The wave of interest in visual working has crescendoed in the last five years. I attribute this to many factors including: the increase in global working, in which pictures paint a thousand words; the use of iconography in the electronic devices we use every day; the popularity of books by David Sibbet and Dan Roan, who have made this way of working accessible to business people.
The downside I see in the appeal of visual working, is that visuals are often used without understanding the implications of the choices being made so. To the untrained eye, it’s all about pretty pictures.
There are three dimensions to working visually
- The process by which the image is created
- The underlying metaphor and architecture of the image
- The way in which the image is used, once it is created
Within each of these dimensions there are multiple choices, which means there is a broad range of different results that can be achieved by combining them. In this article I hope to shine a light on the first dimension, by looking at the different ways graphic images are created and the impact this has.
I have summarised this into four discrete areas, yet the reality is that within each field there is a variety of application. For example within graphic recording: some recorders work privately, on sketchbooks; some work publically on large charts; some work completely real time; some do the outline real time and complete in the studio; some work in colour; some in black and white. These variations in each area mean it is more of a spectrum than four clear choices, but I hope this segmentation starts to shine a light on the options available.
|What is it||Impact on group||Pros / cons|
|Illustration||Illustrators help people communicate more effectively through their skill in developing images that support verbal or written words.
This is usually done in a studio, not live with a group.
|By communicating through pictures and words, people tend to be able to take in and remember information better.||✓ pictures bring things to life
× the pictures are developed by the illustrator and therefore not ‘owned’ by the group.
|Graphic recording||Graphic Recorders help groups see the conversations they are having through their expertise in listening, visualising and use of metaphor.||The group can SEE the conversation being recorded all on one page. This acknowledges contributions and makes people feel heard.||✓ Captures attention
✓ Supports group memory
✓ Useful summary
× Often added as an afterthought, late in the preparation of meetings
× not integrated into group process
× Little group ownership
|Graphic Facilitation||Graphic Facilitators work with groups to help them achieve their outcomes through their combined expertise in group process and visual architectures.||Conversations are are designed with a focus on group outcomes. The group can SEE their contributions being added to the charts. The group can make new connections as individuals see their perspectives alongside others.||✓ Focusses attention
✓ Supports trust and respect
✓ brings clarity
✓ supports group decision making
✓ strong ownership by the group
× for full impact the visuals need to be planned as an integral part of the design – not added as an afterthought
× the combination of facilitation skills and graphical skills are harder to come by
|Visual Organisatational Development Consultancy||Visual OD practitioners work to improve an organisation’s performance through their expertise in human systems, system architectures.
|Group work is designed within the context of organisational needs. The visuals help the group develop clarity in complex situations. The way the information is synthesised in this approach enables new insights and meaning to be drawn by the group.||Same as above and…
✓ visual synthesis brings new insights aimed at business impact
× very few people worldwide can do this
In the complex, fast paced, global world we live in, I believe that visual working has huge potential power. The key to unlocking this power comes from consciously and intentionally choosing the right visual tools for the right jobs. I hope this article has shed some light on this field. In the mean time, if you are interested in finding out more about this area of work, get in touch.