Friday, February 29, 2008

Visual Thinking Taxonomy Concept Map V2

I spent some time the last couple of days looking for definitions of the items I had listed as "disciplines" in version 1 of my concept map. Specifically, I was looking into data visualization, information visualization, scientific visualization, information graphics and information design. There seems to be a whole lot of overlap and/or fuzzy boundaries amongst these terms. So, I revised the concept map to just include bucket of things that I like to think of as disciplines.

I also, added another bucket - styles. This was Tom Crawford's idea and I think it makes sense. I also went through the VizThink Conference Content diagram and pulled out the things that felt more like applications to me. They're represented in an applications bucket at the top right of the concept map. I really think the list of items in the applications bucket is virtually limitless though so I don't think it's realistic to try to capture everything that visual thinking could be applied to.

On the bottom right side of the map is where the Tools and Methods bucket goes. There's a ton of those and I thought the best place to start would be the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods from Visual Literacy. It's a good start but somehow I can't believe that it's comprehensive.

Another thought occurred to me in considering the disciplines. I think there are varying levels of "disciplineness." For example, information graphics and graphic design just feel like much more established disciplines than say graphic recording or graphic facilitation. I think there's perhaps a spectrum in the disciplines ranging from nascent and emerging to established. It seems like disciplines might be born from methods. Think about mind mapping. It started out in the 60s, started by Tony Busan (I think), but it has become common and pervasive enough that it's emerging as a discipline.

That begs the question, how do you know when something has evolved from just a method or tool into a discipline? My working hypothesis on this is that when a method becomes pervasive enough that people actually make a living doing just that thing, maybe it has evolved into a discipline. There's probably flaws with that rule of thumb and it's a bit fuzzy, but for now I'm somewhat satisfied with it.

It's also come to my attention that some people are going to resist the idea of categorizing like I'm attempting to do. They don't want to feel like they're pigeon-holed into a particular box. I can understand this to a degree, but the idea is to categorize the concepts, not the people who do them them. It's perfectly fine for a person to perform multiple disciplines have multiple styles and use various methods. I could easily see someone being a practitioner of the cartooning discipline as well as the information graphics discipline, for example.

I think in order for visual thinking to become more accepted in the business community it needs to be more concrete and better defined. It's human nature to recognize patterns and to classify and categorize and it helps us learn. And, as with so many things, the learning process that one goes through in an exercise like this is more valuable than the end result itself.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Cool Data Visualization Mind Maps

Last night I was googling and checking out web sites about data visualization. Tons of really cool data visualization stuff out there that I'll have to blog about in another post. But one of the most intriguing to me was the Web Trends mind map from Information Architects. I've seen this covered already on a few other visual thinking blogs, but I think it's cool enough to mention it again.

Visit the Web Trends map here

You can download various size, print out a big poster size or they even have it as a web page. They've been doing this for a few years ago. Personally I think I like last year's version a little better. Not quite as clean, but less data and easier to read.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Concept Diagrams

Last night I learned that the way I was trying to represent my idea of a visual thinking taxonomy was called a Concept Map. I had thought that a mind map would work and had started one in SpinScape, hoping to get some collaboration on it. Sadly, the collaboration hasn't really happened. And, I was really wanting to annotate the relationships between the entities in the diagram, which I couldn't see that I could do in SpinScape - maybe you can, I just didnt' see it.

I've used Entity Relationship Diagrams in the past and that was really what I was wanting to do. I showed a sketch to my wife and she replied, "Oh, that's a concept map. There's a free concept mapping tool you can download that you could do that in and I've got some information about concept maps on my web site." My wife has a lot more time and experience in the visual thinking world than I do.

