Visual Thinking and Shared Understanding

One of my favorite conference moments occured at the Computers and Philosophy 2002 conference, where both Bob Horn and I spoke. I sat next to Bob during the other talks and peeked over his shoulder as he took notes. That man is insane. My notes are barely legible scribbles; his are pristine visual diagrams.    (LEX)

A few years later, I got to work with Bryan Coffman at the MGTaylor 7-Domains Workshop. As with Bob, I got to see Bryan’s notebook and concluded that he also was insane.    (LEY)

Visual languages are extremely powerful and totally underutilized in collaboration today. Part of the reason for this is that the techniques seem inaccessible. If you can’t draw a straight line, you’re probably not going to be doodling your notes, much less doing it live on a whiteboard in front of a crowd of people. Tools like Compendium and Mind Mapping are great in this regard, but they represent only a fraction of what’s possible. (In the case of Compendium, I think it’s question-orientation is as important, if not moreso, as its visualization capabilities.)    (LEZ)

When I found out earlier this month that one of Dave Gray‘s mentors was Bob Horn, I told him I had to peek at his notebook. No problem, said Dave. He posts many of his sketches on Flickr.    (LF0)

Dave also told me about an exercise he likes to do at his workshops, which is to ask participants to draw a diagram of a toaster. You can see the results from a workshop he recently did in Toronto. I like this exercise a lot, because it shows the very different ways that people think about a relatively mundane device in a very concrete way. Each of those pictures are clearly different, but they are all also accurate.    (LF1)

This technique is great for building Shared Understanding, and there are all sorts of great variations. You can have people draw, build things, and so forth. Luke Hohmann had us design cereal boxes at DCamp last May that would make people say, “DCamp — gotta buy that conference!”    (LF2)

Michael Eakes recently blogged about a sixth grade exercise, where the teacher asked her students to draw Mickey Mouse from memory.    (LF3)    (LF4)

Read Michael’s analysis of the variation; it’s fascinating.    (LF5)

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