How Visuals Help Communicators Create More Inclusive Narratives

Editor's Note: As communicators shape narratives around myriad topics, how they use visual components may matter as much as, if not more, than words.

We spoke with Tristen Norman, head of creative insights, Americas at Getty Images. The discussion highlights:

  • the role that consumer insight has in informing brands' visual focus
  • how visual communication can challenge stereotypes
  • the importance of visual representation in stories, not just those about DEI

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

PRNEWS: What role does visual communication play in unconscious bias and upending stereotypes?

Tristen Norman, Head of Creative Insights, Americas, Getty Images

Tristen Norman: We are living in a more visual world…Communicating visually on Instagram, TikTok, even Snapchat…has made us a society focused on content creation…It's lowered barriers to entry for who dictates what visual culture looks like, since more people can participate…

What's also happened is that it's changed what visuals look like…We saw visual culture switch to this kind of snapshot aesthetic…and how we're communicating visually is changing. That's led to [thinking about] what advertising and brand communication need to look like in light of that.

There is no world in which we can operate where we exclude certain communities.

PRNEWS: How does this play out in stock photography?

Norman: Content is a reflection of where visual culture is at any given point.  [You must respond] to what people want, not just what brands want…People are leading these conversations.

We gather data and tell stories about what visuals will matter, and why… Consumer surveys allow [stock photography] to provide a consumer perspective…[to understand] the things that are most important [to consumers]...and what visuals articulate this best…

[For example, you ask] what most matters about...sustainability? Are you making personal changes in your life? And are you looking to brands to reflect those changes?...What imagery do you feel best reflects this moment?

Credit: Olga Rolenko. Courtesy of Getty Images

That gives us a sense of whether there is a disconnect between what brands are motivated by, and how they're articulating a particular topic, and what is resonating most with consumers…We really believe that it is important to change the narrative, visually, about certain topics, about certain communities...

PRNEWS: This is based on consumer insights as opposed to brand insights? Or is it a combination?

Norman: It's a combination…We need to understand where brands are…but there also continues to be a disconnect as perceived by consumers.

So, for example, let's talk about diversity. You know the majority of consumers…want to see companies celebrate diversity of all kinds. They also want to see…it consistently, not just for a special time of the year. Not LGTBQ people up front [only in] June, Black people in February, Indigenous People during Native American Heritage Month…

What they also tell us…is that they see more diversity in their social media networks…than they do from brand communications…We can see that brands are not downloading or reflecting enough content featuring LGBTQ people or people with disabilities… Brands are not focusing on enough communities of color and giving them that authentic, robust storytelling…

PRNEWS: Can you outline what it might look like for a brand to model this?

Norman: That's what really led to the creation of the Citi DEI Imagery Toolkit…We had been working on collections...Project #ShowUs [with Dove and GirlGaze] focused on women and non-binary people…We did the Disrupt Aging Collection with AARP, the Disability Collection with Verizon and National Disability Leadership Alliance.

Credit: FG Trade. Courtesy of Getty Images

PRNEWS: What should communicators think about when it comes to visual representation?

Norman: Visuals have a profound role to play in breaking down stereotypes…because it played such a profound role in upholding them…It has been a vehicle for communicating what we stand for, what our values are, what is aspirational in our culture, and it has perpetuated ideas about what the family needs to look like…

I always leave my team with questions:

  • Are you showing diversity in all of its forms?
  • Are you challenging and breaking stereotypes about that community?
  • Are you creating content that feels genuine and authentic and is an honest reflection of these communities?

Even if it's not a community you come from, you have to feel good about it. You have to be moved…[and you have to] remember that this is not going to be an overnight thing. You have to kind of come at it again and again and again…But as long as you make [it a priority]…you are already on the right path.