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Thoughts on Visual Thinking

So I’ve been a big fan of visual thinking for many years now. Why is that? Well, I think I’m very much a visual thinker, someone for whom visual and spatial representation wires something into my brain in a way that pure textual representation just can’t.

In my role as an Architect, in the “stories” I tell, in my efforts to understand and communicate complexity … visual thinking is invaluable.

But visual thinking comes in many different forums: architectural models, slide presentations, whiteboard drawings, visio diagrams, videos, and on it goes. In this post, I’m going to share some of the Visual Thinkers who have most influenced me.

#1 – Scott McCloud: Understanding Comics

Probably the most person who has most influenced my thinking when it comes to telling stories visually is comic artist Scott McCloud. Scott’s most influential book, Understanding Comics, is a profound yet playful discourse – written as a comic book of course, on the nature of comics as a visual story telling medium. It has influenced a lot of my work on business workflow modeling.

Scott gave a wonderful TED Talk in 2005 which provided a brilliant illustration of the power of visual thinking (see video below).

The Dog Pondering the Heat Death of the Universe bit towards the end of the video is priceless.

#2 – Dave Gray and XPLANE

The first time I saw the visual thinking done by Dave Gray and the folks at xplane, I knew I had stumbled across a very powerful new way to explain stories.

xplane creates wonderful visuals like this:

#3 – VizThink – a Visual Thinking community

OK, VizThink is not actually a person, but a community – a community of visual thinkers. Check it out!

#4 – Dan Roam – solving Business Problems with Visual Thinking

Dan Roam is the author of The Back of the Napkin, a book which provides a simple, intuitive, and insightful framework for understanding and explaining problems through pictures. Dan’s book is targeted at all varieties of people, but particularly those who don’t particularly feel they have a talent for drawing, but would like to learn to solve problems using visual thinking techniques.

A brief series of videos by Dan describing his overall approach can be found here.

#5 – Nancy Duarte and Presentations

Nancy Duarte of Duarte Design is a leading voice in the art of presentations. She is the author of the highly-acclaimed slide:ology. Undoubtedly her most significant claim to fame is helping Al Gore develop a TED Talk presentation on the environment that eventually became the basis for the movie An Inconvenient Truth.

There are a number of excellent presentations delivered by Nancy available on the web – some of them are here, here, and here.

#6 – Hans Rosling – visualizing data

Finally, I’m always blown away whenever I see Hans Rolsing deliver a TED talk that sheds new and interesting insights on visualizing data. For a very entertaining 20 minutes, check out Hans’ TED Talk below:

In Summary

The above are just a few individuals and communities that have inspired me in my visual thinking journey. But it’s a rich and growing field. If you find any great visual thinking examples that inspire you, please let me know.



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