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Get started with visual thinking…

Dr. David Sammon is a lecturer of Information Systems at University College Cork. David has published extensively in international journals. He is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Decision Systems and co-author of the book: Enterprise Resource Planning Era: Lessons Learned and Issues for the Future (2004).David is a Co-Programme Director for the IMI Diploma in Data Business

Ok so, you know you want to communicate an idea and words are… well… just too wordy! So the alternative is to draw a picture, or to put it another way, create a visual. That’s not too difficult, right? Maybe, maybe not! So here is my advice reflected in a recent personal example.

The first thing you need to do is write the keywords of your idea on post-it notes. It doesn’t matter whether you think the keywords are key or not just jot them down initially… stick them to a whiteboard (preferably) and leave them for a few hours and every now and then have a look at them maybe clustering them together if something comes to mind.  Initially you may not know the shape of the visual you are attempting to create , so you need to lay everything out to see what you have (see below).

Fig 1

After a period of time (could even be a few days) an appropriate shape to the visual should emerge. For me this was the shape of the star schema based on my knowledge of data modelling (see below image). The visual I was trying to create was for an executive education programme with a strong focus on data. So the star schema was an appropriate structure. So I drew the outline of a simple star schema on the whiteboard and then started to put my clusters of post-it notes into the relevant place-holders. For the next day or two I added and indeed removed a few keywords. All the time I was improving the communicative power of my visual.

fig 2

The next step is to digitise the visual. I did this in Power-Point (so nothing too fancy)! Digitising the visual allowed me to share it easily (see below image). As I was digitising the visual it also evolved even further from the version on my whiteboard. All the while it appeared as if it was getting really close to fulfilling its role – to effectively communicate a message to as wide an audience as possible. So I sent the digitised visual to my colleagues (those who delivered on the programme) and also stuck it to my office wall next to my desk so that I could constantly see and reflect on it and more importantly so could all those who entered my office. Ultimately, I wanted to provoke a response!

fig 3

The first few comments I received were from my colleagues over email and were very positive. However, the first comment from a caller to my office was the most interesting one to date when he said “that’s really representing the impossible”. I’m still not too sure what he meant but he seemed to like it…..

 So there you have it the three basic steps of visual thinking:
                        1. Lay out your data so that you can see it and look at it
                        2.Constantly play with your data to imagine what it could look like
                        3.Organise it into an appropriate framework and show it to your audience


Click on links for more information on the IMI Master of Business and Diplomas or specifically the Msc. in Data Business or IMI Diploma in Data Business 

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