Visual Thinking? Oh Really?

Figures AND Facts

It’s kinda cool to see so many great visuals around the place. Great graphics, stunning artwork, colourful illustration, neat brands and logo’s, swish websites, funky applications, infographics — street art — more.

I know it’s a subjective thing but you get what I mean.

There’s been a BIG shift to the visual priority wherever you look — car dashboards, product design, robotic shops, in flight experiences, buildings, packaging, retail glitz, business presentations — to in your face marketing stuff, stellar ‘responsive’ mobile/online jazz— interactive movies, gaming and animations.



Here’s The But

I’ve heard this described as visual thinking. Hmm.

We are seeing cunningly simple — ever more powerful visual expressions — of everything. From airports and stadiums to flying cars and 5k screens. This visual mastery is calling on all our craft as storytellers. Witness the incredible work of Jing Zhang above for example.

“We live in an age where information is more prolific and widely available than ever before, and to visualize it is to understand it.” — Anna Johnson

I think intellectually that’s COMPLETELY on the right track BUT at present there’s a crazy mixture of quality out there — from outstanding to gut crushingly diabolical. A majority of these ‘visualisations’ are dreadful interpretations of core ideas. I don’t see that much thinking.

A bit like desktop publishing in the 80’s — there’s a lot of people using the tools but not their heads. It affects everything. And if the initial sketch/the concept is ill considered — the result is disconfigured.


Let’s be gracious and accept there’s a valid idea underneath many visualisations (and so called visual thinkers). I often don’t think they understand their role. I’m quite cool when it’s purely art or the purpose is to add colour and difference but let’s not call it visual thinking. It’s just visual.

“Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.” — R. Buckminster Fuller

We’ve all suffered from ‘the presentation’ (PPT) rammed full of stuff and presenters full of — well, nothing polite. All the genius boiled out. We’ve gagged at the online graveyard — confusing websites, stupidly irrelevant applications. We’ve averted our eyes from offensive corporate identities and advertising that displays no grace, charm or idea. Airports.

“90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 x faster in the brain than text.”

So let’s put the power of visualisation + thinking to far better use — especially if this is to become our modern day definition of ‘thinking’ through pictures.


Art & Science

I’ve been a creative person all my life and been privileged to bask in the visual side of things. But over the last 20 years or so proven that if we don’t have a substantive appreciation of the data, the physics of the idea — then plonking a visual on it isn’t going to cut it. Whether it’s a new building, an aircraft or a website.

Superficiality is the enemy. We need integrity.

We have to be able to (by whatever means) map the landscape of the idea and write a complete story — get it down. Understanding the context has to be first base — only then can we construct meaningful words and pictures to explain the idea.

“We don’t see words as a series of letters. We see them as tiny pictures — made of letters.”

Thinking Visually

Once we get the idea of words AND pictures we stand a better chance. It does become both visual and visually thoughtful. Using this ability to think and cause thinking is powerful. If that’s what picture thinking was meant to mean then I think we are getting closer.

“Online visuals get 94% more views than text based information. You can apply that to everything but it’s only valuable if that has a constructive result.”

ONLY by understanding of the facts, the situation and then the correct use of explanation comes compelling and engaging results — to me that should underpin this new definition of visual thinking. It’s directly proportional to whether we get great architecture or a carbuncle — a stunning product or just another piece of junk.

I believe most people want to achieve both — they want to achieve the value, the attraction, the engagement AND the understanding.


Making A Difference

So when you need to do something meaningful, create something valuable — to convey anything (and you’ve matured beyond accepting superficial visualisation stunts) then you can expect to make progress. It really is possible to get the best of all worlds.

“If information is presented orally, we remember about 10% three days later. However, if a picture is added in, that figure goes up to 65%.”

Visual thinking can make a difference. Let’s also make it REAL!