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Monday, December 10, 2007

Crash Course in Visual Thinking

Based on my post - VizThink and Visual Thinking - I've received quite a bit of input. If you've not really thought about the connections between visual representations and eLearning, it's likely worth going to the post and reading the comments.

If you've ever doubted the value of blogging, this to me has been an exceptional example of the value. I've had a few of the great minds in visual thinking helping me to understand:

a. how visual thinking relates to eLearning, and
b. how visual thinking can be learned.

I'm looking forward to a series of posts that Christine Martell is doing around learning to think visually. And Tom Crawford just did a post that points to some resources for getting started in visual thinking. Dave Gray just sent me a link to his Squidoo Lens. It has some great resources. Although he scares me a bit when he tells me:
Most of what I do comes down to pushing people off the cliff and making them dive in.
Very visual description yes. But with a small fear of heights ... :)

This is hopefully turning into a great introduction to how visual thinking can be learned.

Interestingly, Christine, Tom and Dave Gray from Xplane all point to Bob Horn's book as a great example. I'm a bit worried if that's the example. I'm even more worried when I went to Bob's web site. Dave Gray has always done incredible graphics that really help me to quickly understand a topic. Bob's web site violates a lot of what I would consider to be good design. Please, tell me that I won't think that's good design by the end of this crash course? I can't imagine that anyone thinks that good design?


Christine Martell said...

Nope, not good design in an attractive to look at it kind of way. Which is why his work gets a lot of criticism. He uses a lot of clip art, which we all know isn't the height of quality visuals. However, it is accessible. You can drag and drop it. You don't have to draw. You can create a Horn style visual in a matter of minutes.

I find to appreciate Bob's work, I have to isolate one small section of it at a time, and look at what he is showing me. The underlying information is solid.

When I am looking for a visual feast, I go to one of Tufte's books. Everything is beautiful, the paper is scrumptious, and the layouts are fantastic. And if I want to create something like I see there, I know I am in for a major time investment.

I don't know of an encyclopedic reference for the visual world. I don't know of one course, or one place you can go to learn it all, the knowledge is still pretty fragmented.

The fact that you noticed Horn's work has visual challenges is a sign that you really do know something about this world. I think those of us who recommend it anyway may agree with you, but have dug a bit deeper into it to find the jewels. We don't have a large base of literature to draw from, and it takes a huge time and economic investment to create visually based references.

I promise, you can learn about visual language and not lose your taste or ability to discern. As a matter of fact, I bet it will get better.

thcrawford said...

One of the goals of VizThink is to become that location where people can go to find out about Visual Thinking. The community itself will create the content (with support from VizThink wherever appropriate) and we'll point to it wherever it resides. That includes text, images, video, animations, books, web sites, wikis, blogs, resources, courses, workshops, conferences, and even e-learning about visual thinking.

In some cases, we'll also create our own as well. All of it will be on our wiki ( and our upcoming community site.

In other cases, it will be on other existing sites or locations. As an example, there are two books being written right now that will be of interest to the commuity. Jim Haudan from Root Learning is writing a book that demonstrates visualization throughout the corporate strategy development and deployment process, and Tom Wujec is writing a book that is an overview of the visual thinking industry (both styles and applications).

There's a lot of exciting things going on in the Visual Thinking space. If you want a jump start in all of these exciting things, the conference will be a great place to get you going.

Anonymous said...

I can tell that I come in late to this debate (coming from George Siemen's blog. However, the idea of visual thinking came to my attention this summer when I was teaching a course on computer supported writing across the curriculum. What I found was that the best "writers" had a very difficult time writing hypertext, whereas those who did not think of themselves as good writers, excelled at writing hypertext and integrating visual rhetoric into their written products.

I find most visual technology tools do not give me the freedom and creativity that I get when I just use paper and pencil. My daughter has learned to use the mouse to create figures and visuals, but I get too frustrated and more often than not, draw it and scan it for distribution. Until there is cheap, user friendly technology out there, I won't be using the computer for my visuals.

This leads me to the question of whether these visual thinking skills should not be taught at an earlier age, which would mean transforming our current educational system. I wonder if the most successful students coming out of the high schools will be the least successful at the universities and workplace because they have not been taught to develop their visual thinking skills. After all, what part of the curriculum teaches these skills? Art education which has been cut out of many programs, and mathematics and science, which is just beginning to integrate technology into its teaching.

Unknown said...

Hey Tony! A good friend of mine once told me "When in doubt between two courses of action, go towards the fear."


John Caswell said...

What is interesting to me is the rate at which the topic of visual thinking and the design aspect of it is gathering momentum. I have to confess to being so busy working with clients in application of my own form of visual thinking - Structured Visual Thinking - that I haven't got the time I would like to have to analyze more deeply why that may be.

However, my thinking has always been that its about inate human desire for understanding and meaning.

Greater design skills have always brought us sense making: great typefaces - easier reading, better buildings - happier people, better design - better usage and application.

In the main topic of visual thinking and e-learning therefore its a naturally more immersive and emergent truth that we can increase engagement and transfer of knowledge by the application of better design and to me better design is the pure form of visual thinking.

I will dig deeper into this blog it seems an excellent forum with great minds so thank you.


wslashjack said...

Though I did not see them all, the examples of work that were recently displayed at DevLearn 2007 did not stir me, from a graphics perspective.

And you hooked many of us, it seems, Tony, with the link to Horn's site. A dedicated person, like Christine, may dig to find the jewels, but good design displays the jewels.

Good graphics should hold no less importance than good writing or instructional design...don't you think? After all, the visual presentation is the first thing any learner has to respond to.