A short blog about visual communication.

 
Last week a few colleagues and myself were having a conversation about how different people have different thinking styles; and the way that we all have preferences in how we best consume information. It became apparent quite quickly, that out of the group, my preference for visual communication was higher than most.
I suppose this is hardly surprisingly given the fact that my 1st career was as an Architect.. Whilst you might think that this was the foundation for my visual training, if I think back then it was evident long before starting my degree.
I remember as a child growing up I was fascinated by complex engineering drawings. Whilst I didn’t understand them I was simply intrigued that they were trying to convey information that I was yet to discover.
 

So what is visual communication?

Visual communication is the way in which we use diagrams, pictures, symbols or other graphical method or drawing to communicate (complex) ideas.

Visual communication is all around us. In many cases it’s how we understand and navigate the world in which we live. One simple example is that of a traditional analogue clock face. We interpret this to tell us the time in less than a second.
 
For depicting simple problems, the models or diagrams can be quite straightforward, but as a level of complexity increases then more and more training maybe required in order to understand the idiosyncrasies of the diagrams that are created.

Simple diagrams we are familiar with include the standard charts that you 
may create within products like Microsoft  Excel.
Eg; bar charts or pie charts.
 
Through these charts the end user is able to “quickly” ascertain information that may not be as apparent when simply viewing a complex table that contains only the numerical values.

Complex Visuals

For more complex problems like trying to decipher the design of a complex oil or gas production platform, the complex Process and Instrumentation diagrams (P&ID’s) show the items of equipment and the associated pipes and fittings that link these together.

Through subtle differences in the symbols used, all sorts of information about each fitting can be conveyed.
Fortunately for most of us we do not require this level of complexity in our day to day activities.
 

BPM

In my current field of work we convey complex information through the use of business process models (BPM). This allows us to capture and communicate the activities that businesses are undertaking in each of the day to day 

activities.
The model depicts the sequencing of these tasks, the metrics of each activity (including time and costs) as well as capturing the roles that are responsible for completing the activity. It also sequences the applications and information that are used.
The idea behind these models is that we start very simply and as more information becomes available we add this to the model. From this process we generate lots of conversation about the interpretation of these models and insights by simply slicing and dicing the information in different ways.
 

The fascinating thing for me personally is that the more information that we capture opens up more opportunity to explore how we make this information consumable, so we can gain further insights.
For those of you that would like to explore this a little more I would highly recommend that you have a look at “Information is Beautiful” by David McCandless or “Visualize This” by Nathan Yau.
I just love this stuff…