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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. It’s that simple and can be that complicated. But however you define it, what’s important is the undeniable fact that we, as human beings, are highly visual creatures. And just to make that point, I’ll 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 it’s 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 couldn’t help but acknowledge that bibles aren’t known as good sources of statistics) states that of the information we process through our senses, 83% (actually about ¾) 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 I’d 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 I’m using it to the point to the fact that since we’re 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?
And this is a GR from working with the City of Austin. For those of you who aren’t from here, that’s 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?
The first example comes from my friend Kate, who is a senior staffer for Senator Lucio in the Texas Legislature. Now, because Senator Lucio’s attention is divided and he has about 30 seconds to understand the complexities of policy that he’s ultimately going to vote on to impact real people’s lives, my friend Kate regularly draws him pictures of what’s important based on the lengthy documents he receives before he votes in Committee or on the Senate floor.
I know you all thought that cell phones were responsible for traffic accidents, but let me be the first to liberate you from that myth. It’s panties.
This one makes very clear that under no circumstances should you own a panflute.
So, 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.