SXSW 2009: Thinking Visually

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This is my presentation from a panel at SXSW called 'Shift Happens: Moving from Words to Pictures' with Dan Roam, Dave Gray and Lee LeFever. It shows samples of visual thinking and notes some of the benefits.

Transcript

Slide 1

Sunni Brown, M.P.A.

This is me.1Good morning, since Im sure many of you are suffering from either hangovers and/or information fatigue, I can safely speak for the panel by saying that we appreciate you being here early on a Monday morning. So Im going to kick off the panel by briefly introducing myself and then moving to a topic that is much more interesting, namely visual thinking. And I know our panel is called Shift Happens: Moving from Words to Pictures, but its a bit of a misnomer since none of us are advocating moving away from words (since that would make for a very interesting panel conversation), were advocating for supplementing words with pictures as a more powerful form of communication. So, my name is Sunni Brown. This is me. Im not usually that smiley but evidently I was excitable that day.This is my companyand their location.Austin, TX

and my community

2I own an information design company called BrightSpot so I work with organizations to help them visualize complexities so that the people who need to understand that information, do. Im also co-founder of VizThink Austin, a local chapter of a national community called VizThink, and our chapter is one of the largest visual thinking communities in the U.S. So, like every member of the panel, I am a visual thinker.Visual thinking matters.

3This is my mantra. So when people ask me why I do what I do, its because it matters. And Ill elaborate more on that shortly.

Some samples of my work4So really quickly, some samples of my work. Now Im aware of the rule of the panel: No sales presentations or shameless self promotion, so these pieces are just to orient you to who I am. So this piece is a visual tool in the form of a custom template. A lot of times when I work with groups as a facilitator, Ive found that they lose focus and drift off toward topics they want to talk about, not necessarily the topic at hand. So I create custom templates to ground them in the discussion and I add metaphors to make the topic resonate a bit more with them.

5I also create process maps, which are maps of the stages of a process, who is responsible for what at what stage and what needs to happen, why and so forth. These are helpful to orient new employees or to educate employees who have been working somewhere forever and still have no idea what theyre doing.

6I also create explanatory or sales tools because sales people frequently have to repeat the same content about a product or service over and over, so I offer them an infographic as a teaching tool so they can walk the potential customer through the product and also have something to leave behind for the customer to remember. Now, I moved really quickly through the computer-illustrated graphics because theyre not necessarily the most interesting aspect of my work.This is how I work as a graphic recorder.

7The aspect of my work that people get the most jazzed about is whats called graphic recording. And simply put, being a graphic recorder is like being a modern-day scribe. Im showing you pictures of how I work so you get an idea of what graphic recording looks like, and here are some samples of what the outcome might look like. But whats happening when Im working as a graphic recorder in groups both tiny and enormous is that information is streaming from some source be it a presenter, a group discussion, or even a podcast and I capture that information using both text and imagery and reflect it back to the audience in real time. (and large-scale) And people, when they see it, go absolutely apeshit over this stuff, because it connects to something authentic and fundamentally human, which is the instinct to perceive and process the world through visual information. Graphic recording is deceptively simple and very powerful, and it is a subcategory of this vast field of visual thinking that allows people to understand content, see information in new and creative ways and remember that information so they can act on it.SO ILL SHOW YOU A COUPLE OF SAMPLES OF GR SO YOU SEE WHAT THEY MIGHT LOOK LIKE, DEPENDING ON THE CONTENT.

Some graphic recording samples8You may have seen the relative size of these in the photos of how I work, but they are murals created for and with a group in order to either display information as a learning device or allow them to co-create information with me. This is a history chart for a nonprofit here in Austin and the image on the right is a values map co-created with the group.Graphic Recording of Jane McGonigal, Ph.D.SXSW Interactive 2008

This is a graphic recording from a SXSW keynote last year of Jane McGonigal, a virtual reality gamer and future forecaster. She is amazing.9City of Austin

And this is a GR from working with the City of Austin. For those of you who arent from here, thats City Hall. And because this chart represents a scan of their environment and the external factors effecting it, I thought it would be helpful to ground them in a sense of place as a basis for the discussion. So GR is a subset of the larger field of visual thinking, which is a broad and deep field that has loose boundaries but that is necessarily expanding in this age of information density. But a conversation around visual thinking naturally begs the question: what is it?

10What is visual thinking?

