“You know how sometimes you see someone talking more with their hands than with their mouth? We can get more from their gestures than we might from their words. Body language but of the most physical form…”
The Mighty Pen
I will never forget the first time I grabbed the marker pen in a meeting and wandered cautiously up to the wall. Nervous? Hell yeah. What if my ability to draw the picture I intended deserted me? What if everyone laughed and just carried on talking? What if the point I wanted to convey so passionately backfired. It was a big risk.
Getting On Down
Putting an idea on paper is a simple aim but always a challenge.
Drawing out people’s thoughts is one whacking great responsibility. It’s hard enough to process one’s own thought sufficiently enough to decode it on paper. Something weird happens as you try to picture your thought. It flies off — it’s going to fritter away like a drunken dream. Try it!
Then try it live with a whole bunch of people.
You have to practice hard to translate thoughts. And you have to accept that most of the time it won’t happen in the way you intended. Don’t Try It At Home — Actually Do!
I began to notice that it didn’t matter that capturing my own thought literally never happened. But something quite magical did. Something got through to the paper.
All on its own.
Drawing anything at all was a start and often that was enough to ignite the process. The very act of getting anything down moved things along. Eventually I could think about it differently so that I could draw more accurately. I had learned to sketch.
“Sketching is like private jazz — a chaotic, rough and liberating method of committing your mind to paper. I got hooked I tried every instrument I could find — charcoal, ink, pencil, spraypaint, lipstick — jam…”
Years ago I would draw on a table. Eventually gravitating to a drawing board with an infinite array of angles and then finally to the wall like a graffiti artist.
“Drawing People In — That’s My Art Of Engagement…”
I’m Drawn To Walls
Standing up and drawing on a wall wasn’t as easy as I had thought. Not only is it hard enough to stand all day long — 90 degrees is a pretty unnatural elevation — it’s challenging the physics of gravity.
It’s mechanically a challenge for pens and ink and hands and arms to operate in comfort for any length of time. Maybe it’s because all my life I had drawn at tables and now the tables had definitely turned. Karma.
Unaccustomed As I Am
That first time standing in front of my peers (actually mostly they were my bosses) was scary.
“Is this what you mean?” I said after scribbling some strange representation and some words on the flip chart. Words that are now sadly (thankfully) lost in the haze. “Err yes!” they said after a very long pause.
“Fuck. That was a good moment — it’s now totally sketched on my mind…”
My recall of the moment was that it had brought the meeting to attention. And if were to use more words to define ‘meetings’ — it had brought a rambling, idiotic, boring cycle of meaningless drivel to a halt.
They all said something very favourable and I was dragged kicking and screaming to many more boring meetings after that.
Stairways To Heaven
“Great Walls Are Hard To Find…”
Being Careful For What We Wish
“To say I’ve witnessed thousands of boring meetings is like calling FIFA organised crime. We’ve all been in them , they haven’t changed much in 30 years — their mediocrity is plain and present for all of us to see…”
The fact that I’ve probably witnessed more than my fair share of bad ones is down to the fact that I’m a ridiculous optimist. I think that drawing conclusions ‘visually’ can change the world. It could even turn FIFA around.
There I go again.
“I’ve now made a Trillion marks on walls. Mostly Legally…”
I’ve asked a gazillion questions and met a few thousand leaders and managers in the process of parading my optimism.
I’ve only ever met a few complete idiots amongst that lot. The vast majority wanting progress and change — in the main they’re seeking fresh and more intelligent ways of getting there.
That’s where this all takes us.
“I’m convinced that the humble pen and the simple construct of a plain flat wall can change the world. The wall can either be a barrier to our freedom or a tool designed to help and protect us from the unknown…”
An incredibly convenient means of unlocking our imagination and avoiding artificial constraints.
“Making Leaps Of Imagination Rather Than Jumping To Conclusions…”
Drawing Out The Value
Creating a picture from conversation is a powerful thing. Here’s just a few of the things that I discovered it could do. Eleven actually:
ONE: It takes the thoughts of the people and binds their insights into something practical — something they can execute — visible value.
TWO: It creates a picture with an underlying logic that helps people make better and better decisions.
THREE: It aligns and unifies the people involved through a natural and iterative process of discovery and ownership.
FOUR: It dispels complexity quickly — it enables what would normally be a lot to take on board to be unpacked into its constituents. As a result it patiently helps to simplify and aid genuine learning.
FIVE: It creates confidence where previously there was uncertainty and distance. As a direct result there’s no longer any fear in the content or the connection between parts of the picture.
SIX: It forces holistic and ‘systems thinking’ which is of paramount importance when not wanting to solve the wrong problems really well. A major issue of our time.
SEVEN: It can tell the story better than any other media and it can do so in a myriad ways to multiple audiences.
EIGHT: It stimulates the conversations that need to be had.
It goes far beyond the ones that would never have been had the picture not been available to stimulate them.
NINE: It creates vital creativity and innovative thinking. It does so in ways that a simple and abstract conversation just cannot achieve.
TEN: It creates a ‘way point’ — a vital reminder of progress. It honours the moment in time as a a crucial marker of achievement. It therefore ensures welcome stages in complex and often exhausting processes.
ELEVEN: It is a major device for communication.
And it’s hopefully made this story just a little bit more interesting.
Packing The Punch
“The Facts & Figures That Prove The Power of Visual Communication”
Human communication has existed for about 30,000 years and I’ve been collecting insights for an infinitesimal percentage of that time — 0.01 to be precise.
