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The Visual Advantage

The Visual Advantage By Rick O’Neill

How To Clarify Your Proposition, Visually.

Rick O’Neill, FRSA


Contents Foreword 1

.................................................................Error! Bookmark not defined.

Visual communication .................................................................................... 5 1.1

The importance of visual communication .................................................... 7

1.2

Why communication is important ............................................................. 10

1.3

Types of visual thinking ........................................................................... 13

2

Challenges in communication........................................................................ 14 2.1

Standing out........................................................................................... 16

2.2

Engaging employees ............................................................................... 23

2.3

Coping with change................................................................................. 26

3

The benefits of visual communication............................................................ 29 3.1

4

Visual communication can help you stand out ........................................... 30 How to communicate visually........................................................................ 41

4.1

Common mistakes made in visual communication ..................................... 43

4.2

Combining images, words and structure ................................................... 51

4.3

How to create your big picture ................................................................. 56

4.4

Interviewing to get the right message ...................................................... 58

4.5

Distilling the core message ...................................................................... 67

4.6

Test and improve .................................................................................... 70

4.7

Designing an effective big picture............................................................. 71

4.8

What format will be most effective? ......................................................... 77

4.9

The end! ................................................................................................ 79

Appendices .................................................................................................................. 80 A.

Ten things you can do today.................................................................... 81

B.

Case Studies........................................................................................... 85

C.

VizThink ................................................................................................. 86

D.

Visual Tools ............................................................................................ 88

E.

Author Profiles ............................................Error! Bookmark not defined.

Index:

.................................................................................................................. 90

Visual Index:................................................................................................................ 91

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Why write a book? There is a certain irony about writing a book about visual communication! Linear thinking is not yet dead. There is a time and a place for a text message, a photo, a diagram – ... and a book. Creating this pile of words involved much visual thinking: Sketching diagrams on napkins until key points could be explained and summarised efficiently – even where the final text is just text. I have tried to take my own medicine wherever possible: •

Rapid-to-scan bullet points where appropriate

Visuals where they add value

Brevity

Headings that summarise the content, so you can read or skim at will

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1 Visual communication The world’s getting more complicated, attentions spans are getting shorter – and we need visual communication to span the gap. This chapter covers the context for visual communication: • • • •

How we first discovered the need for visual communication The complexity problem we all face, with a glut of data and a shortage of time and understanding How visual communication can help us understand more, faster The responsibility of the communicator to do the hard work of simplifying a message for the audience rather than hoping it will be done by each member of the audience

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1.1 The importance of visual communication We thought we had tried everything. A team of us had worked for months to redesign the film industry. We had pulled together experts from a dozen different fields. We had mock ups and demos showing how different systems would work. How you could track thousands of props across the acres of grounds. How screens next to the mirrors recognised the celebrity awaiting makeup, worked out which scene they were in next and found the relevant shots of them for continuity. But no-one could explain it. Given four or five hours, people started asking smarter questions. But if we could not explain it in the fifteen minutes we would have with the key decision makers, we had wasted our time. Eventually, out of frustration we created a big picture. A huge two foot by three foot diagram which showed the key systems and a brief summary of each. Even then we had to miss out most of the detail. Things which had seemed so important when we were designing it did not fit with the “story” we were drawing so got missed out. Testing it with people, we actually started to get good feedback – which allowed us to improve it. After a few weeks we had a good diagram ready for the key meeting. Not only did we only have ten minutes, but their first language was Spanish. They got it. More than that, they framed it, hung it on the wall and talked about it. That’s not normal. People don’t frame PowerPoint presentations and show them to people. A few weeks later we briefly showed the plans to some friends in a pub. Rather than do the decent thing and make me put them away, they wanted to know more. They wanted to hear and see the story and understand what it meant. The next morning they were asking questions about it – pointing in space to the different elements of the system. Two weeks earlier no-one associated understood it in four hard hours – now people with no connection were captivated in ten minutes. Can you imagine the same thing happening if they had briefly seen the contents page of a report or a favourite PowerPoint slide. Later that day we began imagining a job travelling the country making things simpler. Of course, there was no way you could create such a job. There were very few people who would value the time and effort involved in making something simple enough to pay for it. Surely? A random meeting a few days later provided the final kick. A meeting with professional networker Thomas Power again saw a cursory glance at what we had been up to turn into . “I have had ten thousand meetings and I have never seen anything like that. You must do this for a living.” Maybe there was something in it?

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Making the world simpler, easier to understand seemed like fun. And with that belief it all started. A belief that visual communication – a skill used by the Egyptians was needed more than ever before to solve business problems today. A belief that enough people wanted their world simpler that a business could be built. Five years later the journey has seen that belief grow into a team on a mission and taken us across the world, across industries and across all sorts of problems. Over a hundred projects have provided countless lessons some obvious, some making sense only with hindsight. The quest to simplify and to learn how to simplify continues, but this is our attempt to share what we have learnt so far. The world is getting more complex and we’re all crying out to understand it.

We are all overwhelmed The average consumer is exposed to over 3,000 marketing messages each day compared to 500 in 1975. Each day 39.7 billion emails are sent (not including Spam, 2 billion phone calls or 1.2 billion letters). Unfortunately you still only get 24 hours a day. On average you get interrupted every eleven minutes. And even those are split into three minute sub-tasks! Is it any surprise we all feel overwhelmed?

