Scott Williams, founder and CEO of Throughline, is a pioneer in visual strategy, enterprise transformation and cultural change.
Amid a rapidly evolving communications landscape, one of the most impactful tools at our disposal is as inspired as it is ancient: visualization. Ancient maps and modern infographics alike demonstrate that the brain processes and remembers images more efficiently than written words, granting visuals a powerful throughline for conveying information and ideas.
Seeking to tap into this phenomenon? Consider activating the concept of visual conversation in dialogue to engage leaders and solve complex issues. Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, states, “If you can draw your idea clearly, it will force you to think clearly about the idea.”
This process combines left- and right-brain thinking, bringing clarity to complexity by using imagery as the focal point and primary collaboration tool. In turn, this redefines how we communicate across the enterprise. Follow along to explore how this concept can be implemented to achieve these five goals in your next meeting or strategic planning session.
1. Establishing Common Ground
Visual conversation strategies: Graphic recording, graphically facilitated sessions, illustrating ideas.
When to use: Kickoff meetings, working sessions, offsites, town halls, 1:1 briefings.
The start of a project is about listening, discovering and getting stakeholders on the same page, and visuals offer an engaging shortcut to do just that.
In her book, Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life, Amy Herman emphasizes that in order to recognize patterns and analyze the scene in front of you, you must first lay the groundwork for observation. One way to establish common ground is graphic recording, a form of visual conversation where a graphic artist captures a meeting or conversation in real time through illustrations. This helps engage the audience, clarify what’s important and build a shared investment in the project’s broader context and key themes.
To take graphic recording a step further, companies might consider graphically facilitated sessions, where a skilled facilitator guides the team through a process that builds a visual narrative in real time and aligns the group on key issues. The images that arise from these visual conversations empower participants to recognize and define what’s most important. The output—the graphic recordings—become foundational documents for the road ahead.
2. Inventing Something New
Visual conversation strategies: Wireframing, prototyping, frameworks.
When to use: New projects, products or services.
When faced with daunting unknowns, projects may run the risk of settling for proven but uninspired methods. Visual conversations borrow tools from human-centered design and web development—like prototyping, wireframing and diagramming—to prevent this from happening.
Wireframing develops a visual guide that outlines a product’s structure, content or user interface (e.g., for a website or app). Prototyping takes this a step further, with more complete visuals and user interactions that facilitate user testing and refinement, making it a working model. Frameworks are even simpler. They can represent anything from a simple idea to an entire business model.
As a centerpiece of a visual conversation, wireframes, prototypes and frameworks eliminate ambiguity and encourage discussion and feedback before the product or project goes too far in any one direction. It saves companies time and prevents miscommunications. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand emails.
3. Defining The Customer Experience
Visual conversation strategies: Customer journeys maps.
When to use: Discrete experiences, achieving specific customer experience goals.
The most effective visual conversations tell a story, and storytelling is invaluable to defining the customer experience. When working to optimize customer interactions and increase conversions, customer journey maps can diagram how customers experience a product or service. Allowing a visualization of the customer’s journey can illuminate patterns, connections and gaps that ultimately form a roadmap toward solving key issues and enhancing the customer experience.
4. Rapidly Generating Actionable Ideas
Visual conversation strategies: Co-creating.
When to use: Brainstorming sessions, navigating difficult or complex problems, when you need fresh ideas.
Because no two people see things the same way, visual communications are uniquely suited to generating new insights and innovations. This is the crux of why visual conversation pairs so impactfully with co-creation—a process that involves creating rapid prototypes with stakeholders in real time to devise the deliverable together.
This strategy is well-suited to solving both complex and delicate problems. Visualization sparks discussion and elicits questions while demonstrating that you are listening to stakeholders in an actionable way. Moreover, visually engaging co-creation exercises can help introduce new ideas, record insights and clarify the relationships among ideas and systems.
5. Mapping Out The Big Picture
Visual conversation strategies: Visual information mapping.
When to use: Establishing the big picture, vision or strategy, building consensus and transforming large-scale processes.
Traditionally, maps define the optimal navigation from one location to another, ultimately using design to bring clarity to complexity. A strategic visual map allows people to see how they fit into the larger company ecosystem made up of technologies, operations, people and structure.
For example, companies undergoing a digital transformation use mapping to establish key goals and ensure all stakeholders and employees are on the same page about the enterprise’s overarching mission and vision. In the long run, this better positions them to successfully implement and adopt the new technology.
Painter and lecturer Mustafa Günay describes design as “the mediator between informing and understanding, having the role of making a complex topic clear and useful.” By harnessing the power of visualization, these maps act as a bridge between the message and the audience while setting the stage for an ongoing conversation.
In conclusion, imagery’s ability to convey more information than words alone has made visualization a near-universal communications strategy that continues to withstand the test of time. It is why visual conversation—with its blend of visuals, narrative and collaboration—can so impactfully streamline communications and engage audiences. In the pursuit of large-scale changes, discrete experiences, new frontiers and everything in between, the future of enterprise communications belongs to those open to seeing things in a new light.