Friday, September 26, 2008

VizThink NL and lots of water


Is what first comes to mind when I think back on last night, the first gathering of VizThink Netherlands. Some 30+ professionals from all fields in media came together at JAM visueel denken to muse on visual thinking, get to know each other and rant on about our different passions and work.

Part of the deal for such a night is of course a break out session. Flip charts, markers and post-its were provided - now get down to it! "What is visual thinking" was the obvious central question. Thing is though, that for me, a question like this begs for an answer - but is that what we wanted? An answer? Because visual thinking "is" a lot: a practice, a state of mind, a business, a tool etc. This became very clear within our little group: everybody had a different background and came with different uses and views on visual thinking - diversity all around. Of course there were themes that resonated with everybody, but getting to the very fabric of visual thinking was, well.. bull shit to us :D

So we conjured up the metaphor of water.

There is a lot of water. It flows in rivers, in oceans, in creeks. You can find it frozen in glaciers, ice rinks and the cubes in your freezer. It steams from your tea and the Turkish bath. Water is everywhere. And so it is with our knowledge, ideas, thoughts, associations, concepts, basically: our content. It's all over the place, we are filled to the brim with it!
And that is why it is important to remember that like water, content faces you with the danger of drowning: if you can't swim, you drown. Oftentimes we have so much to tell, so much content to spill, that we make ourselves (but more often our audience/customers/clients/friends) drown. Like a waterfall your content flows on and on with no restrictions or boundaries.

With visual thinking you canalize your content, you provide containers for your content, you visualize where you want your audience to go to. It makes you stop and look at your own content. Visual thinking can provide the glass, the vase, the shore that contains your content and enables you to take a clear look at it.

And by doing so, visual thinking also asks of you to think about the audience you want to communicate to. "How much of my content do I need to pour in to this audience? How much can they contain or swim in? Are they even able to swim or do I need to teach them?"

Do they need:
Visual thinking helps you to swim through your content, to pour it out of you in containers which hold the thoughts, ideas, concepts you want to communicate. Do you need it in cube-size? Small, manageable chunks. Or in pool-size, so you can jump right in the middle of everything and traverse the lengths and widths of your content? It's up to you!

By making your content visual, you also invite others to join your swim, take them on the journey, test the water, try things out, offer them the pool and see who jumps in first. Or visual thinking can offer some hard needed solace from a quenching information thirst, or for that matter: relief from those hard to stomach, completely dried out text biscuits we are offered all day long!

So in short, I am not sure what visual thinking is exactly, but I do know it is quite a lot!

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