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Visual thinking and graphical recording – the art of integrating images and words in business

Interesting principle…

I’m a visual person: I think, analyse, record and communicate in pictures! To me it is the most natural thing to do. But not everyone is like me. In business we need to be conscious of different learning/thinking/communication styles and this is our challenge in workshops, meetings and presentations.

Combining powerful imagery and words unleashes group creativity; encourages big picture thinking, breaks down complexity and virtually guarantees engagement!

“The language of symbols has no words but it can shout warnings, give instructions, direct traffic, and play cards. Without words it can speak in a hundred languages…all at once. Almost everyone understands it but no one speaks it." – Jan Adkins, Symbols: A Silent Language​

Explaining the concept…

Visual thinking and graphical recording is not just about drawing pictures. It is about capturing, recording and presenting information in a way that allows people to see patterns, to understand the relationships and to easily digest complex information.

This little exercise from ‘Visual Meetings – David Sibbet explains this concept beautifully:

  1. Put 4 or 5 beans at random on a plate and hold it high so a partner can’t see how many are on the plate.

  2. Then lower it and raise it quickly, giving your partner only a glance at the plate. At 4 to 5 beans everyone will immediately know how many beans.

  3. Now put 8 or 9 on the plate and you will see some variation. Some will say 7; some will say 8 and so on. Our brains cannot process more than about 6 or 7 bits of information at a time.

  4. Now organize the beans in clusters, you can put 16 or 10 on the plate and your partner will know at a glance.​

“We do not think in a linear, sequential way, yet every body of information that is given to us is given to us in a linear manner…we are taught to communicate in a way that is actually constricting our ability to think” Richard Saul Wuman, Information Anxiety

Applying the concept in business…

I use this approach in all aspects of my work: I use mind maps to analyse data and doodles to convey ideas in meetings. Without doubt these techniques are most powerful in workshops and presentations.

For any workshop that I facilitate, thinking about how the outputs of the workshop are presented is a critical part of the design process. Workshop design starts with the desired outcomes – what do the group need to walk away having achieved? Taking into account group dynamics and the culture of the team I design not only the exercises to encourage participation and creativity, but also the graphics and templates that will be used to capture and organise their thoughts and ideas and conclusions.

Big picture graphics allow the group to see the parts and the whole and notice the relationship between them.

For presentations it is about using powerful imagery that help to tell the story and convey key messages in a provocative, simple way. I try to avoid business jargon and acronyms and use pictures and symbols instead, combined with signposting in text and auditory to bring it to life.


You don’t have to be a “visual person” to understand the power of pictures in communication, everybody understands pictures, symbols and patterns. Applying this in our business world can only improve communication, break down barriers and encourage creativity!

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