Barnard wrote an article for a trade journal called Printers’ Ink in 1921 in which he promoted the idea of using images in advertisements posted on the sides of streetcars. An advertisement in the same issue of the journal states, “One look is worth a thousand words.”
In a later advertisement, Barnard changed the phrase slightly. The ad read, “One picture worth ten thousand words.” The saying was labeled a Chinese proverb by Barnard. In a quote for the phrases book, he said he called it “a Chinese proverb, so that people would take it seriously.”
In advertising, one of the goals is to help commit the subject of the ad to the person’s memory. Images are more memorable than written text, something that Barnard realized. Although it might not be a Chinese proverb, truly, a picture is worth a thousand words.
It is much easier to convey the meaning of a relatively large amount of data with a picture. The numerical data in a pie chart or graph, for example, is easier to understand than the numbers alone would be. The charts will also be more memorable.
When you are working to improve your own memory, you can make use of sketches. When you are studying new things, instead of just taking notes, sketch something. Use symbols to help you remember. Use diagrams or make associations between the subject you are learning about and a physical object.
You might create a chart that includes the new information. You could sketch out a map when you are trying to remember geographical locations. Any use of imagery will help to improve your memory of the subject.
Even though Barnard is credited with the picture saying, the idea is much older. It goes back to cave drawings. The drawings were probably used as visual aids during story telling. People who came after the ancients could tell that the drawings depicted a hunt, a festival or some other activity in the life of the artist.
The famous writer Turgenev wrote something a little more elaborate in 1862. “A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.”
You can use pictures on flash cards to help you recall definitions or terminology. Memory aids of this kind are already in use. They are used as teaching and study tools.
If you have some letters or numbers to remember, you can use a word processor like Microsoft word to change the font and make them more graphic in nature. For example, if you needed to recall the value of pi, it may be easier if you see it frequently as 3.14159265.