Technology created the complexity problem Technology has enabled us to create much more powerful systems – and therefore a more complex world. It has allowed people to bring together diverse teams, use virtual working and assemble systems that could barely have been imagined twenty years ago. This explains why there are so many more virtual problems and solutions. Often this complexity is hidden from users (Think of Google – and despite the complexity behind the scenes, the simplicity we all see on the home page) – but often you need to interface with complexity – which means you need to understand it. The logical conclusion to all this is that we should all use technology to solve the complexity problem. Almost free, instant access from anywhere in the world (with Internet) is very appealing. But technology is not always the solution. Video can be hugely powerful. Especially for conveying emotion and sharing experience. But the small size of a screen means it’s not a very wide “pipe” to get information through. Even a huge projector has a low resolution - comparable to an A6 piece of paper. This restriction means that, communicating onscreen, you have to resort to spoon feeding information piece by piece – losing the context. Despite, or perhaps because of, all the time people spend in their own little world staring at a screen and a keyboard, more than ever people appreciate face time. Time spent sat as a The Visual  Advantage  

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group talking and relating as humans. This face time is valuable – or at least expensive. Spending countless hours in meetings is expensive – even when it is not productive. So how do you make the most of this time? We believe you need to spend time together – but with tools to make that time more effective. If you are “cascading a message” then you are basically training and equipping people to explain, train and equip the next people in the chain. Done right you get powerful face-face communication – done badly you end up with Chinese whispers or worse

The two halves of the solution We all need relevant information more efficiently. There are two main roles in this information war: •

Receivers of information need coping strategies to keep up – “Time Management”

Senders of information should take the time to simplify – “Communication”

There are many, many time management books on how to trick more hours into your day. Amazon UK lists 9,564 books under “time management”. But with an infinite amount of information vying for our attention, people have no option but become more selective. You have to ignore most information in order to survive. Have you ever actually read the long “terms and conditions” on websites and software? You probably clicked yes but didn’t bother because you decided it was not worth your time reading. How do you avoid your messages going the same way? For a change, we are going to look at the reverse: how can you make it easy for people to consume your message. If it’s a simple message, then do it simply. Somehow you need to get more information into people’s brains in less time. Yes, you need to cut out the unnecessary information – but you also need a bigger “pipe”. A faster way to communicate the information you do need to communicate. That “pipe” has been there all along. We all know about it, we hear people talk about how a picture paints a thousand words – but rarely do people actually use visual communication – until now.

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1.2 Why communication is important You are not pulling oars If you have forty people rowing a boat, the only way to go faster is to work harder. With the huge increase in technology we mentioned and the increase in outsourcing, the “doing” is increasingly done by machines and people outside of your direct control. Most of you do not “pull the oar” but help “steer”. Instead, you: •

Make decisions about the world as you see it

Persuade people to support those decisions

Delegate to people who will deliver them

Decision making, getting buy-in and delegating are all completely dependent on effectively passing information along the line. For most of us, this makes effective communication our number one job.

Communication is the limiting factor on your output The inspiration for us focussing on communication came from us realising that the biggest impact you can have is communicating complex ideas and plans effectively. When one of us came up with a business plan on a napkin and raised a significant sum of money to fund it, they were still explaining “the napkin” several years later and realised that a “better napkin” which explained more of the how and what behind the plan would have allowed things to progress much faster – and without needing to be there. We believe that the limiting factor on most of us has moved from “doing” to “communicating”. The limit is not what you can do, but what you can get done. This means getting all those involved to the same, consistent understanding. The same is true whether recruiting a new team, launching a new program, implementing a change program or communicating a company’s strategy.

The Communication gap As the world gets more complex, a new space is opening up. You still need a hook. The critical few seconds that catch someone’s attention and make them ask for more. But then what? You still need the detail - sometimes. The hours of detail that makes up the reality needs to be available and understood by the few that need it – but not by everyone. These are the times when you ask a simple question and get far more back as an answer than you ever needed. You want the Doctor to know the intricate details of how your body works – but you probably don’t want them to tell you all of it when you ask a simple question.

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So as the world gets more complex, a new gap is opening up. The “minutes” that sit between the first few seconds of marketing and the hours of detail. Those minutes are what happen after you give someone the perfect elevator pitch about a great product or new change programme – and they say “I’m intrigued, how does it work? How does it affect me? Help me understand it“. Traditionally this gap was filled by the “one pager” – a single page of text. Many times that is still perfect – but making it visual allows us to communicate ever more complex things. Einstein famously said

“Everything in life should be as simple as possible – but no simpler”. The hours of detail in Politics is more than most of us have time for. Politics in seconds gives us glib sound bites and scandals. Politics in ten minutes would allow us to understand what parties stand for concisely. Change programmes in a few seconds give generic benefits (“Reduced costs and increased competitive advantage” etc). The hours of detail in change programmes are the long, detailed reports which project managers use to manage the project. The ten minutes allows everyone to have a common understanding – and discuss relevant, detailed questions where necessary.

Why visual communication is growing This need for simplicity helps explain the current growth in visual thinking. It’s no longer a ‘nice to have’ so much as a ‘need to survive’. Visual thinking – and the parallel trend of simplicity – are growing in popularity right now. Entire companies are starting and growing based purely on simplicity. In the UK there are banks, phone companies and software companies all competing on simplicity rather than price, quality or features. People are so overwhelmed that they would rather have less in return for being able to keep up. The visual communication trend is helped by image libraries, computer design software and colour printers becoming common and powerful enough that anyone can easily be more visual than before. But the Romans used maps, plans, designs. There’s nothing new in being able to communicate visually. So why now? The real driver though seems to be need. A need to understand. A need to explain. A need to see what people mean.

So why do people not bother? Brevity takes time.

“Sorry it’s such a long letter, I did not have time to write a short one” Blaise Pascal

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Far easier for us to just waffle on about it out in an hour than spend the time to communicate it clearly and visually. We’re all busy, don’t you know! But even if you get your message across, the hours you saved are taken many times over from your audience listening to you, confused. If you failed to communicate then you have wasted your time.

