaning, the better we can communicate. 


Mental Models

The brain does not see the world exactly as it is. Instead, it creates mental models that simplify the complexity of raw sensory data. For instance, the retina picks up entering light in its full complexity, but the primary visual cortex summaries this as simple geometric shapes. Another thirty parts of the brain get involved in interpreting visual stimuli. Wujec focuses on the three most important ones. 


Three Image Processing Systems

The ventral stream assigns a word to an image. It answers the question “what is that”? That’s a toaster. The dorsal stream locates an object in space answering the question “where is that”? The toaster is on the table. The third part is the limbic system. The limbic system provides an emotional response. 


Engagement Enhances Meaning

We can use images to clarify what we are trying to communicate and make it memorable. Interactive imagery enriches meaning. A good graphic invites the eye to move around, to navigate and select what is important, participating in creating a visual logic. This act of participation helps the ideas communicated by the image persist. Engaging the limbic system embeds the idea in memory even more. In addition to images with obvious emotional impact, motion and color help activate the limbic system.


Three Tips on Engaging Visual Design from Tom Wujec

Wujec sums up with three pieces of advice: “First, use images to clarify what we’re trying to communicate. Secondly make those images interactive so that we engage much more fully. And the third is to augment memory by creating a visual persistence.”

Check out the full video where Wujec explains how using visualization can help to create a comprehensive organizational strategy and join the Viral Octopus Community for more Marketing and Design Insights.