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

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blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Visual thinking can be devilishly difficult to pin down, but my working definition is that to think visually is to transform text-based or verbal information and knowledge into a meaningful visual display. Its that simple and can be that complicated. But however you define it, whats important is the undeniable fact that we, as human beings, are highly visual creatures. And just to make that point, Ill introduce you to three related facts:Nearly half of our cerebral cortex (The cerebral cortex is a structure within the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness) is dedicated to processing visual information.Another statistic that I love not only because of its content but because of the source (I got it out of a bible which I think is hilarious because as I was writing it down I couldnt help but acknowledge that bibles arent known as good sources of statistics) states that of the information we process through our senses, 83% of that information is processed visually. [About 11% is auditory or through hearing, and the remainder is roughly evenly divided among taste (1%), touch (1.5%), and olfactory/smell (3.5%).] But that is not an irrelevant percentage. That is wildly disproportionate when compared to our other senses and it gives us great insight into who we are.And the final bit of research that Id like to just throw out there is about something called the picture superiority effect which was studied by Paivio in the 70s and has been reinforced since, which states in a nutshell that pictures are generally remembered much better than words. And this sounds like a suggestion that we should all communicate in pictures, but Im using it to the point to the fact that since were obviously going to continue to use words and we need them, why not up the level of power in those words by juxtaposing them with pictures?BECAUSE HERE ARE SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF DOING SO.

11Benefits of Visual Thinking*Adapted from Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century by Robert E. Horn.

SUPPORTPROBLEMSOLVINGBUILD CONSENSUSINCREASECOMPREHENSION& INFORMATIONRETENTIONENHANCEDECISIONMAKINGSAVE HUMAN RESOURCES&CAPITALTELL ACOMPELLING STORY

12And here are some of the benefits of visual thinking AND I DID NOT GET THESE FROM THE BIBLE. Ive personally witnessed them working with dozens of groups and they are also supported by research that came out of Stanford via Professor Bob Horn and are published in a book called Visual Language. When you SHOW a people a picture of what theyre trying to understand, you make some of their implicit models of the world explicit and

So when you recognize the value of visual thinking, the immensity of our ability to process and interpret visuals, AND THE FACT THAT WE ARE LIVING IN AN INFORMATIONALLY-DENSE AGE it becomes ridiculous to acknowledge that we are failing to take advantage of that skill and that we are losing major opportunities to understand and communicate, particularly in areas where understanding and communicating information is part of the job, such as education and government, which Dan, Dave and Lee will discuss. So, as Dan eloquently stated it when we were talking the other day, we are on a mission from God to introduce visual thinking into areas of industry and our society where it matters the most.

And, lest you feel like you need artistic talent to engage in visual thinking, let me leave you with three examples, so you can be reassured that you, too, are capable of visual thinking.

Fun Facts about Visual LanguageSUPPORT PROBLEM SOLVINGProblems or issues presented to groups without graphic language resulted in a 45% positive solution rate with graphic language, that result jumped to 64%.* BUILD CONSENSUSWith no graphic language consensus was reached by 58% of groups. With graphic language, 79% of groups reach consensus.* INCREASE COMPREHENSIONGraphic language is persuasive. Presenters using visuals/graphics moved groups to a new understanding 17% more often than those not using visuals/graphics.* ENHANCE DECISION MAKINGIn a group shown information using graphic language, 64% made a decision immediately after the presentation.* SAVE HUMAN RESOURCES AND CAPITALGraphic language shortens meetings by as much as 24%, saving valuable resources like staff time, brain power and bottom-line dollars.*Explaining Managed Care

The first example comes from my friend Kate, who is a senior staffer for Senator Lucio in the Texas Legislature. Now, because Senator Lucios attention is divided and he has about 30 seconds to understand the complexities of policy that hes ultimately going to vote on to impact real peoples lives, my friend Kate regularly draws him pictures of whats important based on the lengthy documents he receives before he votes in Committee or on the Senate floor.13Causes of Traffic Accidents

thisisindexed.comI know you all thought that cell phones were responsible for traffic accidents, but let me be the first to liberate you from that myth. Its panties.14

How to Decide if you need a Panflute toothpastefordinner.comThis one makes very clear that under no circumstances should you own a panflute.15Just show me a freaking picture.

Quit hosing me down. dave graySo, in summary, in a world that is tangled in a gigantic hairball of information, please quit hosing me down. Just show me a freaking picture.16