“If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now” Woodrow Wilson

Good communication is not enough. Nor is it an instant panacea. Good communication sets clear expectations (Even if those are “We have no idea, it’s up to you”). Effectively, making promises. It goes without saying that keeping those promises is critical to long-term reputation. Very occasionally we come across cynical, negative interviewees who attack everything from the brief to the questions to the process. So far all of these have related back to bigger issues and a damaged relationship with the client company.

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1.3 Types of visual thinking We think these new players in the visual space are all “visual thinkers”. They use visual techniques to make sense of the world around them. But how can we group them? What does this new landscape look like? Who are the pioneers in this new space? Having spoken to many people in this new world, we believe there are XXX main groups of visual thinkers: •

Visual Communicators; People who spend time communicating a message to others.

Visual Facilitators; People who sketch and mind map during meetings to capture what is discussed - either to document it for others or to help participants think more clearly.

Visual Users; Any of us who use visual techniques in our everyday life. Most of us do not have the word visual in our job title – yet we benefit from being clearer in our thinking and more effective in our communication.

Visual Designers; Classic designers such as architects and car designers who are visual at the very core of what they do. They draw things that will exist.

This book focuses on Visual Communication: The art of rapidly and clearly communicating a complex topic using a combination of diagrams, images and text.

We are focussing on visual communication between groups Communication is a word with many uses. We think of two broad types of communication: •

Interpersonal communication when we speak / text / email / voicemail each other. It is this type of communication that couples complain about when they do not get on

Communications when one group communicates with another

Although many of the same principles apply to both one-off conversations and group communications, we’re focussing purely on the latter. Having seen that there is a communication problem in general, we need to next look at the specific problems that affect us all.

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2 Challenges in communication The root cause of many problems is communication – but what are the symptoms. We’re sure there are many others, but in our experience the examples that follow keep coming up.

Checklist of communication challenges – How many challenges can you identify in your organisation? Standing out ! Looks unappealing ! Looks cheap ! Is irrelevant ! Too wordy ! Hard to understand Engaging employees ! They can’t see where they fit into the organisation ! They don’t buy into a strategy or vision ! Cultural Differences Coping with change ! Project communication ! Lack of credibility ! Overcoming resistance ! Geographically dispersed teams You are not alone, the more we work with organisation the more we are amazed by the challenges communicators face within them. Whilst trying to make things better for their companies, staff, management and shareholders communicators often seem to be operating with one hand tied behind their back under resourced, underfunded and not given the time and information needed to create effective messages. As most communicators have experienced communications is often thought of at the last minute. A large corporate spent 12 million pounds installing a new IT system to allow remote access working for its staff. It wasn’t until after the launch when no-one was using the system that the failure to communicate what was changing and why became apparent. Contrast this with the high street bank that was changing its IT system necessitating a major change in the way staff in branches worked. They started their programme of communications 18 months before the change in order to explain to people what was happening and why to ensure that everyone was trained in the new way of working and the resistance to the change had been reduced as much as was possible. Starting communications early becomes critical in ensuring smooth change. The bank was able to spend time with all the different audience groups finding out how they felt and what messages they needed to hear when. This allows you to overcome resistance more effectively.

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We believe visual communication can help.

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2.1 Standing out In order for people to access the right message amongst the morass of information being given to them it needs to stand out. It must grab their attention and keep their attention by being easy to understand and relevant and useful for them. Consider the example of one public sector organisation, they were determined to not fall into the trap of not communicating with their staff. Unfortunately this led them down a path that’s just as dangerous, over communication. They were sending so many messages to staff that the important messages were not getting through. Staff would ask for information and be told ‘we put that in an email last month’. But as the emails were screens and screens of dense prose, they were not only hard to access the information but also contained a lot of detailed information that was irrelevant to most people. The emails had become white noise and people understandably screened them out and deleted them - as they judged them to be not useful. As a result information was being missed, users did not know what they were supposed to do and entire “successful” IT projects were failing to deliver benefits as they went virtually unused. Changing the emails to just a few bullet points with links to more information staff started to read them again. They could then scan the headlines and click through to access the more detailed information they wanted, leaving the information they didn’t want. Ensuring your messages stands out against all the others that are being received then becomes a key challenge for communicators today. What are some of the challenges you need to overcome in order to make your messages more appealing than the others that are out there?

Looks unappealing There is so much information available to people today, we have all become experts in skimming over a vast amount and only looking at the things that grab our attention. If your communication looks the same as everyone else’s – the ubiquitous text and pictures of people atop mountains – your audience will skip over it. The communication needs to look fun and interesting and win attention from everything else so you can get people to at least start to engage with your message. A client of ours, the Stockholm Environment Institute, was attending the December summit in Bali in December 2007. They had a key message to get across to many different groups of people about a new collaborative tool they were developing to help governments, researchers and community’s globally deal with the important issue of climate adaptation. They knew that there were going to be thousands of messages at the summit and they were concerned that their message would get lost in the crowd. If their message got lost in the mix and the need to collaborate wasn’t taken onboard by the relevant people it would reduce the amount the collaboration tool would be contributed to and used as a reference. The Visual  Advantage  

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Without critical mass, it would not represent current best practise and be incomplete. Ongoing funding would be in jeopardy. This would then deprive communities and government all round the world of the information and help they need to be better able to adapt to the climate changes that are occurring in the world today. They needed to not just be relevant but effectively get people’s attention before delivering their message. Large blocks of text are hard to read and people have a very low tolerance to working to access information. Why is this? Maybe it’s because we all have so many messages being thrown at us every day? Maybe because we’re all so busy we only prepared to slow down for something that’s fun, interesting or relevant for us and large blocks of text sure don’t look interesting. If you’ve ever received an email like the one below you’ll know how little time people spend trying to access the information hidden within it before hitting the delete key.

