Visual thinking: 5 training steps

The visual representation of knowledge makes it more accessible and enhances it improving the quality of the information conveyed. (Eppler) Visual thinking is a technique that allows us to organise our thoughts, ideas and concepts through images, helping us in the process of learning and problem solving. How can we strengthen it? Since ancient times, we have tried to experiment with new forms and new languages. We progressed from petroglyphs to oral communication, onto alphabets and writing, then to the printed book. Over the last few years we have witnessed a new revolution. The web is now the main environment in which the exchange of information and knowledge takes place. The amount of data multiplies exponentially and involves an increasingly broad and diverse audience. The tempo requires information at lightning-speed, quick and instant exchanges. Training and communication need to be summarised: key information has to be highlighted immediately. Contents are organised in such a way that it takes recipients a mere few seconds to get an overview and understand where to find the information they seek quickly. How can we understand the complexity? How can we find our way in this information overload? How can we find and select the right information? How can we identify priorities and summarise? As in the past, images once more take centre stage in communication and training. Images allow us to:

  • summarise and clarify content to represent concepts, data and flows
  • outline complex procedures, to facilitate learning and putting into practice
  • provide an overview that acts as a guide
  • summarise content to facilitate its storage
  • focus on the best solution to a problem
  • explore a situation by analysing it in detail (convergence) and, at the same time, observe it from above to capture its essence (divergence)

Visual thinking is an unparalleled resource for learning because of its ability to harness the power of imagination. Here are 5 steps to train yourself to “think in images”:

  1. Focus what you want to communicate and set your vision down on paper using a simple drawing.
  2. Collect all the information and organise itinto categories, defining a hierarchy and a reading order.
  3. Assign a leading role to certain words and images. Remember that words describe, whereas images represent.
  4. Convey emotion, capture attentionwith the basic rules of graphic design, photography and cinema. Trust your insight, allow yourself to be driven by creativity.
  5. Make sure everyone can understand your representationand that it does not require further explanation. It has to speak for itself!

This topic was discussed in posterLab no. 27: “visual thinking and dynamic infographics”. Pietro Moroni

written by: Pietro Moroni , 1 September 2016

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