Evolution of storytelling with pictures

From cave paintings to Justin Bieber gone viral, a quick history of visual communication


From drawing in caves to printing presses to Instagram and Snapchat, here are some events in communication history that lead to modern forms.

From cave paintings to pics of Justin Bieber gone viral, the world of visual communication has changed drastically. The last century in particular has seen a dizzying rate of change in methods for producing and publishing photo and visual stories.

Unlike the staid, painted rock of the Chauvet caves in France, it is far easier to alter, replicate and mass distribute modern forms of visual communications (like photos and illsutrations), thanks to sophisticated users, the ease of modern editing software and the endless potential of the Internet.

Accompanying this unlimited capacity for online publishing has come a complicated onslaught of photos thrown haphazardly on the web, and, unless you happen to be a design and code wizard, limited to standard slideshows that tend to bog down photo narrative.

Over the past few months, my team (under the instruction of Zach Wise and in collaboration with Knight Lab) began the development of a tool to help remove some friction in publishing digital, photo-driven narratives and visual storytelling. To start and in an attempt to understand the current state of photo storytelling (on the web as well as presentations in apps), we researched available products and services, and developed personas who might be interested in using our tool.

During our first round of research we wanted a better understanding of communication’s history:

“How did we arrive here in the first place?
Is there anything we can gain from reviewing the human history of visual communication?”

Here is a review of major milestones in the history of communication, with each step building on technologies that allow for new story forms. This timeline is a scene-setter of sorts, which attempts to illustrate how far we’ve come, as well as how some key developments in the past two decades led to modern methods of photo sharing, E.G. Snapchat and Instagram. The growing sophistication level of users is exciting, and an indication that we can move past purely photo-sharing behaviors and into a photo-story future.

Check out the timeline!



Check out some of Northwestern University Knight Lab’s
free tools for journalists and digital storytellers:
JuxtaposeJS,
StoryMapJS and SnapMap, as well as SoundCiteJS and TimelineJS.