As we talked about a few pages ago, one of our clients wanted to communicate with their staff so much they fell into the trap of overcommunicating, sending out these long emails which staff very quickly stopped reading and then simply deleted as soon as they came in. Often the key information for a particular person was hidden in the last sentence of a long email that was never even read and the message was never effectively delivered. If the emails had been easier to read maybe staff would have at least skimmed them for relevance before deleting them. As it was, they got bored of trying to access the The Visual  Advantage  

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information and just stopped; believing that if it was that important they would be told another way or more of an effort would have been made to communicate it. Breaking up the text would make it easier for people to navigate the information. When the client changed the emails to just a few bullet points with links to more information staff started to read them again. They could then click through and access the information they wanted and leave the information they didn’t want.

Looks cheap People have a low tolerance to messages that aren’t perceived to be high quality. This doesn’t necessarily mean messages need more money spending on them just that whatever type of communication medium it is it matches up to (or exceeds) people’s expectations. If it’s an email it should be a well laid out email as we’ve talked about above. An email that stands out and is quick for people to access relevant information will be perceived as high quality. It’s important to think about the standards people are experiencing every day. If you’re producing a corporate magazine and fall into the trap of putting a photo on the front of two senior people shaking hands over a spade in the ground staff will be more likely to pick up the magazine off the news stand than the corporate magazine. You are competing with all of the other messages people can choose to read. Staffrooms in schools etc are filled with untouched reports on new policies next to well thumbed copies of “heat” magazine.

Is irrelevant Unless your message is one they want to hear people will often not listen to it. In one public sector organisation all the staff wanted to know was where the new helpdesk would be located as this affected all of their day to day lives. Until they were given information about the helpdesk they were not interested in to listening to any other information. Staff needed to have some information about the topic closest to their heart before they would listen to any additional messages, even when the message was that there was no new information to give them. Whilst working to communicate an IT system change in a large bank it became clear that the messages required for the IT community and the business community were very different. Without being open minded to the need for multiple messages for different audiences the communication plan would have fallen flat. When you try and make a communication match different audience it becomes irrelevant for both audiences and therefore meets the needs of neither audience and is not worth the time put into it. Early on we worked with a client that was spending a lot of time and effort trying to communicate its solution to partners and potential clients, with no success. The presentation took about 90 minutes and afterwards the audience would say ‘It sounds interesting but could you come back next month and explain it again to my colleague’. After The Visual  Advantage  

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investigating the audience we found that our client was wasting a lot of time and money communicating their solution because the audience didn’t even realise that there was a problem. When we made the message relevant for the audience and spent 10 minutes communicating the importance of the problem they became interested in the message. We see this a lot when working with clients to communicate their IT change programmes. Recently we were recently working with a client who needed to communicate the vision to both a business and technical audience. They were getting no traction communicating to either audience because the message was the same, the business didn’t understand it and therefore didn’t engage with it and were sceptical about the value of what was happening and why they should be paying for it. However, for the technical community there wasn’t enough detail for them and they couldn’t engage with it because they couldn’t see what it meant for them. By creating two different but consistent messages they were able to engage both the business and the technical community effectively. If your message is relevant it will get read - if not, it won’t. Boring “filler” content can lose people: if large portions of the message are irrelevant it still won’t get read. It’s important then to create effective messages for each audience. This may mean different messages for different audiences – rather than a generic message which misses both.

Too wordy Sometimes the first few seconds of the message are enough; it conveys all the necessary information and allows people to adjust their behaviour. Many messages lose their audience because they are too long. It’s important to keep people’s attention. In an age where attention spans are reducing it’s important to get across the key information quickly. Writers of press releases have known and used this for years, placing all the key information in the first paragraph, because they know that is all that many people will read. Every day you will experience verbal or written statements that are overly verbose or cluttered. Here is a deconstruction of a station announcement by a good friend of ours, to help us make this point:

‘What is it about a Tannoy system that turns ordinary human speech into Nonsense-speak? There's one message at London Bridge Station that particularly gets on my nerves. It's a recorded message rolled out every time there's some rain, and I've heard it so many times I can quote it verbatim: "Due to today's wet-weather conditions, customers are advised to take extra care as the platforms may be slippery." First off, rain doesn't cause advice, but the slipperiness of the platforms. So let's start by correcting the causality:

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"Due to today's wet-weather conditions, the platforms may be slippery. Passengers are advised to take extra care." Secondly, why "wet-weather conditions" instead of just "rain"? It reminds me of the "Sunday Afternoon" episode of Hancock's Half Hour: Kenneth Williams: "It's raining you know!" Hancock: "So *that's* what's making the roads wet!" So now we can recast our sentence as: "Due to today's rain, the platforms may be slippery. Customers are advised to take extra care." Third, the train company already has my custom because I've already bought my ticket; I'm a "passenger" because the train company has a duty of care to ensure my safe and timely passage, but why that horrible distancing between speaker and listener in the first place? Instead of "Customers (or passengers) are advised to..." why not just say "Please"? So now we have: "Due to today's rain, the platforms may be slippery. Please take extra care." Fourth, of course it's "today's rain"! It's not last year's rain! And the sentence is still unnecessarily verbose. So now we can have: "It's been raining. Watch you don't slip." More information than is required annoys people and when people get too much info they switch off. It’s like asking for directions, what is that switch in the brain that ensures as soon as you have asked for directions one’s ability to listen goes out the window?! People just can’t take in multiple instructions at one time so they end up listening to the first ‘turn right at the lights’ and zone everything else out! Sometimes, however, the 10 second message doesn’t convey enough information. ‘We’re merging with Company X’ raises more questions than it answers and is not enough to have the impact you would want it to have, unless you were deliberately aiming for wide scale panic, fear of job loss and reduced employee productivity accompanied by a mass exodus! When the first few seconds are not enough we see people jump to the other extreme and provide way too much information. The hours of detail isn’t the right answer either. People often mistakenly believe that it’s important for people to have all the information there is - it isn’t. Other people share everything they know on a subject, every step along the way to show how much they know. What’s important is that people have the right amount of the right information for them at the right time.

