Rules for Visualization, Part 1: Ten Beliefs That You Should Toss Out the Window

Meaning, discernment, and the fascinating relationship between words and images – this is what visualization is all about. If you not only know the rules for visualization, but also know which conventional wisdom and beliefs you should toss out the window, it makes it easier to use translate concepts into visual language.
Rules for Visualization, Part 1:
The simpler, the better?

Not necessarily. You could, of course, attempt to draw the world using only three lines – as long as it truly helped the observer to better understand your point. Usually, though, one of the greatest challenges for visualizers is to strike a balance between including the necessary amount of information and the desire to keep things simple. Albert Einstein is reported to have said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible – but no simpler.” Depending on the context and the topic, three lines may actually be all you need – sometimes, though, more is required.

The more creative, the better?

It depends. If you need to explain something complex, it’s often best to use the simplest and most common pictograms. A heart stands for love; thunderclouds represent conflict. These symbols may not be particularly original, but their meaning is immediately clear. Of course, if you’re trying to build in a surprise effect in a presentation, more unconventional visual translations will be more effective.

Does every piece of information have to be drawn?

No. Pictograms are intended to clarify information and provide orientation – just like street signs. The more signs that line the street, however, the less able are you, as the driver, to read what is on each of them. Pictograms are also visual anchors, and they can only provide orientation if they are precisely positioned.

Does every pictogram have its own specific meaning?

No. Pictograms only have the meaning that you assign to them – and that meaning is frequently understood only in context. A light bulb may symbolize a new idea or it may represent the energy consumption of a household – it depends upon how it is being used. Because of this, every pictogram needs a spoken or written word that clarifies its meaning.

Is visualization a global language?

Be careful! Every culture has its own visual code. Even within your own cultural circle, you can’t necessarily assume that everyone will interpret from your drawings the meaning you intend. For instance, not long ago, an Asian training participant had a question about our pictogram of a coffee cup (see above): “Why are those three noodles floating above the cup?” Globalization is, of course, helping visual language to become more consolidated. It’s still usually advisable to incorporate text to help ensure that meanings are made clear.

If you are new to visualization and want to learn more, we recommend our “bikablo basics training”