Sunday, March 2, 2008

Visual Thinking: Evolution or Revolution?

A comment in the last post got me thinking about how the different disciplines in visual thinking may have evolved over time and it occurred to me that certain disciplines probably emerged, or at least gained more prominence, from certain industries.

For example, I was thinking about graphic design. According to Wikipedia, graphic design has been around for centuries. But I can't help but think that graphic design as a community of practice, aka discipline, really gained prominence with the emergence of marketing and PR (I could be way off base on this and someone correct me if I am). Similarly, I wonder if we could attribute the rise in acceptance of infographics to the journalism industry. I think similar extrapolations could be made of other industries; science, engineering, computing. These are all examples of visual thinking mapped to certain industries.

As I was going through this mental exercise, I happened to revisit Dan Roam's website. Right there on Dan's home page he asks the question, "So what about visual thinking for business?" He goes on to assert that the business world is behind in visual thinking.

So, I thought a pseudo-time line of how visual thinking disciplines have emerged from certain industries would be interesting. The result is below. (Sorry about the poor quality, my scanner broke so I'm just getting by snapping photos of my doodles).
I should point out that I didn't try to accurately portray the order that each particular industry/discipline emerged. It's essentially a napkin sketch without consulting any references. The graphic is merely trying to show that in the realm of business, visual thinking has probably lagged behind other industries in terms of cultural acceptance, cultural awareness and size of the community of practice.

While it's true that visual thinking has been used within the business world for years or even decades, it seems that now it is starting to gain more publicity and acceptance. Before going to VizThink '08 I was a little perplexed by the preponderance of breakout sessions related to things like strategy, planning and organizing. In fact, I don't think I "got it" until just today. The reason is, is that the trend and excitement and buzz everyone was talking about at VizThink is all about visual thinking applied to the business world. Whether it's merely the evolution of visual thinking or a revolution remains to be seen.

Regardless which, it's been interesting to notice coverage of visual thinking, or elements thereof, in the mainstream media over the last few weeks. CBS News is using sketching to illustrate concepts. The New York Times is reviewing that. Business Week is covering how simple drawings can communicate complex ideas. Just a few examples. But it looks to me like visual thinking is gaining momentum in the mainstream business media.

No comments: