I have been having an ongoing discussion with some other content and information related professionals about the effectiveness of using graphics. I am of the belief that graphics are basically going to take over the world, if they have not already.
Give people under the age of 25 a full page of text today and they normally look at it for less than a second and then look back at you quizzically, wondering what you expect of them. My advice is that you should be fearful of their response if you expect them to actually read the whole thing.
So this gets me thinking about why we expect people to digest and understand technical documents that are sometimes hundreds of pages of text while being very skimpy on process, flow and explanatory “big picture” graphics. Many readers actually flip to the graphics during documentation testing phases. Many users I have interviewed have actually prayed for a graphic to EXPLAIN what you may have spent pages explaining in a whole chapter of text. This is especially true when the user is not a native English speaker. Note, even if your user/reader market is the US, this is still very relevant!
To prove my point, this story created a lot of buzz this week -- about 500% more buzz that when it was just a news story explained with words. Sorry in advance if you find the graphic offensive. The content of the graphic is totally not my point, rather that someone felt the better way to explain this story was via a graphic. The amount of attention and press and interest this graphic generated is very much my point. When it was words, not many people could visualize it, connect with it or personalize it. There was interest, but it was not a hot story around the world. The graphic changed all of that.