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Visual Thinking Gets You There Faster

November 30, 2009
By Christoph Niemann

Infographic 1: illustration by Christoph Niemann for his blog post 'Good Night and Tough Luck' originally seen in The New York Times on September 14, 2009.

One of my favorite examples of visual thinking – capturing complex ideas with pictures – is a post by illustrator Christoph Niemann for his New York Times Abstract City blog titled Good Night and Tough Luck. This hilarious work is about the challenge of having a good sleep when you have kids, mosquitoes and bathroom visits among many other obstacles to deal with throughout the night.

Infographic 2: illustration by Christoph Niemann for his blog post 'Good Night and Tough Luck' originally seen in The New York Times on September 14, 2009.

Niemann created fifteen illustrations each complimented by a short blurb, however the text is barely needed to convey the humorous observations. The illustrations are examples of infographics, the images that result from the process of visual thinking. These infographics are not only captivating aesthetically, they communicate quickly.

Trying to explain the information captured in the ‘Life’ infographic (#1 above) using text would require a lengthy paragraph and the reader to invest considerable time. People’s attention spans are dropping and time is a limited resource so getting to the point quickly and clearly is paramount. In the ‘bed temperature’ illustration (#2 above), Niemann successfully captures time passing and the changes that occur. Both of these infographics show the ability of visual thinking to get people understanding faster.

Visual thinking has huge potential in countless situations to improve communication because it utilizes something everyone has – innate visual abilities. We all started learning with images when we were very young and that ability is still there. There are companies such as XPLANE, “the visual thinking company’ and best-selling books like Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin that are helping businesses communicate internally and with investors and customers using images. There are illustrators such as Christoph Niemann and Jessica Hagy using visual thinking to provide entertaining social commentary. What are some examples of visual thinking that you’ve found that successfully and quickly capture a complex idea?

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