The Power of Metaphors in Digital Communication

Motion & Digital Interactions | 08th May 2018
When it comes to creating meaningful content, metaphors can be a powerful tool: whether through speech or visual expressions, they can increase the power of storytelling by decoding complex messages, enhancing key features that we want to communicate and ultimately strengthening the bonds between users and brands.

“A metaphor is thus imaginative rationality."

George Lakoff, Metaphors We Live By.


Expressive thinking

It is well-known that the human brain has the unique ability to process figurative language, such as metaphors. In this figure of speech, we make implicit comparisons between two things that are generally unrelated. We understand why “time is money” and why we should “reach for the stars” - and there might even be a scientific explanation for it: in 2003, Vilayanur Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard published a paper in which they speculated that there was a part of the brain (the angular gyrus) that was at least partially responsible for our understanding of metaphors.

Metaphors are actually an intrinsic tool for content marketing, useful in any type of communication (from copy to animation) as they help us define our conceptual domain. In his book, "Metaphors We Live By", George Lakoff states that our conceptual system is “fundamentally metaphorical in nature”. It is pretty certain that, if we limit a message to its literal aspect (even though it might be accurate), it will easily become bland.

Illustration made for the Novabase animation.
For example, to create more engagement with the message, we started the video for Novabase - Wizzio® with a more familiar environment, that the target audience could relate with - everyone has been stuck in a bank queue, at least once. Metaphors helped us “break the ice” and get enough attention to introduce the necessary technical data.


This is relevant not only to make the communication more colourful but also to help us deliver quality content experiences, based on a deep knowledge of the target audience and focused on their needs.

Powerful metaphors, great storytelling.

So, how can you use metaphors to lift your digital communication? If linguistic metaphors create such strong images in our minds, understanding visual metaphors is simply second-nature to everyone. It gets even better if we make them move: motion with a focus on storytelling is one of the best examples of how successful metaphors can be in delivering specific and complex messages.
degital metaphors

Illustration made for the Novabase animation.

In this video, the xylophone appears as an instrument that integrates different keys for a single purpose - this metaphor was perfect to resemble how easily Wizzio® would integrate with the user’s existing systems.

If the communication is too focused on intricate details, chances are that, within a few seconds, the user’s attention is no longer on your side. But here’s how metaphors answer to these problems: they add impact to elements that weren’t so engaging to begin with and bring simplicity to complex subjects, by associating them with more familiar concepts.

Here’s an example of how we helped Celfocus communicate Omnichannel's complex customer journeys through Motion Design.

Technical data, for example, can be explained a lot easier if we convert its abstract themes into tangible and recognizable scenarios. The right metaphor can bring the necessary twist to make your messages memorable.

messages through digital metaphors
Part of a storyboard made for Parcela Já.
A metaphor can also bring a bit of humour to communication and relate things that were supposedly not related - like an astronaut holding an out-of-budget price tag (part of a storyboard made for Parcela Já).

Lifting up your communication with metaphors.

In order to successfully use metaphors in our digital communication, we must take into account two decisive steps:

1. Define the Essence
Before we start morphing the original idea into a colourful metaphor, we must first make sure that the message we want to pass on is clear. Otherwise, we might end up representing it in a non-accessible way and lose its purpose: broken metaphors call more attention to themselves than to the actual message.

2. Consider Language and Context
There is no doubt that language and context influence how we think and how we perceive concepts, both familiar and new ones. Speech metaphors diverge between different idioms and cultures and they have a considerable weight on the perception of visual analogies, so when using metaphors we should first try to look at them from as many angles as possible.

metaphors help users understand

Part of a storyboard made for Parcela Já.
Metaphors should appeal to our imagination and defy our reality (to a point). The purpose is for users to understand a determined message in a determined way.

Metaphors are natural to the design process. If you think about it, we are constantly working and thinking around metaphors on a daily basis. We instinctively know that a trash can icon will delete our files and we also use a floppy disk icon to save them (even though we stopped using the real floppy disks for almost 20 years, the metaphor persisted).

Our intrinsic ability to understand metaphors can expand the impact of digital communication, if we know how to use them well: messages become quicker to understand, videos become more engaging and, because information is more accessible, users are happier and will definitely want to hear more from you.

Need a hand with metaphors or explainer videos? Let’s talk!