Using Similes to Think Visually

This is part two of a three part series of articles that discusses visual thinking devices you can use to enhance your visual message.

Within the previous post we discussed how to use metaphors and analogies to help you communicate your visuals in more effective ways. Within this article, I want to explore two more devices you can use to present your visuals and thereby influence peoples’ mental models of the world.

What is a Simile?

A simile is a figure-of-speech that directly compares two different things, often incorporating the words “like”, “as”, or “than”.

Both similes and analogies make comparisons between two things — allowing them to remain distinct in spite of their similarities. Metaphors on the other hand compare two things directly — effectively making the two things, one.

Similes are important devices to use while thinking visually because they allow you to present information in a way that people can immediately relate to. Moreover, unlike metaphors, they can be as precise as you want them to be.

Have a read of the following examples and envision first, how you would visualize them, and secondly for what purposes you could use them to represent your concepts and ideas.

  • As slow as a snail
  • As smart as an owl
  • As solid or steady as a rock
  • As big as an elephant
  • As cold as ice
  • As easy as ABC
  • As fat as a pig
  • As free as a bird
  • As happy as a clown
  • As agile as a monkey
  • As high as a kite
  • As strong as an ox
  • As good as gold
  • As tall as a giraffe
  • As quick as lightning
  • As quick as a wink
  • As sturdy as an oak
  • As sure as death a taxes
  • As timid as a rabbit
  • As brave as a lion
  • As cunning as a fox
  • As tough as a bull
  • As straight as an arrow
  • As hard as nails
  • As fresh as daisies
  • As fit as a fiddle
  • As fast as a race car
  • As gentle as a lamb
  • As poor as dirt
  • As blind as a bat
  • As busy as a bee
  • The world is like a stage
  • They fought like cats and dogs
  • To soar like an eagle
  • To eat like a horse
  • To work like a dog

Having read through these similes, ask yourself the following questions:

What kinds of concepts and ideas could I present using these similes?

What could these similes represent in relation to my business, career or life?

What universal message could I potentially get across to others?

What kinds of visual images, emotions and symbols come to mind?

In what sort of context could I best use them?

Each of these similes represents one key idea or message that we naturally accept as the truth, because they are aligned with how we have experienced the world over a lifetime. Therefore, incorporating these similes into your visuals will bring more depth to your visual message, and will likewise help you to better synergize your visuals with your audiences’ mental model of the world.

What is an Allegory?

An allegory is a device used to present an idea, principle or meaning, which can often be presented in a visual way. Some view an allegory as an extended metaphor that communicates its message through an action, or through a symbolic figure or representation of something.

It’s important to note that each of the similes mentioned above can effectively become visual allegory, or in other words, symbolic representations that have meaning and significance to us.

For instance, the symbol of a lion often signifies bravery, a snail symbolizes a lack of speed, an owl symbolizes learning, intelligence and education, and the grim reaper symbolizes death. Have a read through all the similes listed above, and think about how you could present them to help better communicate your next visual message.

By learning to identify and then incorporating these universal symbols into your visuals, will help you to better communicate your visual message to your audience. Likewise, it will help you, personally, to gain a better grasp and understanding of the information you are presenting.

The Significance of the Visual Thinking Story

Having discussed metaphors, analogies, similes and allegory, the next step along our visual thinking journey takes us to an exploration of the visual thinking story. As such, within the next post I will dig a little deeper into the concept of a metaphor and discuss the significance of stories, parables, fables and anecdotes, and how they relate to visual thinking and peoples’ mental models of the world.


Everything you read here is part of ongoing research and experimentation within the visual thinking arena. The goal is to create a comprehensive framework for visual thinking that encapsulates creativity, problem solving and critical thinking skills. Your comments, ideas and suggestions are most welcome.
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