Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Visual Thinker Spectrum

I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last few months research various areas of the visual thinking world. From VizThink 08 resources, sketching, Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin (which I’m currently reading), to information and data visualization. I’ve learned a lot, learned that there’s so much more I don’t know, but one thing I’m sure about is that the visual thinking world is broad and pretty loosely defined. I’ve seen some disagreement in the community about what is or isn’t visual thinking or what is harmful or helpful to furthering the cause of visual thinking. So, it seems, like just about everything in life, we all have different ways of looking at visual thinking. It occurs to me that each person’s particular style or perspective on visual thinking is heavily influenced by things like thinking styles and personality types. With that notion bumping around in my brain it occurred to me that there’s probably a spectrum of visual thinker styles or types. So, inspired by David Armano’s cool diagrams, I set out to create the Visual Thinker Spectrum diagram. Version 1.0 is below.

As I said, this is version 1.0. I think it still needs work, both the concept and the diagram. But the basic premise is this; I think that there is a spectrum of visual thinkers ranging from artistic types of people who are inclined more to graphics and using graphics to explore ideas, and communicate concepts. To them, visual thinking might be all about exploring and conveying ideas and concepts using graphics. These may be what Dan Roam calls “black pen people.” I think VizThink ‘08 was heavily skewed to this type of visual thinker.

On the other end of the spectrum are the data people. I think these people are what we see heavily representing the information and data visualization communities. Their focus seems to be on interacting with, analyzing and representing data. I think this is where the Edward Tufte and Stephen Few types of people stand. These might correlate to Dan Roam’s “red pen people.”

Now, a disclaimer. The spectrum isn’t trying to say that the data people don’t care about graphics or pretty pictures or that the graphic-centric people don’t care about data. It’s just trying to show that some people are inclined to approach visual thinking from a given point of view. Also, nobody is going to be exclusively on one end of the spectrum.

I think it’s important to recognize that we’re all approaching visual thinking from somewhat different biases. It’s just like when we recognize that there are different personality types and thinking styles and by recognizing those differences we can improve our communication. Recognizing different biases in visual thinking might help us as a visual thinking community be more cohesive.

So, I’d love to get some feedback on this (there’s only a handful of visitors to this blog right now, but let me know what you think). Agree? Disagree? Sound off by leaving a comment. Thanks!

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