So, I found the software last night, from CMap Tools, downloaded and it installed it. Didn't even get a chance to open it up and play with it until about 20 minutes ago. So far I like it. I'm not one to read user manuals unless I absolutely have to so I just began clicking around. It's pretty intuitive. Within about 15 minutes, I had the following concept map of my idea of a visual thinking taxonomy.
It's still a work in progress (both the concept map and the taxonomy). I'd like to identify more of what I'm calling the disciplines of visual thinking and then start in on defining the methods and tools used. I don't know about anyone else, but understanding how all these various components of visual thinking relate will help me understand it better. And I think it could be useful to explain to those who are new to the idea of visual thinking. Any suggestions or comments on the taxonomy are welcome.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Napkin Sketches 101

I came across this great little article titled Napkin Sketches 101 from ThoughtForm. Nine tips to make better napkin sketches. Great stuff! Makes me want to grab a pile of napkins and start drawing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Online Video Explanations - Take Two

I got a little more time to work on my online video explanation project this weekend. In Take One, I created a mind map of the ideas and elements that I wanted to include and started on a script. Over the last week or so I spent some time here and there editing the script. The next step in the Common Craft process is to storyboard the video, so that was my focus this weekend.

One of the constraints in the approach is to limit the number of scenes to less than 20. So, I created a simple storyboard template in Photoshop of 10 little boxes for the visual component and space underneath each for the script. This was based on the storyboard templates that Lee and Sachi LeFever used in their VizThink session. So, I ended up with two pages for all my storyboarding. As you can see in the photos of them below, I've still got some empty boxes.

Page 1...

Page 2 ...

I'm not sure any of that will make sense to anybody but me, especially given my sloppy handwriting and amateurish drawing skills. I've obviously still got a bit more work to do to come up with visual ideas for a few of the boxes, but I've had some ideas on some of them since scanning these.

The next step will be to go into production mode. I've already started thinking about how I'm going to do each scene. I think I mentioned in the last post about this that I don't plan to use the "paperworks" approach that Lee and Sachi use. I'd like to try a digital version of that, using tools like Adobe Photoshop and Flash and a screen capture tool called iShowU. The whole thing could be done in Flash, which would be an excellent tool to use if I wanted to do a highly polished and refined version. But, I want to keep the production time down so I'm willing to sacrifice a bit on production values. What will be interesting to see is if that sacrifice turns out making it just look really cheesy or if it ends up being similar to the lighthearted and fun but educational style of the CommonCraft productions but digital. As a side note, I don't think I'll try to mimic the "booos" and "yeaahs" that they do. It works for them because that's who they are. I don't think it would work for me. In fact, I think a lesson to learn in this process will be like any writing or artistic endeavor - finding your own voice and style.

Regardless of the outcome it should be fun to work on and I'm hoping I'll get the chance to start on some of it this week. Realistically though, I'm guessing that it's going to take at least 20 hours for the production phase so I doubt I'll have it available for show and tell here very soon. But, I definitely do plan to show it here once I've got it complete.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Scientific Visualization Example

Another discipline of visual thinking that I think is really cool is scientific visualizations. I'm on the Apple RSS feed and that had a cool article about scientific visualizations being done at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). The article is essentially a Mac promotion piece, but it has some interesting observations about visualization. The AMNH executive producer states that they view themselves as "translators for the public." I like that concept, using visual explanations to translate complex data into understandable messages.

The article also has a link to the AMNHs website to the arctic sea ice visualization video. Pretty powerful method of communicating. Reminds me of some of the examples in Tom Wujac's VizThink presentation New Technologies in Visual Thinking (way down near the bottom of the page you can see the video of this presentation).

Thursday, February 21, 2008


It's becoming painfully obvious to me how ignorant I am about the visual thinking world. Searching for terms about mapping information space I've come across all sorts of terms I wasn't aware of that relate somehow to what I'm looking for but don't seem to quite characterize it exactly; cybercartography, data visualization, information visualization, to name a few. More and more I'm wanting to find a concise overview of all terms and definitions related to visual thinking - a visual thinking taxonomy.

I've found bits and pieces and attempts at it. The Conference Topics image on the VizThink home page looks like it was an attempt to capture some of the concepts related to visual thinking. To me, this graphic seems to be about defining what you can apply visual thinking to. Ok. Great. That's important. That's one way to classify the visual thinking world.

I've also found visual definitions of methods of visual thinking. The Periodic Table of Visualization Methods at Visual Literacy is a pretty nifty interactive visual. Another nice piece of the puzzle.

There's another perspective of the visual thinking landscape that I'd like to see though and that's a kind of taxonomy of the disciplines that fall under the visual thinking umbrella. The closest metaphor I can think of is of engineering. In engineering, there are several disciplines; mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering, etc. All of them use the language and tools of physics and math, but they all deal in different (though often overlapping) realms.

What would a similar taxonomy of visual thinking disciplines look like. Brainstorming last night, I came up with the following so far: information graphics, data visualization, information visualization, mind mapping, graphic design, graphic facilitation, graphic recording, cartooning, animation ... I know there are more, but my ignorance is getting in the way.

Hmm. Creating relationships, and groups and hierarchies among all these things related to visual thinking seems like a job for some kind of visualization method. Since seeing the SpinScape demo at VizThink, I've been wanting to come up with a mind mapping project to try out in SpinScape. Why not try this. So, if you were at VizThink and got the SpinScape closed beta pass and want to help define this structure, log into SpinScape and contribute to my Visual Thinking Taxonomy map. It's just a rough draft at the moment. Feel free to add, move, rearrange, etc.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Surveying the Information Space Mapping Terrain

Following Monday's blog post, I spent some time reviewing the websites that I linked to and exploring a little more. I was a bit disappointed with what I found exploring the Cybercartography thread. It seems to be very closely tied to real world geography, which is all well and good, but not what I'm looking for.

The Atlas of Cyberspace has some examples that seem to more closely match the kind of thing that's intriguing me. Particular examples include the "ET-Map" - a multi-level category map of the information space of over 100,000 entertainment related Web pages listed by Yahoo!, Kartoo, and WebMap.

What these have in common is that they map, or maybe chart is a better term, non-geographic things, relationships of data and information. (I'm beginning to think that map is probably the wrong term to use with this concept, since the term map is so closely tied to representations of geographic space like the earth, moon or sky).

If you're having trouble understanding what the hell I'm rambling on about and trying to discover, well, so am I. But, my wife sent me a link to an article that's maybe the best example so far of the type of visual depiction of information that's intriguing me and that I'm trying to find examples of.

On the Boxes and Arrows website there's an article titled, "A Map-based Approach to Content Inventory," by Patrick Walsh. Patrick needed to visually depict the content of his Intranet. Understanding the content and relationships between content was getting unwieldy. A perfect opportunity for a visual thinking graphic. What Patrick came up with was a map-based representation of his Intranet. The map is based on subway style maps showing nodes and connections. Aha! It's mapping and it's mapping an information space. There's really no geography associated with it. It's just information. So, if you're at all interested in this thing I'm calling mapping information space, check out this article. If you've seen any examples similar to this, it would be great to get some feedback. Just post a comment to this blog.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mapping Information Space

At the recent VizThink conference, I attended a couple of breakout sessions on mapping; Bruce Daniel's "VizMaps: An Alternate Approach to Describing Where" and John Grimwade's "Mapping the Possibilities."

At the time, I wasn't really sure what attracted me to these two mapping sessions, but reflecting upon it now, I think I was hoping that one or both might delve into the realms of non-real world mapping. I was having a tough time putting my finger on what that meant, what my expectations from these sessions had been, and what more I wanted out of them and it occurred to me that what I was after was something I'll call Mapping Information Space.

I've been working in computers as either a computer systems analyst, programmer or web developer since 1994 and over those years I've dealt with the design of computer systems and had to "map" data and information flow, processes, interactions between user and system, etc. Most of these have had at least some visual explanation component to them.

In all those years I was making diagrams of information flow, human-computer interactions, and what-not, I never really considered it to be mapping. But now that this vague concept has been forming in my brain since VizThink, I think that's exactly the right term. So, in an effort to try to discover the information space mapping terrain, I want to do some research on the subject and document it here in this blog. And, who knows, maybe I'll be able to find out enough and find enough experts and interest to recommend it as a topic of VizThink '09.

