We all know the cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Of course the thing about clichés is that they become clichés because they convey a fundamental truth. I am a big proponent of visual thinking: the practice of solving problems and organizing complex information through the use of images and diagrams rather than just words.
As a graphic design major in the 1980s, it was necessary to have some basic drawing skills in order to get your ideas across. The ability to capture your ideas in pictures—or thumbnails—was an essential part of the ideation process. It is a skill that has transcended the design process and can be applied to strategic thinking.
I would encourage everyone to try it. Don’t be intimidated if you feel you can’t draw. It is not about your ability to render photo-realistic likenesses of your subject matter. If you can draw basic geometric shapes and stick figures, you can think visually. It’s about breaking away from pages of endless lines of type and being able to see the information at a glance. This technique enables you to look more holistically and better understand the potential relationships among different pieces of data.
Visual thinking is not a new concept, but in an age where people automatically reach for their electronic devices it has become a somewhat neglected tool. However, it is one that allows you to communicate an idea or a concept much more quickly, efficiently, and in a way that people are more likely to understand.
I can’t even count the pages of diagrams, charts, and sketches I have left in numerous job jackets over the years—most of which were developed to increase my own personal understanding of the assignment. But I would not discard the value of this method as a way to engage and involve clients in the early stages of the strategic, problem-solving process. It provides you with the ability to quickly get on the same page (figuratively and literally), or just as quickly reveal when you are not.
So put down your tablets, close your laptops, and move away from your keyboard. Pick up a pen and a blank sheet of paper and think visually.