I think what follows will explain why I’m passionate about this stuff. I’ve given credit* where I could find it but let me know any errors or additions and I will certainly add.
“Without graphics, an idea may be lost in a sea of words. Without words, a graphic may be lost to ambiguity.” — Robert E. Horn
It’s a myth that humans process images 60,000x faster than text but using visuals in conveying information is said to be ~43% more persuasive than pure text.
It’s also tough to say with certainly how many more times faster our eyes process images than our ears process auditory information. But we know they are major athletes. What we do know is that there are thousands more neurons connecting the eye to the brain than the ear to the brain. Hundreds of neurons connect the ears to the brain and thousands connect the eye to the brain.
Psychologist Albert Mehrabian demonstrated that 93% of communication is nonverbal — what we see has a profound effect on what we do, how we feel, and who we are.
We know that the human brain deciphers visual image elements simultaneously whereas simple voice language is decoded in a linear, sequential manner — and that takes a lot more time to process.
The psychological principle known as The Isolation Effect explains how items — text, images, or whatever — stuff that sticks out are remembered more clearly.
Studies since 1933 have proved that when ‘one of these things is not like the others’ then we have an easier time recalling it.
“Our minds react differently to visual stimuli and thanks to our millions of years of evolution, we are genetically wired to respond differently to visuals than we do to text.”
Neuroscientists have found that the associations we have with visual information (such as colour) is one of the most powerful factors influencing us when we make quick decisions.
Our attachment to certain colours is evolutionary — studies suggest that we might like the colour blue because a blue sky signals good weather while darker colours are linked to danger. Darker colours are consistently ranked as more depressing and less appealing.
Humans have an innate fondness for images of wide, open landscapes, which evoke an instant sense of well being — that stems from the years our ancestors spent on the savannahs in Africa. It’s the story of humanity passed on generation after generation via our DNA.
“Creating a visual ‘story’ is one of the quickest ways to connect all the dimensions of the content in context...”
People think using pictures. Seeing comes before words. Children look at and recognise visual imagery and stimulus long before they can speak.
Our words, concepts, ideas are hooked into images and they are retained by the brain.
What we hear is far more transitory because it’s processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain around 7 bits of information. This is why we have 7-digit phone numbers. Images then go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.
Appearance matters — it’s a result of the extremely tight coupling between emotion and cognition. Emotion is about judging the world, and cognition is about understanding. They can’t be separated.
Presenters who use visual aids are 43% more effective in persuading audience members to take a desired course of action than presenters who don’t use visuals. Signs, maps, instructions, schematics, icons, symbols, and packaging sell products — they warn of possible hazards, and give visual direction when words alone are not sufficient.
Balance. Our minds are hardwired to reject both under- and over-stimulating information. Too much visual information and it feels too chaotic; too little and we move on to something else.
Graphic communication is more ubiquitous than ever before because graphics do what text alone cannot do — quickly affecting us both cognitively and emotionally.
Graphics expedite and increase our level of communication — increasing comprehension, recollection, and retention. Visual clues help us decode text and attract attention to information or direct attention increasing the likelihood that the audience will remember.
Graphics engage our imagination and heighten our creative thinking by stimulating other areas of our brain (which in turn leads to a more profound and accurate understanding of the presented material).
It is well proven that emotions influence decision-making they play an essential role in decision making, perception, learning, and they influence the very mechanisms of rational thinking.
Behavioural Psychologists agree that most of our decisions are based on intuitive judgment and emotions.
Pictures enhance or affect emotions and attitudes.
Our decisions are primarily based on relatively quick intuitional judgment and emotions — it follows that positive decisions are increased in favour of visually appealing, easily digested graphics.
“In corporate decision-making people often ignore formal decision-making models because of time constraints, incomplete information, the inability to calculate consequences, and other variables.” — Herbert A. Simon, Nobel Prize winning scholar at the Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh
Human beings like being able to quickly identify things. Studies have revealed that our brains prefer recognisable brands — initially symbols, typography and colour.
Study after study, experiment after experiment has proven that graphics have immense influence over the audience’s perception of the subject matter and, by association, the presenter (the person, place, or thing most associated with the graphic) because of these neurological and evolutionary factors.
The audience’s understanding of presented material, opinion of the presented material and the presenter, and their emotional state are crucial factors in any decision they will make. Without a doubt, graphics greatly influence an audience’s decisions.
70% of all human sensory perception is through the eye. 93% of all human interaction is visual rather than verbal. 90% of the information entering the brain is visual. In online media and social networks response rates rise between 50–90% when visual information is present.
In an analysis of how the proposal industry works (an industry that focuses on the submission of written and oral presentations to secure work that will increase or maintain a company’s revenue) it was found that the priority of graphic development increases as award value rises.
The industry understands the influence that graphics have on their audience. It is common knowledge to companies like Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin that graphics are an essential part of winning new government business.
The study of ‘Impact of Colour in Marketing’ allowed researchers to discover that anywhere from 62 percent to 90 percent of snap judgements about products can be based on the colour alone.
Graphic communication alone isn’t better than text — we argue that the combination of graphics and words has a communicative power that neither singularly possesses.
Pictures interact with text to produce levels of comprehension and memory that can exceed what is produced by text alone.
“When words and visual elements are closely entwined, we create something new as well as augmenting our communal intelligence -increasing ‘human bandwidth’ — the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesise large amounts of new information.” — Robert E. Horn