To start things out, I Googled the words mapping information space. This resulted in 21,900,000 results. One of the first on the results page is this site called, An Atlas of Cyberspace. I've only skimmed it a bit so far, but looks like interesting stuff.

Another of the results I found is a book titled, "Cybercartography Theory and Practice." It appears to define cybercartography as "a new paradigm for maps and mapping in the information era. Defined as 'the organization, presentation, analysis and communication of spatially referenced information on a wide variety of topics of interest to society...' " Hmm. Looks like cybercartography might the the 'official' term for what I'm looking for. There's even a Wikipedia entry for it.

Ok. Enough for now. Time to go exploring and see what else I can find.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Online Video Explanations - Take One

Finally got some time this weekend to get back to getting "vizzy." I came away from VizThink '08 with a long list of visual thinking projects I wanted to get working on. One was online video explanations, inspired by Lee and Sachi LeFever's breakout session. I brainstormed a list of potential subjects to do and decided on one. I thought it would be interesting to try to follow Lee and Sachi's process and post the progress of that here.

The first step I wanted to do was to develop an outline of the first video project. So, I grabbed a pad of paper and headed out to the lanai to work in the sunshine and get away from the computer. My first inclination was to make a bulleted list outline. But then it struck me. Hey, I should do this in visual language. So, I reconsidered my approach and opted to outline my ideas in a mind map.

Before getting to the mind map that I came up with, I should preface it with a disclaimer. I don't claim to be very literate in mind mapping. I only know about it through my wife who does it quite extensively. So, I'm sure this doesn't jive with the International Mind Mapping Standards Institute rules of mind mapping, but it was useful for me to get my ideas down on paper. And, I like it a lot more than just a bulleted list. So,without further ado, I present my mind map of my first online video explanation project.

Getting all that down on paper helped to crystallize some thoughts. I realized immediately that I will probably have to break this topic up into a couple of different videos. But, I took a stab at starting a script anyway. I'm not going to share the script here, since I wrote it out by hand in a notebook and I don't want to transcribe it into the computer. Too laborious and it's just text after all.

My next step will be to go through and revise and edit the script. That's probably going to take a few iterations. Once it feels like the script is close, I'll move into the storyboarding phase. My plan is to do that by had on paper and share that here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Too Busy to Get Vizzy

Wow. It's been over two weeks since VizThink. My goal was to stay involved with visual thinking every day. Sadly, I've been too busy to get "vizzy," (my nickname for getting involved with visual thinking). Lots of stuff I want to pursue; some book reviews, comments on the VizThink site, thoughts on visual explanations, online videos, visually mapping information space, and more. Hopefully with a three day weekend I'll have a chance to work on some of that. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mapping the Possibilities

For Tuesday afternoon's breakout session, I attended John Grimwade's "Mapping the Possibilities." I arrived early while John was still setting up and testing. He expressed relief that someone had shown up for his session and echoed that each time a few more people entered. He needn't have worried as his session was pretty full.

The majority of John's session was a multimedia showcase of some of his wayfinding graphics with lots of explanations and stories accompanying them. Pretty interesting stories and I was impressed with the clarity of John's portfolio, of both wayfinding graphics as well as information graphics.

While I don't have a lot of notes of John's session, I have to credit John with driving home a concept that Lee and Sachi LeFever had mentioned. I had noted it in there session, but John's examples and discussion cemented the lesson. That lesson is, to distill the message down to the really important stuff, the essence. Boiling or distilling it down to the essentials was such an important lesson for me that it was what I put on the second 3 x 5 card in our final exercise of the general session.

Toward the end of John's session he suggested a hand's on (or maybe feet-on would be a better description) exercise of walking from a hotel room back to the classroom and developing a wayfinding graphic for that. I thought that sounded like a great idea, but I was so tired that I opted to wayfind myself to my own room and take a nap.

