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Thinking Visually

thinking visually
Visual thinking is not only a tool for designers, anyone can use it. Why not help increase your understanding, organise your thoughts and communicate a message clearly through drawing?

Why is Visual Thinking important?

There is more information at your fingertips than ever before but it has become overwhelming. Visual thinking can help overcome this.

Visual thinking is a way to organize your thoughts and improve your ability to think and communicate. It’s a great way to convey complex and potentially confusing information.

It’s also about using tools, such as pen and paper, index cards and software tools, to externalize your internal thinking processes. Making them clear, explicit and actionable.

It is not a tool specifically designed for marketers or designers as some may think. Instead, visual thinking comes in many different forms and chances are that you’re already using a few of them to help you organize your thoughts, either individually or as a team.

Many people I meet through my work are not in the habit of using visuals. They jump to their computers to take notes, but what if we all picked up a pen/pencil?


There are a few reasons why functional or visual thinking is overlooked:

1. The myth that you can only be born an artist

Drawing is a natural process for thinking, exploring ideas and learning. Every child enjoys drawing — but at some point in our lives, we learn that drawing is the province of artists. We begin to say things like “I’m no artist” or “I can’t draw anything”. This isn't true - you can draw.


2. Drawing is disruptive when learning in school

Doodling is seen as disrespectful and punishable in classrooms. But this is a misunderstanding - the majority of students are paying attention but choose to learn visually to better digest information.


3. Feeling uncomfortable drawing in the working environment

A tool like PowerPoint can limit the visual vocabulary to their pre-set library shapes, text, boxes etc. Instead, a good start would be to work outside of such programmes and use them as a secondary vehicle.


Functional drawing is not about being pretty or stylish. It comes down to 3 factors:

1. Developing your ideas and having a better understanding through exploration.
2. Improving the speed you create ideas or prototypes.
3. Increasing your ability to communicate. We process images 60% faster than text, and images can break down assumptions. Therefore, we learn quicker through visuals.


Visual thinking is a way of increasing your understanding, organizing your thoughts and communicating a message. Here are some ways to use visual thinking, and some tips on how to get the most out of them.

1. Brainstorming

Also known as mind maps or spider diagrams, they are probably the most popular form of visual thinking. Brainstorming is a way in which we can separate ideas into themes and see connections we had not seen before. While also coming up with new ideas as our eyes are able to scan the idea as a whole.

2. Doodles

Doodles are for people in all walks of life and are a great visual aid when learning about new concepts or trying to come up with new ones. Doodles can help us organize our thoughts in a meaningful way and remember information for much longer.

3. Roadmaps

Using maps in your visual thinking. We’ve probably all seen a company roadmap at some point or another. Maybe even one with doodles and a ‘you have reached your destination’ sign.

But this type of visualisation can be a great tool to force you and your team to make difficult decisions, and see if you’re taking on too much. Whether it’s a team building exercise, a wedding plan or a weekly team meeting: using a roadmap can ensure that you are literally on the right track with your ideas.

How to develop your practice

Whatever your project, pick up a pen and draw out your understanding. Whether using stick people or an intricate design, the importance is that you and others can achieve a shared understanding.


Useful Resources

How to be a master of visual thinking

Visual Thinking Workbook

Visual Thinking by BIS Publishers

Author: Ron Warmington