vizthink: Dave Gray


If you were creating your own alphabet comprised just of symbols, how many symbols would you utilize and what would they be? The “visual alphabet” you are designing will have its utility in being used “to represent an idea”. That is the task Dave Gray gave himself when he set out to design a visual alphabet.

Gray’s alphabet consists of twelve symbols. The first six he calls “Flows” and likens them to vowels:

  • point
  • line
  • arc
  • angle
  • spiral
  • loop

The second six are “Forms”:

  • circle or oval
  • football
  • triangle
  • square or rectangle
  • 5-sided
  • cloud

With these twelve symbols you can draw a representation of anything, according to Gray. During Dave’s vizthink session he demonstrated his point by quickly creating a number of drawings. That’s where I learned the term “sweatles” – motion lines that show energy, like little beads of sweat coming off someone’s brow or the motion lines behind a vehicle. To further his ideas, Gray has a self-published book that appears to be continually in the works, Marks and Meanings, version zero, which you can purchase on

I’ve written a bit about Dave Gray and much of my previous writing covers, more or less, the content of Gray’s portion of the Global Online Visual Thinking Workshop webinar.

Gray’s visual alphabet, along with my husband’s many SketchUp models, has gotten me thinking about the ways in which people process information and think about what they hear and see, in particular within the world of education. My next post on this topic will be more visual than textual.

Organizations/Programs dedicated to visual thinking in schools:


One thought on “vizthink: Dave Gray

  1. Ken Allan

    Kia ora tatou!

    I just could not resist commenting here. Symbolism and writing has always been my fascination, ever since I was in primary school. We used to make up our own alphabet codes, a technique shown to us by our headmaster and teacher – a progressive man who’s techniques in teaching were far beyond his time.

    Laterly I came to realise that writing is not such an old technology after all. History and the records that provide it, go back thousands of years before writing, in any form similar to how it’s used today, was practiced. It puts the invention and use of recognisable writing, as cogent units like sentences, back about 150 generations. Fascinating that this relatively new technology, and the means to promulgate it, should be so hotly forged today.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

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