Who Needs Words? The Power of Visual Storytelling

Who Needs Words? The Power of Visual Storytelling

When it comes to storytelling, words and images go together like, well, two things that go super well together. Words (either written or spoken) and images are a well-known and popular duo for many storytelling mediums, but can one survive without the other? Certainly words can tell a story without images (see: the nearest novel). But can images tell a story just as powerfully without any spoken or written words whatsoever?

As a writer, even I have to concede to the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The emotional and informative power of images is undeniable. It’s no surprise, then, that a series of images can tell a compelling and emotionally resonant story without any text or dialogue. The Last Days of Green, a documentary about the impact of deforestation on an Orangutan named Green, doesn’t use any narration but delivers a hefty punch. The absence of words allows viewers to fill in the gaps with their own interpretations, making the story even more impactful because they’re viewing it through their own emotional lens.


Image: www.greenthefilm.com

My old screenwriting instructor once told me that when writing dialogue for a script, your ultimate goal should be to write a silent film. No dialogue is the best dialogue. That works well for films like The Last Days of Green, but what about digital interactive exhibits – a medium where you not only need to engage an audience, but typically you also need to communicate a lot of information?

What does and doesn’t get visualized will depend on the goals of the project and how much information (and what type of information) needs to be communicated. NGX recently completed a digital exhibit for the Chilliwack Secondary School that tells the story of the school’s history through student photos, class composites, decade-specific designs and sound bites of the times. With very few words, it seamlessly transports viewers along the school’s timeline, leaving room for the viewer’s own memories and stories.


As part of the Telus World of Science in Edmonton’s Environment Gallery, NGX created an interactive exhibit that uses primarily visuals to take visitors on an animated journey through the geological history of Alberta. Using a spin browser, visitors travel in time from the Precambrian era to modern day Alberta and witness the major events along the way – from the beginning of life and the age of dinosaurs to the formation of the Rocky Mountains and the evolution of humans.


One of my favourite movie quotes is from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, when Joel Barish reminds his chatty girlfriend, Clementine, that “constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.” This sentiment can also be translated to the interpretive work we do here at NGX. A good rule of thumb could be: if you can communicate this piece of information effectively without words, do it. This will have the secondary effect of making what you DO say even more powerful (like the strong silent type who speaks only on rare occasions and EVERYBODY STOPS AND LISTENS). So be economical and smart with your words; use them sparingly and strategically. Your audience will thank you.

– Jason Clarke, Interpretive Writer & Content Researcher

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