More Visual Thinking Ingredients

Within the previous post we discussed how pictures, symbols, signs and icons can be used to help you think visually. Within this post we will break down the remaining four visual thinking ingredients that form the bedrock of the visual thinking process: colors, written language, numbers and shapes.


Colors are not an essential ingredient for visual thinking, however they are extremely helpful because they enable you to highlight ideas; they can be used as boundaries to segregate and categorize concepts, and they allow your visuals to pop-out — making them more effective and memorable.

Colors can also be used to label diagrams, maps or charts to help make your content more meaningful. For instance, you could use a variety of colored sticky-notes to represent different kinds of ideas on a whiteboard.

It’s important to also understand that when it comes to visual thinking, there are some general rules for color selection and the meaning that they imply. Here is a quick summary:

  • Yellow = Lateral thinking and opportunity spotting.
  • Black = Critical thinking and innovation.
  • Green = Imaginative thinking and innovation.
  • Brown = Judgmental thinking and quality appraisal.
  • Blue = Holistic thinking and environmental scanning.
  • Orange = System thinking and design.
  • White = Meta-cognition and thinking about thinking.
  • Grey = Chaotic thinking and ambiguity.
  • Purple = Strategic thinking and directing.
  • Red = Decision-making and action.

You can use this list of colors to create meaning during brainstorming or idea generation sessions. You can also use them throughout the visual thinking process.

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Visual Thinking Ingredients

When I ask people for their thoughts about visual thinking I often get some very interesting answers that help me put into context how people perceive the act of visual thinking.

One response that I tend to get over and over again is that visual thinking is all about visualization. It’s about closing your eyes and visualizing what you want to achieve in your life. In fact, some people believe it has something to do with Neural Linguistic Programming that uses — among other things — the process of visualization to help people overcome emotional and psychological roadblocks.

Visual thinking is actually none of those things, however it’s very interesting to hear that many people aren’t yet familiar with what visual thinking is all about. I guess that presents an interesting opportunity that all of us who are familiar with visual thinking can take advantage of.

Within this article I would like to discuss an important part of visual thinking that forms the bedrock of how we think visually. This bedrock is made up of specific components that all of us will be using as we work through the visual thinking process. However, in order to stay true to our metaphor of magic, we will call these components “ingredients” that work very much like a recipe that’ s made into a dish.

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