Regardless, fine job John! Thanks for distilling it down to the essence!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Solving Explanation Problems with Simple Online Videos

By far the session I was looking forward to most was Lee and Sachi LeFever's, "Solving Explanation Problems with Simple Online Videos ." Sometime back before VizThink when I was checking out the sessions, I checked their CommonCraft website and watched some of their videos. Absolutely Brilliant! If you haven't checked out any of their simple online video explanations, go to their website and check them out.

I had a feeling this session would be popular so I headed up early after lunch. Good thing I did since their session got packed. They've got a review of VizThink plus a couple of photos from their session on their blog.

Lee did the majority of the speaking and explaining in the session and started out with a bit of a background into how they got started. Basically, he had an "aha" moment while sitting though a presentation where some guy mentioned RSS. Someone asked what RSS was to which the guy replied in arcane tech-speak. Lee realized that while what the presenter answered was correct, it didn't help the questioner understand. There was a disparity between what was heard and what matters.

Lee mentioned the concept of the "Curse of Knowledge" from Chip and Dean Heath's book, "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die." In essence this means, that with so much knowledge, a lot of experts give overwhelming amounts of information in explanations and if someone doesn't "get it" they just pile on more information.

All of this was a prelude to the discussion of the elements of explanations as Lee and Sachi incorporate in their online videos. These elements of explanation, I think, are probably the key to Lee and Sachi's success and I think are also applicable to other mediums of visual communication such as drawing. By focusing on the explanation and the story rather than the video or the drawing, you're able to distill the message down to it's essentials and in the end, communicate better.

In discussing the elements of explanation we discovered a process and several constraints that make their work successful. The first step of the process (as I understand it) is to identify the "Big Idea." This is the theme or the big problem that is going to be explained.

Next step is to identify the "Why should I care?" from the viewers perspective. Show the pain that is caused by the problem. In their RSS video example, they show the pain of having to go out to a bunch of your favorite websites and look to see if there is anything new. This the pain. This is where the "booooo" comes in. Other elements, show real world examples, show relief, show results. Match up what is heard and what matters.

After they've identified these elements of explanation, they next set about to write the script. They "create a linear experience" with their scripts and try to limit them to about 20 sentences.
After scripting, they move into the storyboarding phase, sketching out the scenes in little boxes on paper, limiting it to 12 scenes/slides maximum.

Only after all this is done do they move into video production mode where they use drawings and paper cut outs to "act out" the script and storyboard. They've imposed constraints on themselves here too; using simple characters, no faces are used (maybe a smile or frown, but no eyes and nose), focus on simplicity, take away all noise focusing on the big idea, no music is used and the time limit on the final edited video is 3 - 4 minutes.

They've got a simple set up, with a video camera and tripod aimed at their "stage" on the floor, using construction lights from Home Depot for lighting. Editing is done on their Mac using Final Cut Express.

After explaining this process, they introduced the hands-on activity which was for each table to identify a problem, develop the explanation elements, write a script and then a storyboard. I think the table I was at didn't get a solid enough focus on the big idea and concept and we subsequently stumbled in the script and storyboard. To, me that proved the point that you really need to have a solid, concise concept and idea before proceeding.

At the end of the session, several tables got up and acted out their storyboard, holding up their individual storyboards as they read through their script. Some did a great job and the audience joined in with "boooos" and "yeaaahhhs" where appropriate.

So, a really fun, interesting and informative session. I came away from it convinced that I need to incorporate some simple online video explanations in my work and feel that I have the basic knowledge to do it. The challenge I face is forcing myself to take the time to do it. I'm a freelance web developer and I find that I'm constantly having to explain certain things over and over again to clients, like how search engines "see" web pages and optimizing web sites for search engines. So, that will be the basic concept, the "big idea" around which I'll do my first video. Might be good fodder for this blog as I go through Lee and Sachi's process to share each stage. We'll see. Regardless of how it comes out, kudos to Lee and Sachi for a great session. Thanks guys!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

VizMaps: An Alternate Approach to Describing Where

My Monday afternoon session was Bruce Daniel's VizMaps: An Alternate Approach to Describing Where. I'm not sure why I chose this session since I don't do any map-making, perhaps because I've always loved looking at maps. Regardless, it turned out to be a fun and informative session and I'm glad I went.