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If people are given too much information they hit overwhelm and switch off very quickly, especially as it vastly reduces the likelihood that the messages will be relevant for them. So what’s the ‘appropriate’ message length? It obviously varies but we believe that it’s important to bridge the gap between the 10 second headline and the 10 hours of detail and create a ’10 minute’ message that conveys the information the audience needs at that point in time to allows them to make informed choices about what questions to ask or where to go for information next. We believe it should communicate the essence quickly but give people the ability to access more information if they want to. Going back to Einstein’s wise words:

‘Everything in life should be as simple as possible – but no simpler.’ Cutting a message down can be a real challenge, you have to really understand your audience to cut the message down to that will be effective, and it takes time. It takes less time to throw all the information down and let the reader pick through it for the relevant information than it does to take the time to think what messages are needed for different audiences and cut the message different ways so that it’s relevant for everyone. We’ve seen many people fall into this trap when communications is not their ‘day job’ and they are also trying to run a multi-million pound project.

Hard to understand If people can’t easily understand the information they won’t take the time to decipher it – they will just move on and the communication will have been ineffective. We all use acronyms and jargon. In many cases it can be valuable; it saves time and can give a company its own sense of identity and culture. However, often jargon and acronyms are used when they shouldn’t be. Different acronyms mean different things to different people. Acronyms can only be effectively used in an environment when everyone knows what they mean and, just in case the message is read by anyone else it’s always safer to avoid them. In the NHS to save time and space many acronyms are used relating to patient care. Patient SOB, however, would mean something different to the doctor treating the patient, SOB = Shortness of Breath, than it would do to the patient, Son of a B? It’s easier to write the acronyms down as it takes longer to say or write everything in full. It’s easy to see why Doctors would write “BSO” rather than “Bilateral salpingooophorectomy” and “PERRLA” instead of writing out “Pupils equal, round, and reactive to light and accommodation” each time. However, too many people do this accidentally, by not thinking about the audience and whether the writing will make sense to that audience. A doctor who wants to effectively communicate with a patient must spell out what they mean. The other challenge with writing text so that the audience understands is not just the jargon and acronyms but also the general level of complexity, long words and meaningless phrases. The Visual  Advantage  

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Complex text doesn’t impress people it increases their resistance and scepticism for what being said. We found this in an engineering magazine:

After the proactive initiative is championed and we've achieved maximum synergy, competitive dynamics and globalization effectiveness will empower our human capital to conquer a new paradigm, delight customers, and achieve World Class on boarding in our space We have an opinion, but we’re not sure what it actually means – other than that they seem to want to do well, and recently bought a thesaurus. Messages that are unnecessarily confusing don’t aid understanding, nor do they impress the reader but many people seem to think that they do. We found the following:

"A multi-agency project catering for holistic diversionary provision to young people for positive action linked to the community safety strategy and the pupil referral unit"? Perhaps not the simplest way to explain Go-Karting for excluded children! The “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity” or (Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly) study at Princeton showed that the simpler people write and the most understandable they are the more intelligent the reader perceives the writer to be. Knowing long words is good, but using them unnecessarily is bad. This fits our own experiences. It’s most often the people who don’t really know the subject or what they are doing that send out the over complex messages. If you don’t really know what’s happening it’s hard to put it in words that others understand. But people seem to think that if they make the message complex other people will assume they know what’s going on.

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2.2 Engaging employees There are many reasons why employees become disengaged from the companies they work for. However, poor communication exacerbates most of these reasons. Even in a company where employees are valued, poor communication reduces employee engagement. If employees aren’t engaged their productivity will be lower and the staff turnover will be higher, resulting in higher recruitment costs. Simply put: Poor communication costs money, good communication saves money.

They can’t see where they fit into the organisation If employees don’t understand where they fit into the organisation it’s hard for them to engage. “Making a difference” and “alignment of purpose” frequently come above money in employee motivation surveys – but are only possible if people understand why the company exists and their role within it. For example, a consultancy had come together from the merger of three separate organisations with overlapping products but similar clients – a perfect opportunity for “synergy”. Three years on and everyone still thought and talked in terms of the original companies not the new combined organisation. Despite the memos and pep-talks, noone had understood how they fitted together and there was still more internal rivalry than collaborative working! When they mapped out what the new organisation did, and how it fitted together to meet client needs, they were able to start working together and present a united front.

They don’t buy into a strategy or vision When employees don’t understand the vision and the strategy then cannot engage with it or understand what it means for them and this will reduce their overall engagement and motivation. A recent client we worked with, Oaklands Further Education College, had just released its new strategy and vision document. It was 32 pages long and they asked us to help them to bring it to life for staff and partners. The concern was that the teaching and administrative staff wouldn’t engage with a long document full of business jargon but that to fulfil the strategy the college needed the staff to buy into the vision and the strategy for achieving it as it meant changes in working practice that would need the staffs buy-in to implement effectively. We conducted many interviews with staff and it was quickly clear that the majority of staff had indeed not read the document and the rumour mill was alive and busy. There was a great deal of concern about the new working practices, as people did not really understand them or the implications of using them. Performance related pay was a new concept for the staff and there was a lot of concern over whether the money would be available. It was clear that until the staff understood The Visual  Advantage  

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the strategy and how it would work for them and had their concerns answered they would resist the changes rather than support them. In a project we conducted with an NHS shared service we found that the staff where frustrated and disengaged because they were not being given the information they wanted to have. If a company continues with this behaviour they will lose their key talent and be in a continual cycle of recruiting, training, losing talent, recruiting and training. Until the communication is sorted and employees are being treated the way they deserve to be talent will continue to leave.

