Developing Your Visual Awareness

In order for us to become proficient visual thinkers it’s absolutely paramount that we learn to recognize the patterns that surround us on a daily basis. Within these patterns lie the answers to all our problems and the dilemmas we face while thinking visually. However, to recognize these patterns we must first and foremost train our visual thinking muscle to become better aware of our surrounding environment and circumstances.

Training your visual thinking muscle can take some time. However, the effort you put in will allow you to expand your understanding of your problems and circumstances to such an extent that you will be better able to spot critical patterns that will shape how you think and work through your problems visually.

It’s All About the Eyes

Because we are discussing the subject of visual thinking, I will focus on developing your visual awareness. However, it’s also important to recognize that awareness can be honed through all your sensory organs. In fact, when your awareness comes through more than one sensory organ, you have more information to work with that can help you gain deeper insights into your problems or circumstances.

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Not All Visuals Are Created Equal

While attempting to express our thoughts and ideas in a visual way, it’s important to consider that not all visuals are created equal. What I mean by this is that there are certain visuals (techniques) that will best represent specific types of information, and then there are other visuals that are most appropriate for visualizing other types of information. Getting these visuals mixed-up or using them inappropriately can often complicate your message to such an extent that your visuals end up hindering the communication process.

When a Chart is Not Enough

Several years ago I came across a very interesting article written by Dave Gray, who is the founder of Dachis Group (formerly known as XPlane). Dave wrote a short article titled: When a Chart is Not Enough.

Within this article Dave mentions that visuals are great to use if you want to communicate large volumes of information in a simple and effective way. Charts and graphs are especially useful for presenting statistics and making comparisons. They help make the information more engaging and appealing to the senses. However, Dave mentions that when describing something new and different, that charts and graphs are often not enough to get your message across.

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Visual Thinking Perspectives

When it comes to visual thinking or any other type of communication medium, it’s easy to take for granted the importance that perspectives have on our interpretation of the information we are trying to convey. Each perspective interprets the situation from a slightly different angle, and this therefore leads to a variety of conclusions and understandings.

Before we explore how perspectives can be applied to visual thinking and problem solving, let’s first take a trip into the past down memory lane.

English 101

Back at school when we first came across the idea of perspectives, we learned that if a person is speaking or writing in the first person, that he or she is talking about himself or herself.

  • I like to dance.
  • I enjoy dancing.
  • I have fun dancing.

This type of perspective is often used in formal writing.

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Rule of Three: Thinking Visually in Threes

  • Have you ever categorized information into threes?
  • Have you ever told a joke using threes?
  • Have you ever visualized in threes?

Ah yes, the Rule of Three… a rule that is engrained into the bedrock of our culture… a rule that we seemingly take for granted. What is this rule all about anyway?

The Rule of Three is part of our jokes, it’s part of our speeches, it’s part of our music, it’s part of our plays (three act structure), it’s a part of our art, it’s part of film-making (trilogies), it’s part of language, and it’s part of how we think, make sense of, and cluster information.

This is all well and good Adam, but how does the Rule of Three apply to visual thinking?

We’ll get to that in a moment. First let’s take a look at what exactly is the Rule of Three.

What Exactly is the Rule of Three?

The Rule of Three is a typical pattern used in stories, nursery rhymes, parables, jokes, comedy and speeches.

The human mind actually enjoys thinking in patterns. In fact, we naturally look for and create patterns everyday, in everything we do. An example of this idea is within our language where adjectives are often grouped together in threes in order to emphasize an idea.

The Rule of Three is relevant because the number three is the lowest figure that can be used to form patterns in our mind. This is important, because the first instance of something occurring, always comes down to chance; the second instance is considered a coincidence; while the third instance is perceived as a pattern.

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Using Parables to Think Visually

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

As children we have so much to learn, so many things to experience, and a plethora of skills to master. And it is during such times when those closest to us — our parents, siblings and relatives — are there to help us better navigate the journey of life. However, oftentimes we find it difficult to understand certain concepts, ideas and lessons, because unfortunately we lack experience. Everything seems new, unique and different, and this subsequently means that we tend to make a lot of mistakes.

In order to help us avoid these mistakes, those closest to us teach us about life by sharing stories, reading stories, or reflecting on personal experiences. Some of these stories are built upon the foundations of metaphors and analogies. Other stories might use similes and allegory to get a point across, while others are built upon fantasy or personal experience.

No matter what these stories are about, and no matter what messages of wisdom they contain, one thing is crystal clear: they help us to understand the lessons we need to master to better navigate our journey through life, because they are aligned with our mental models of the world.

We understand the key messages within these stories because we relate to them, we understand them, and we are able to use and apply them immediately into our lives. As such, is it any wonder that stories continue to be of great value to us as adults? After all, we watch movies at the cinemas because we simply can’t resist a good story. In fact, oftentimes, we might not even be consciously aware of the lessons that these stories teach us, however, unconsciously we are learning all the time.

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