Reviewing the session page on the VizThink site it looks like Brandy has already provided a short overview of the session. But I'll add a little to clarify.

Prior to walking us through the hands-on activity, Bruce recounted to us an experience where his grandmother (I think) drew him a very simple map to get from her house to a train or metro station. The map had no words, only a few icons signifying relevant things along the way such a stop sign, a McDonalds, train tracks. This turned out to be an epiphany of sorts for Bruce and the inspiration for the subsequent exercise.

To start out our activity Bruce had each of select a to and from location then close our eyes and visualize the journey from point A to point B, taking special care to notice details like color, texture, even smells. From there we drew our maps. My map below is my attempt at vizmap from home to the beach, passing stop lights, a high-school football stadium, driving through sugar cane fields, past K-mart, past a pond of brackish water, driving near the airport and arriving at the beach.

After drawing this map, we each teamed up to show our map to a fellow student. In doing so, we all inevitably found errors or things we'd change.

It was a fun exercise and I think illustrated or reinforced visual thinking as a tool in describing how to get from one place to another. We don't need lots of irrelevant, satellite-level details, only the path that is relevant to our goal.

Thanks Bruce!

VizThink General Session Videos Posted

Videos of the general sessions at VizThink08 have just been posted on the VizThink website.

Monday Morning General Session

Monday Afternoon General Session

Tuesday Morning General Session

Tuesday Afternoon General Session

Since these are posted it doesn't make much sense for me to blog about those. I'll try to get a blog about my Monday afternoon breakout session posted later today or tonight though.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Business Problems with Pictures

For the Monday morning breakout session I chose Dan Roam's "The Back of the Napkin: Solving Business Problems with Pictures." This turned out to be a well-attended, lively, active session. The hook for this session was, you're in the airport lounge after VizThink and someone asks why you're in San Francisco. What do you tell them, or better yet, what do you draw. Through a set of hands-on drawing, anecdotes and stories, Dan laid out for us a visual communication tool set to tackle visual communication scenarios.

Appropriate to the title of the session, as well as Dan's forthcoming book, Dan distributed napkins to all the tables in the room, with the intent that we would be drawing on them. Our first exercise was a self-assessment of five questions intended to rank ourselves on a continuum of how "visual" we are. For example, the first question was, "I'm in a brainstorming session in a conference room that has a big whiteboard. I want to:"

1. Go to the board, pick up a pen and start drawing circles and boxes.
2. Try to decipher whatever is already on the board.
3. Go to the board and start writing categorized lists.
4. Add a little clarification to what's already up there - you know, to make it clearer.
5. Forget the whiteboard - come on here, people, we have work to do!
6. I hate brainstorming sessions.

After the answering all the questions we summed up the answers to rank ourselves on a scale from a "Hand me the Pen!" kind of a person on the left end of the spectrum to "I can't draw, but..." in the middle of the spectrum, to "I'm not visual" on the far right.

Dan made a point that a lot of executives he works with fall on the right side of the continuum, but they have some great insight and can often add great clarity to visuals.

By the way, I'd love to copy the hand outs with all the questions from this exercise, but it is copyrighted so I'll try to just summarize and point you to Dan's book, which I'm looking forward to getting.

From there we moved on to the next exercise, discovering our tool set. Time to draw on napkins. After trying to draw on the napkin however, I found that they don't take the ink very well so I outlined a napkin on my VizThink pad of paper and used that instead. Below is the result of what we ended up drawing, I'll explain the process below.

First step is to get over the stigma of having a blank sheet by drawing the little smiley face in the top corner and the "My Problem" in the bottom left. Next was to draw the outline of the Swiss Army Knife that you see in the middle of the page. The remainder of the session would be to explain the various blades (tools) we have available to us to solve business problems with pictures.

Here's where I really wish I had taken better notes. But I'm banking on a lot of this being in Dan's book. The first three tools available to us is the set at the top. These are our eyes, to see the problem, our mind's eye to visualize, and our hands to draw.