Not being listened to If employees do not feel that they are being listened to, their level of engagement decreases. Communication is a two-way street and just as important, if not more so, is how information is fed upwards. However, it’s also important that this is being done for the right reasons. We learned of a situation in one company where employees were encouraged to give anonymous feedback on the way the company was being run. People participated in this seemingly good scheme. However in this instance it was being used to root out perceived trouble makers and the ‘anonymity’ was a sham with IT tracing comments back to IP addresses and feeding names to senior management. This information was then used in deciding who to ‘let go’. Good communications cannot hide poor values and a lack of respect towards employees. Good communication can help employees feel more engaged in companies who do value their employees. If employees are not listened to they won’t feel that they are contributing to the company will reduce their engagement and their feelings of loyalty. As such they are more likely to leave the company. We recently saw an example of a large company that had not effectively listened to its employees over the installation of a new maintenance system. Because of this they erroneously believed that the process that people followed was the same at each of the different offices. They spent a lot of time and money customising the new system so that it worked for this one process. However now the new system has been installed it has been come very obvious that the same process is not followed at all offices which makes the new system laborious to use for many of the offices and means that staff have stopped suing it and have developed their own system. Its turns out that if they had not customised the system it would actually have worked better. If they had effectively engaged with and listened to their employees this could have easily been avoided. We constantly see examples of systems being built without properly talking to and engaging with the user group to see what is actually required. This results in companies wasting huge amounts of money developing new ‘things/systems/toys/tools’ that people don’t use as they are not designed to be useful! You only need to look at the mess that is the new NHS IT system to see a great example of this. None of the doctors we know believe that the brilliant changes they are making will actually benefit people and they’d have much rather had other functionality, but they were never consulted.

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Maybe the baggage disaster at Terminal 5 could have been averted if the baggage handlers that were crying out that the system wasn’t ready had been listened to. Maybe the PR of opening it late would have been easier to manage than the bad PR from losing everyone’s luggage. Important for any communication and critical in a change programme is ensuring people are given a voice. Giving people the chance to be heard can in itself reduce the resistance and allows an effective communication programme to be put together.

Cultural Differences Movement of workers around the world and project teams crossing countries ensures that project teams are almost always multicultural. This throws up yet more communication challenges. A friend was heading up a project team in Singapore. After months of preparation he was ready to present his findings and proposed way forward to the senior executives, who were Asian culturally. At this time, not knowing any better, he gave his presentation and afterwards asked for questions and concerns to be raised. No-one asked any questions or raised any concerns and my friend left the meeting confident that the proposed actions were days away from sign-off. Over the next few days, however, more and more questions came through. Not to himself though but his Asian assistant. As he was learning it was not culturally acceptable to ask questions in a presentation to someone who is perceived as senior to yourself, which he was as he had been sent by head office to rework the finance system. Instead the questions were directed through the senior executives’ assistants to the project managers’ assistant and finally worked themselves up to him. He realised that the project was not even close to being signed-off in a few days. Learning from this experience in the next presentation he sat off to the side and had his assistant give the presentation. This meant that the senior executives felt able to ask questions and they could be dealt with more promptly. This is a challenge that can be more readily overcome when people are working within the culture and can learn as they go. It becomes much harder when you’re trying to manage this across conference calls with no real idea of the cultural differences. It’s critical that people are clear about the cultural differences and how to work effectively with different cultures otherwise it delays projects and in the worst case scenario derails them entirely. Issues of management and motivation vary massively between cultures and management and communication style must change to adapt to these different cultural characteristics. Images, words, anecdotes mean different things to different people and it can be very easily to unintentionally offend your audience. Nowhere is it more important to truly understand ones audience than in cross-cultural communication.

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2.3

Coping with change

Today’s world is in constant state of change. Every time you open a paper, switch on the news something has changed - whether it be the climate, business or your local environment. Even positive change is not easy for people to deal with. Everyone has a need to be comfortable with their environment and change threatens to upset the status quo. Because of this there is an inherent resistance to change. Communicating change is therefore a recurring need – and one of the toughest to deal with. There is resistance to be overcome even when the change is beneficial. The job of communicating gets harder still when the change affects people adversely despite making sense for the business. There are various statistics quoted of how much poor communication contributes to project failure, from 57-89%. Whatever the accurate statistic is, intuition suggests that poor communication leads to problems in projects for all the reasons above.

Poor communication leads to a lack of alignment with people working in different directions. We recently worked on a project that had got off track. The believed this was due to a lack of alignment in the leadership team and we were asked initially to find out whether his was the case. After a series of interviews with the senior executives within the function we found out that they were very aligned on the high level vision for what the changes would accomplish and what the ‘new world’ would look like and were bought into the benefits. However, what was casing challenges in the project was that they were highly misaligned on the steps that needed to be taken to achieve this and who was responsible for what. As a result there were many complaints as to what was happening but no one was standing up and taking responsibility for driving things forward. Based on this information they were able to run an alignment day where the key issues were discussed and they could find a way forward. Many project sponsors do not understand what communications truly is or the benefits of good communication. So much so that effective user communication is often overlooked completely – resulting in projects being delivered on-time, on-budget but unused. They all agree that it’s important that everyone has a shared vision and a clear project plan and that potential resistance is overcome in the people that will be affected by the change and that a smooth launch is important to the success of the project but they do not seem to associate communications with being able to achieve this. Once they do more effective project communication is possible. Project managers often associate communication purely with project reporting to stakeholders. However, when asked what the objective is of the communication the most typical response is ‘so we can let people know the status of the project’ after asking the follow up question ‘which means that?’ several times the objective becomes anything from ‘So I get asked less stupid questions’ to ‘so I can get the resources I need to deliver the

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project’. Once project managers begin to understand that there is a direct benefits to them they become more motivated to communicate more effectively.

