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How NOT to Pick a Visual for Your Writing

By Randee Gage

Images and graphics have always been important in professional and technical writing. They give the author the ability to visually represent their core ideas, make context more accessible, and in an increasingly visual world, they can also help draw in potential audiences. But over the past five years, there has been a noticeable shift in the style of professional writing visuals. The corporate art style, also known as Corporate Memphis or Alegria has taken the world by storm. From official press releases to advertising campaigns, it is almost impossible to escape the disproportionate, oddly colored, minimalist figures that signify this aesthetic shift in the world of professional design. Loved by some and hated by others (McGinn, 2022), the style has generated a larger conversation about the function of visuals and the homogenization of style (Julien, Posture, 2022).

The ever growing presence of corporate art and its aesthetic is merely an extension of the popular conventions of current professional online aesthetics and art movements of the past. Many have likened the stylization to be reminiscent of Art Deco, but with a more scaled back and minimalistic approach. The minimalism also extends to how these graphics are produced and reproduced, as oftentimes they are simple shapes and vector images that can be manipulated and tweaked to fit the given use or circumstance, making the design process much more streamlined. 

Why is Corporate Art Everywhere?

One of the most striking elements of corporate art is the fact that it is non-representational. It is fun, quirky, bouncy, and joyful, but never really demonstrates anything true to life in color, size, or proportion. It is seemingly diverse without trying. In this way, corporate art can be an opportunity for technical communicators to make their documents appealing to as many people as possible. The simplicity and non-representational aspect also speak to a larger trend of globalization through simplicity and mass appeal with digital tools. But it comes at a cost.

Understanding the drawbacks

Despite or possibly because of its apparent nonspecificity, this style raises questions regarding its overall rhetorical purpose. Visuals when paired with a piece of professional writing are meant to serve as a hook or complementary piece to the text, working with or for the context, purpose, and audience. But when the visual itself is non-representational and generic, it may come across simply as a page filler. 

One of the main issues with corporate art is its oversaturation, making the design landscape of professional and technical communication as a whole feel quite homogenized. This is no small thanks to companies like Google and Meta, who have consistently used aspects of corporate art in their branding and marketing. 

The style is also unassuming by nature and it has not gone unnoticed that this aesthetic when paired with sensitive information or user agreements can leave readers in a vulnerable position. As writer for T-Art Magazine, Sriya Choppara states “While it may not be obvious, the bubbly style can make consumers subconsciously lower their guard and lure them in. For instance, Corporate Memphis is often strategically placed in predatory subscription terms or privacy agreements. This smart marketing ploy for firms may have negative repercussions for users.” (Choppara 2021). A recent example of this tactic is the dating app Hinge, which integrated corporate art throughout its terms of service and privacy agreement popups. 

Looking at Alternatives

While it might be convenient to find simple graphics in this style, there are many ways to find and create visuals that better encapsulate the style, purpose, and specific audience of your work rather than relying on something like corporate art. For instance, consider exploring high-quality (and copyright-free) image databases such as Unsplash, Pixabay, or Adobe Stock, where you can search and filter by keywords to find an image that fits your piece the best. Alternatively, throwing your hat into the ring of design is always worthwhile. Consider the tone and subject of your piece and explore various aesthetics, art movements, or even templates to get inspiration and then get to work.

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