Using these three tools we get the next four tools, to Look at what is out there, to See things like emerging patterns to Imagine how those patterns might be manipulated and to Show what we See and Imagine.

Next up in the tool set, five focusing questions. This is the corkscrew at the bottom of the knife with the unruly acronym, SQVID (Simple, Quality, Vision, Individual and Change (think of the Greek letter delta which signifies change to get the D)). The explanation of this tool set will be the most challenging to describe - it was very visual and I can't remember all the elements. But here goes:

Imagine you're walking on a tropical beach in the south Pacific where the islanders are very friendly but don't speak English. You see an islander walking your way and as you pass, he greets you and offers you a strange-looking fruit you've never seen before and invites you to eat (I immediately thought of Rambutan).
You try the fruit and it's delicious and you want to communicate your favorite fruit - an apple. You happen to have your sketch book with you. What do you draw to visually communicate the apple experience to your islander friend?

First, you draw an apple:

Hmm, not good enough, he needs to see that apples come from trees:

Nope. Still not good enough, he needs to see that apple trees are in orchards:

In these three sketches, we've drawn a qualitative representation of the apple from a simple single apple to more elaborate set of apples in an orchard. This is the S of our SQVID corkscrew. (Stay with me here, this will lead into the last set of tools - the five focusing questions - that are the last set of tools on our Swiss Army knife).

But we realize that we're still not really communicating the apple experience, even with these visuals. Here's where I'm forgetting a few more examples that Dan led us through. Another set of visuals aim to represent the quality vs quantity dimension - the Q of our SQVID.

Another set of visuals represents the Vision vs Execution - the V. This is one I remember. What if we wanted to envision the ultimate experience of an apple. To me, that would be apple pie. I'm sure all apples out there aspire to be part of an apple pie. (For Dan's exercise we used the example of a caramel apple - but I think that pales to the apple nirvana of apple pie). Anyway, so you could draw an apple pie to show your friend the ultimate vision of apple-ness:

But wait. That doesn't communicate anything about how to make an apple pie, so we might draw out some diagrams and flow charts of the apple pie making process - the execution of the vision.

Hopefully you're getting the idea. There are multiple dimensions or facets about problems that dictate how we communicate visually about that problem. And the nature of what we see as the problem will naturally dictate the best ways to show, aka communicate visually.

1. If what we see is a "who/what", a qualitative representation such as a portrait is appropriate.

2. If what we see is a "how much" kind of thing, that's a quantitative representation and is best shown with charts.

3. If what we see is a "where" kind of problem, use a map.

4. If it's a "when" kind of issue, a timeline is appropriate.

5. If it's a "how" issue - a flowchart would be good.

6. If it's a "why" issue, it's an issue of deduction and prediction and maybe a multi-variable plot would be best.

So, if you haven't already picked up on it, this is describing our last set of tools on our Swiss Army knife, the old "who, what, when, why, where and how," that we all learned in grade school.

That's the essence of it. At the end of the session Dan provided some examples of real world messy business problems for real world companies that he's solved problems for with pictures. Issues like global warming, product design, globalization.

In my opinion Dan did a fantastic job. I'm just sorry I can't do it justice with this summary. I'll definitely be getting Dan's book, The Back of the Napkin, when it comes out. Maybe I'll do a book review here. If you want more information about Dan, check out his website,

Monday, February 4, 2008

Bob Horn Interview

Here's a photo of Bob Horn being interviewed by Nancy Duarte and Cliff Atkinson. Thanks to my wife Karen for providing the photo.

Karen also did a simple quick mind map of the interview. Here's that:

Dave Gray General Session

Here's more details on the Dave Gray drawing exercise in the Monday morning general session.

Monday Morning General Session

So, picking up where I left off with the last post - summarizing the sessions. First up, Monday morning general session. My first inclination was to just write about what happened. But wait! I'm supposed to be trying to re-awaken my inner visual thinker. So, I better do some drawing. Here we go...