Lack of credibility Without credibility the message will be discounted as spin; an untrustworthy message will not have the desired impact. We found that there were several different types of resistance to the changes in working practices needed by the changes at one the high street bank. There was always going to be resistance to completely changing the way people worked, however, we found that if people understood why the changes were being made and they were supported in the change the resistance could largely be overcome. The challenge then became explaining why the changes were happening in a way that was acceptable to staff. Increasing profit for the business was a viable message for the senior executives but would not have been as effective with customer facing staff who cared more about customers than shareholders. The changes would, in fact, bring about better customer service and therefore be highly beneficial for customers as well as the business; however, scepticism from staff about the business being interested in a anything other than profit at the expense of anything else made this a tough message to get across in a way that people would accept. We found out that there was a high level of trust in certain people in the business and therefore by ensuring the message came from them and clearly showed the benefits to the customer the message was accepted.

Overcoming resistance It is important that communications is not just for communications sake. Every communication must have a clear objective, to change attitudes or behaviour. In a change programme overcoming resistance in different audience groups becomes of paramount importance. Resistance can lead to project failure and businesses can lose millions in the event of a large project failure. At the corporate mentioned earlier, resistance to using the new IT remote working system threatened to make the 12 million pound investment a waste of time, effort and money. Overcoming resistance in the user group became the critical priority. Ironically most were resistant to the 4 hour training session, which was planned to train them. Resistance was overcome with a 10 min visual training aid that showed people the benefits to them and allowed them to start using the system quickly, with further support available for those that wanted it.

Geographically dispersed teams As companies become more global the amount of teams working remotely is increasing. Not only are projects being off-shored from the company’s HQ but also individual team members are often working remotely. This throws up several communication challenges.

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With the onset of remote working and globalisation increasingly teams are not sat in the same location. Effective communication is a key challenge to overcome. Face to face communication becomes costly and in the majority of cases impossible. This poses some challenges. Face to face is more effective in overcoming resistances and minimizing misunderstandings. This is especially prevalent when the business and the technical teams are trying to communicate with each other. With the removal of face to face communications people tend to rely too much on purely email communication. This leads to an overloading of peoples inboxes and much needed information being screened out. We’re sure you have seen many further examples beyond those shown here. So, how can you solve these challenges using visual communication?

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3 The benefits of visual communication So far we have looked at the problems caused by not communicating effectively. In this chapter, we focus on some of the benefits of visual communication, before looking at how to communicate effectively in the final chapter.

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3.1 Visual communication can help you stand out Let us look at ways visual communication can help solve many of the problems we have looked at. Why should you invest precious time and money in communicating visually? We believe that effective visual communication combines words, images and structure – we call this a “big picture”. As the format we know best, we have used this idea of a “big picture” throughout this section – although the points highlighted apply to most other forms of visual communication. The benefits of effective visual communication: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Appeals to different learning styles Communicates internationally Creates persuasive communications Generates faster decision making Shortens meeting times Brings together dispersed teams Conveys information quickly Ensures people understand, remember and ACT!

>> 1. Appeals to different learning styles Different people learn in different ways – not everyone is primarily visual, but good “visual” communication appeals to people with many different learning styles:

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Figure 3-1 How different people engage with visual communication

Visual learners learn through seeing visual communication Some people think in pictures and learn best from visual displays including: diagrams, illustrated text books, overhead transparencies, videos, flipcharts and hand-outs. A big picture appeals to this type of learning style immensely. By its very nature, a big picture is visual and is built up of diagrams and illustrations.

Auditory learners learn by talking through visual communication They learn best through talking things through and listening to what others have to say. Auditory learners understand life by hearing and by listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances. When used in small groups or in 1:1 meetings, visual communication can become a real aid to discussion, appealing to auditory learners.

Tactile learners learn by interacting with visual communication Tactile or “kinaesthetic” people learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. The Visual  Advantage  

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Again, big pictures aid discussion, they also act as a blueprint that people can see and touch. Tactile learners will naturally point to, touch and interact with a big picture. i

Richard Mayer’s multimedia principle, that “people learn better from words and pictures than from words alone”, supports the belief that visual communication is the best way to appeal to these different ways of cognitive processing.

>> 2. Communicates internationally Visual communications can be multi-cultural as well as cross-sector and cross-department. The benefits of visual communication are the same whatever language and culture you are communicating with. It is, however, possible the creation of visual communication for other languages and cultures... You have probably heard nightmare stories about names of products that didn’t quite work out when rolled out in foreign cultures... Our favourite alleged gaffes which have taken up permanent residence in the Web's echo chamber include the Chevy Nova's flop in Latin America because "no va" means "won't go" in Spanish; Perdue Farms's translation of its slogan "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken" became a Spanish phrase meaning "It takes a sexually aroused man to make a chicken affectionate"; and Coca-Cola's misbegotten attempt to render it’s name in Chinese characters, which came off as "Bite the Wax Tadpole." A few pointers for effective international communication follow in the next chapter.

>> 3. Creates persuasive communications There are apparently lies, damn lies and statistics. Measuring the impact of visual communication is tough as people do not generally communicate things to two equivalent but separate audiences to give a relevant test group. And you are inherently measuring the quality of the example as much as the medium itself. The statistics that do exist seem plausible, these include research by Robert Horn at Stanford University, combining studies from the Wharton School of Business, with many other academic and business studies. Among some of the research findings: Influence and believability: In one study, presenters who used combined visual and verbal presentations were seen as 34% more convincing than those who used verbals alone. Another study at the University of Minnesota found presenters with visual aids were 43% more effective at persuading their audiences to take a desired course of action. The visual thinking community are crying out for more research to support what we do. Bob Horne’s work was ground breaking and has inspired many of us, but it was over 20 years ago now and the world of communication and visual thinking and language has changed.

