‘Visual thinking’ is asking people in companies to close their mouths, open their minds and draw on some age-old communication techniques long neglected in the rapid-fire age of technology. It relates to the notion that, sometimes, pictures speak louder than words.
Evidence is mounting that it’s making workplace exchanges more meaningful, and improving staff morale and customer engagement. While it may sound like an abstract concept, it’s being taken seriously by big corporations, many of which are investing significant time and money to find new, better and more honest ways to communicate with employees and clients.
Big Four professional services firm Deloitte is one that’s embraced visual thinking. It appointed graphic designer Shane Currey a couple of years ago as its chief visualiser and storyteller to lead the company through these unchartered waters.
BWD asked Shane to reveal more about what it all means in practice. We visited him in the firm’s ‘Source’ space, an environment that aims to encourage creative thinking which has whiteboard-panelled walls, pads of drawing paper and colourful easy chairs, to find out what the excitement was about.
Visual thinking takes advantage of our innate ability to ‘see’ – with our eyes and our mind’s eye, explains Shane – to uncover ideas and concepts that would otherwise be invisible and share them.
“In business, visual thinking is about removing corporate-speak and going back to the basics of human communication, which involves not only words but pictures, drawings, sounds, colours and shapes,” he says.
It’s a more effective way of drawing out information from a traditional office exchange, because it removes the ‘cultural complexities’ and obstacles often associated with spoken and written language.
We already know that pictures, diagrams and data visualisation in the form of infographics have become valuable tools in corporate storytelling. “But communicating in pictures can help draw out a story that perhaps no one realised should be told, and it provides for a much more candid and interesting exchange.”
A prime example of this process at work is to invite someone to answer questions in relation to work projects and by selecting pictures laid out in front of them that cover every possibility ‘and represent the full spectrum of human emotions’. The results can be powerful, Shane says.
Another example is to ask someone to explain their role in an organisation. Normally they might respond with their job title followed by a few words explaining what that means. Requiring them to select a visual interpretation of what they do from a range of pictures, or to depict their role through a series of drawings, can reveal new and valuable insights into how they view their place in the organisation.
When engaging with clients, this approach can be effective at briefing and problem exploration phases and when recommending action.
BWD believes the possibilities are intriguing. At the very least, the opportunity to avoid written briefs appeals to us. Embracing a more visual approach can allow us to be more creative in client briefing and problem-solving, generating even better communication results for clients and allowing everyone to have a bit more fun at the same time.