Visual Storytelling Trends in 2016

What's New or the Same?

The New Year brings resolutions, predictions and a desire to explore everything new. Visual storytelling remains new and old in the marketing and communications mix, claiming center stage as the “next big thing” in every communication-related field, from content marketing and graphic design to data journalism and digital media.

Visual storytelling dates back to the day when we, as children, read our first storybook. But, the approach is far from stagnant as evidenced by what’s new and what’s predicted to be popular in 2016.

Interactive Storytelling

Anthony Kaufman, ReelPolitik, predicts interactive storytelling – the art of telling stories enhanced with technology, social or collaborative interactive features –is the future of storytelling. While the approach probably won’t replace traditional linear storytelling, it will become a growing part of the entertainment and information business because it meets audiences where they are, especially millennials.

Interactive storytelling seamlessly integrates various mediums – the written word, still images, interactive maps, graphs and animations – and blazes the trail for new forms of multiplatform storytelling. Users have the freedom to navigate information, choose a specific narrative path and delve into a topic as deeply as they desire.

Virtual Reality (VR)

The word from South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference, considered the breeding ground for new ideas and creative technologies, is that virtual and augmented reality will explode in 2016. Facebook and The New York Times already invested in virtual reality technology, and Facebook and Samsung are scheduled to release Gear VR, a new virtual reality headset, by year’s end.

Virtual reality attracts viewers because it plunges them into situations that are impossible for them to experience in real life, such as out-of-body and fly-on-the wall situations and the ability to walk in another’s shoes. The World Economic Forum, for instance, uses VR technology to immerse viewers in the life of a Syrian refugee.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things provides an object the ability to communicate with people, another computer and all surrounding objects and databases to obtain information and perform daily tasks. A user, for example, may awaken on a sub-zero morning and find the shower already running at the preferred temperature as he/she enters the bathroom.

Experience designer Lance Weller says the IoT will present the opportunity to create a story by allowing real objects and locations to become part of a fictional narrative. Weller produced Bear71, combining facial detection software, motion sensors, wireless trail cams and augmented reality to figuratively transform viewers into animals tracked in the film’s fictitious world.

Real-Time Storytelling

Live feed social platforms such as Periscope and Meerkat, introduced last March, enhance social media storytelling by linking the live stream to a Twitter or Facebook account so thousands of followers can view it in real time. Wendy’s, for example, used Periscope to feature “Intertainers” Rhett & Link, with more than 4,400 viewers visiting Wendy’s website while chatting with the duo and learning their story during a backstage tour.

Real-time storytelling via social platforms may help a tourism group transport viewers to an exciting destination or help manufacturers showcase a new product. The approach may also help viewers experience the heart-stopping thrills a guest feels while riding an amusement park’s new roller coaster.

Animated GIFs

Graphics Interchange Format or GIF – will likely claim center stage during SXSW Interactive Festival 2016. While GIFs date back almost to the start of the Web, social media has been slow to adopt them until last year when Facebook began displaying the abbreviated clips.

The declining human attention span (just over eight seconds) makes bite-sized animated GIFs an ideal format for telling a complete story during a brief span of time. The image’s motion also helps capture attention in an environment where messages are constantly vying for audiences.


 Most of us are familiar with infographics and have successfully created and used this visual storytelling tool as part of our marketing and communications mix. Randy Krum, founder and president of InfoNewt, while reviewing the big trends for SXSW 2016 says infographics remain one of the best ways to convey complex information in a shareable and visually appealing format.

In the future, interactive infographics and those incorporating motion and animation are likely to continue gaining popularity.


Please share how you are employing visual storytelling to reach target audiences.


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