CAIS: Dave Gray on Visual Thinking, an Introduction

At the August CAIS conference Dave Gray began his keynote, an Introduction to Visual Thinking, with a wonderful opening graphic depicting DaVinci, Galileo, Newton, Edison, Ford, Einstein, Picasso, Feynman and Hawking. Coupled with these thinkers were an equal number of drawings. Our task as the audience was to figure out who drew which drawings.

While I was still marveling over the opening theme, Visual Thinking Leads to Discovery, we switched gears to create a drawing of our own. You can try it now. Grab a piece of paper and something with which to draw. Your task is to draw how to make toast. The objectives of this exercise are two fold.

1. You will visually “express your mental model
2. You will discover that “you can draw

Dave explained that nodes are the concepts or ideas. In the case of my diagram the nodes are the bread, toaster, and the toasted piece of bread with a knife and butter. The links are the connections between the nodes, in this case the arrows linking the nodes. According to Dave, “when folks diagram there are usually 10 to 12 nodes maximum, regardless of the complexity of the concept”.

Compare your drawing to mine.

I am willing to bet they are different. In our audience of 160 or so, we each had different visuals, and we each were correct in what we drew. We had variety and accuracy. Otto Neurath, designer of isotypes, said

Words separate, pictures unite.

Isotype, which stands for International System Of TYpographic Picture Education, is a means to visually describe information in a format that is simple to understand. Initially, the information being described was quantitative, of the type that we might typically place in a spreadsheet table and then graph.

What this all boils down to is that we can and should try to use our own power of creating visuals to express ideas. Indeed, we may find that expressing ourselves visually may lead to more creative solutions.

For more on visual communication check out:

Dave Gray’s blog: Communication Nation
Interview with Dave Gray, CEO of XPLANE

Dan Roam’s blog: The Back of the Napkin
Dam Roam’s Authors@Google talk

Karl Gude’s blog: Visual Editors
Interview with Karl Gude

TED 2008 BigViz Book by Kevin Richards and David Sibbet

And if you’d like to explore some more of this and feel a seminar might be helpful, next week on September 16, 2008, there will be a Global Online Visual Thinking Workshop sponsored by VizThink.


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