Writing about Visual Thinking: The Shift from Text to Visuals

Scott Torrance
Nov 17, 2014 · 4 min read

This is part of a little micro-experiment, you can read more about here and see this post with visuals.

So the final section of the framework left to look at is the undeniable shift from text based content to visuals.

As you have probably gathered I am a huge visual thinking fan but let me be clear — when it comes to text and visuals it’s not about one being right or wrong, better or worse. It is about finding the right balance of the two to best communicate the idea.

Yes, a huge part of the impetus for starting was personal preference of both myself and the team at Head Resourcing but it is more than that.

Let’s go back to the beginning

This all started from an exploration of the the simple idea of the relationship between an idea and how it is delivered

Whenever you create something you start with an idea and look at the ways of delivering that idea (you will recognise that this connects into the two previous sections of the framework).

From a content marketing point of view our initial instinct was always to take the ideas that we developed in section 1 and section 2 and simply write them up a blog post maybe with one or two nice images.

However as we started to explore how best to develop and deliver ideas we looked closer at this relationship between ideas and how they are delivered and we started to shift the balance form texts to visuals.

The question became — how would it affect our message and the goals we are trying to achieve; and how far could the shift go?

The (preliminary) Results

While the experimentation continues we have already seen a number of benefits:

Development of ideas

What was interesting was that as we started to doodle the ideas made us look at the idea differently, sometimes drastically changing the approach we took.

Whether it was the structure of the story or the metaphor used to describe an abstract concept.

Whereas before the relationship had been in one direction, now we were finding that the relationship flowed both ways and it wasn’t a one off activity. There developed a bit of a feedback loop that continued to move the ideas forward.

Why is that?

One possible explanation…

Drawing in any form is a perceptual act/skill (that drives perceptual thinking). It is all about seeing…

To draw something you must look at it, and look at it again to really understand the subject and then choose the right materials to be able to put down on paper what you see in front of you.

This is the same for an idea, doodling it forces you to look at it differently and understand and appreciate the whole picture, the relationships between ideas and to see individual ideas in context.

All of this brings about increased meaning.

“I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.” Frederick Franck, The Zen of Seeing

It opens up access to the right hand side of the brain that is more conducive to creative and intuitive thinking.


As I have talked about previously, in an attention deficit world visuals really jump out of the stream of text in front of you.

We know that visuals are more engaging:

90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text.

As soon as we started to visualise content the engagement increased both internally within the team and with our audience.

Reader Experience

However, visuals really came into their own and really started to make sense as our ideas started to develop and we started to look at what network science could tell us about business networking.

Network science is a very visual subject and trying to explain the ideas behind network science and then applying them to a practical situation is nigh on impossible without the use of visuals.

However, in all the academic work a visual of a network diagram is presented with lots of information which the proceeding pages discuss and refer back to. What this means is that you are forever turning back the page to remind you of what is being discussed and results in a poor reading experience (in my experience).

This took our exploration of the relationship between text and visual further.

It’s not enough just to plonk a visual down on the page, you have to look at how the text and the visuals interact and the interplay between them. The problem is that most Content Management Systems (as well as most designers mindsets) are not suited to moving the text around. It is simply text image, text, image, text, indented image. This is why picking up a pen and paper (or tablet) really freed up the thinking and let us explore.

This is ok when we are dealing with white papers where you can combine hand drawn visuals and computer wizardry in Adobe but becomes more limited when communicating these ideas online, hence the many little experiments on Medium and Head Resourcing’s blog

However, the experimenting is only just beginning as we look to shift the balance even further. While our most recent white paper has had some nice visuals in there and the ratio of text:visuals is shifting (in the right direction)the question becomes . Over the next couple of weeks I will be looking at moving that balance closer to 80/20.

If you are interested in learning more about the process and seeing a little more under the hood, sign up to my newsletter where I will be sharing more:


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