The top half of this image shows what I'm calling the "Tom Crawford Table Scramble." Just as everyone had sat down and quieted down in the first sesion, Tom reminded everyone that one of the main purposes of the conference was to network. So, he asked everyone to get up and relocate to a new table and introduce themselves to their new table mates. Now, being a consummate introvert, I cringed at this. But at least my wife Karen (also an introvert) was with me.

A few minutes later, once everyone had done this and settled down again, he did again! Get up. Relocate. Reintroduce. Now, I have to say I appreciate the effort he was making, but the introvert in me was starting to get pretty annoyed. There's gotta be a better way. There needs to be special "Networking for Introverts" exercise for those of us who aren't really comfortable with the socializing. Anyway, enough of that.

Next on the agenda was Dave Gray's presentation which is represented in the bottom half of the image above. Dave's argument was that any 5 year old can draw. We were all 5 year olds at some point, therefore we can all draw.

To demonstrate, he led everyone through drawing some simple building blocks of drawings, which are shown in the drawing above. Then he had as draw (or attempt to in my case) a baseball player at bat. Then he discussed the concept of "Egyptian Perspective" where things don't have to be drawn to correct perspective for our brains to "get it." We can draw the top of a table, draw legs of the table from side view and draw items on the table as if from side view. It won't be a work of art, but it will be able to communicate the intent.

Next up was the Bob Horn interview with Cliff and Nancy.

Though it was an interesting discussion, sadly I didn't take any notes. I'll see if I can find any better coverage of that and link to it if I can.

The last activity of the morning session was to have everyone pick an everyday item you'd find in store. The idea was to start assembling a visual language library of objects. Matt Homan from Xplane led the activity and drew an example of a blender. Being the incredibly creative person I am, I could think of nothing else to draw, but a blender. So, there's my blender.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

VizThink Summary

By the second day of VizThink, my brain was already overloaded with new information and I found myself confusing elements of different sessions. How can I remember what's happened and keep it all sorted out? What better way than with a kind of graphical summary of the sessions I attended. So, Tuesday evening I sat down to visually map that out. Here's the result:

In addition to general sessions, there were 2 break out periods each day, each with about 8 different sessions to choose from. My choices for breakout sessions were:

Monday Morning: "The Back of the Napking: Solving Business Problems with Pictures" with Dan Roam.

Monday Afternoon: "VizMaps: An Alternate Approach to Describing Where" - with Bruce Daniel

Tuesday Morning: "Solving Explanation Problems with Simple Online Videos" - with Lee and Sachi LeFever

Tuesday Afternoon: "Mapping the Possibilities" - John Grimwade

Over the next few blog posts, I'll go into more detail about each session - both general and breakout.

VizThink 2008

Just got back from the VizThink conference a few days ago and trying to figure out what's next. My original intent in going was to see if I could pick up some visual communication tips for websites (I'm a freelance web developer). I wasn't sure what to expect from the conference, but something happened that I really wasn't expecting.

The energy level was pretty high as 390+ visual thinkers congregated to learn, grow and share visual learning and communication techniques. What I wasn't expecting was that beginning on the first morning, the conference awakened the long-dormant visual communication inclination in me. After two packed days of general sessions and break-out sessions I found myself energized with the goal of trying to incorporate visual thinking and visual communication into what I do.

In the last general session on Tuesday, Matt Homann from XPLANE, led an exercise where he had everybody respond to three questions: 1) Why am I here? 2) What have I learned? 3) What am I going to do next? He asked that everyone answer in a pseudo-haiku of 5-7-5 words ( I thought a true haiku doing 5-7-5 syllables would have been more interesting, but ...) Anyway, here's my responses written down on 3x5 cards:

Now that I've been back home for a few days, I'm still trying to figure out #3, how to apply. The main idea I've had so far is that I need to try to keep the "VizThink Buzz" alive by doing something with it daily. Being a web guy and a blogger, the only idea I've been able to come up with so far is to blog about it. This blog is the result.

So, my intent over the next few posts is to write some blog articles about some of the sessions I attended, hoping that will keep the spark alive.