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Advertisers have employed this for years. Without visual language the Lynx Deodorant Ads would look something like this:

But thankfully, they’re a bit more creative than that – and the visuals they use – targeted at young adolescent men, say the same thing more persuasively...

>> 4. Generates faster decision making Responsiveness and decisiveness: An overview map, a fundamental visual language tool, can help people organize and process information faster—and act on it more promptly. In one study, 64% of participants made an immediate decision following presentations that used an overview map. The control groups lagged behind.

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In fact, it was the very idea of the use of visuals to aid decision making that made John Madejski £400 million after he created Autotrader with the idea of including pictures of the cars back in 1976.

Think about it, it’s pretty hard to make a decision to buy a car without the visual – look at this spec, looks good right?

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Until you see the visual:

Figure 3-2 A picture shows far more than just bullet points At which point, you could make a pretty fast decision about whether this was worth 50 thousand pounds or not!!

>> 5. Shortens meeting times Meeting effectiveness and efficiency: Visual language has been shown to shorten meetings by 24%. The productivity gain from this finding alone has considerable impact on an organization’s results. How would you like to get your message across in 24% less time? The Visual  Advantage  

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Means more time to enjoy the sunshine, take a stroll, or have another meeting! Imagine if each sales person could have 24% MORE sales meetings each quarter!

We have seen more extreme cases, such as Fiscal Reps who went from taking three, separate ninety minute presentations and still not getting a decision – to anyone in the company able to explain their proposition in five minutes. They won dozens of additional large corporate clients simply by being able to explain their message quickly and clearly.

>> 6. Brings together dispersed teams A unified message goes a long way to bringing together a team around a specific challenge (be it a change programme or a sales proposition). This is true even if those teams are not in the same building, or even in the same country. Azlan (Part of the Tech Data Group) are Cisco Systems’ largest authorised partner organisation. They in turn manage a large amount of smaller and widespread partner organisations across Europe in the Cisco distribution channel. Partners on the reseller program were not getting the sales they deserved, and Azlan were faced with the challenge of communicating a new comprehensive incentive scheme and a training guide in a simple, compelling manner - fast. In addition to the message being hard to communicate face to The Visual  Advantage  

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face, there were geographical and language barriers to overcome, with partners speaking many, many languages – with Spanish and English chosen as first or second languages for most partners.

Working closely with both Cisco and Azlan enabled us to extract the truly core elements to the “Challenge and Reward” Program. Creating a strong theme (”Planet Security”), and working with professional translators meant it could be understood by the audience across Europe. “This was a genuine challenge. The ‘Challenge & Reward’ Program is a comprehensive package, extremely difficult to explain consistently across language and corporate barriers. Or at least it was...." - Sophie Kramhøft, Cisco Business Development Manager

>> 7. Conveys information quickly The traditional method of “death by [bad] PowerPoint” is not just incredibly dull, it’s also incredibly counterproductive in terms of embedding the message. In this scenario we typically see the audience being given the information in small and disjointed pieces. In these cases the presenter expects the audience to not only remember all these pieces, but also put them together themselves, and finally figure out where they fit in all of it! The use of big pictures and visual communications is the antidote to this kind of spoon feeding of your message. As Meyer says, you need to look at it as more than just information presentation – it should be viewed as - cognitive guidance. The Visual  Advantage  

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In the same way that it is much easier to do a jigsaw puzzle with the picture on the top of the box, it is easier to understand complex messages if you can see the “top of the jigsaw box”. As an example, take a look at the “jigsaw pieces” on these pages...

OK, what’s happening here? Can you tell what this picture is all about? Probably not! You have had all the bits of information, not necessarily in the right order, and our brain can’t put it all together without some help. The full version is actually this:

A big picture or other visual communication doesn’t just make the pieces of the puzzle simpler – it shows how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. This not only helps people understand how all the pieces fit together and conveys a lot of information quickly it also enables people to see which bit’s of the puzzle don’t fit together. We recently did some work for a government agency that was rolling out a new initiative. Many different departments were involved in delivering different work streams. We were interviewing different people to understand how the new system would work once all the pieces were put together so that we could develop a big picture for users that would enable them to get started on using the system quickly. It became clearer the more interviews we The Visual  Advantage  

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did that the picture was in fact not clear. The more interviews we conducted the more people contradicted each other. It became clear that some of the pieces of the puzzle were in fact not linked together. This was a lot harder to see for all the people involved in the individual pieces. To use the example of the jigsaw above, one department was working on people the ‘tree house’ and another was making ‘child size suit’s’. It wasn’t until we put together the big picture we could highlight that no-one had made any ‘stairs’ for the treehouse. Putting the big picture together then actually helps ensure all the pieces of the puzzle fit together and helps ensure the delivery of a smooth running project. Because we needed to understand how everything fit together we were asking questions that hadn’t been asked yet and were able to highlight the areas that still needed some thinking about.

@8. Ensures people understand, remember and ACT!

Our key objective is to make sure the reader will understand the message being communicated, remember it – and then act on it. Try a little exercise:

Interactive exercise: Take one message and visualise it. Rather than bury the key points of your next communication in a long report or PowerPoint presentation – pull those key ideas out and have a go at visually representing it. All you need initially is a scrap of paper, and a marker pen (you can tidy it up or get a graphic designer in later). The important thing here is that you start to harness the power of visual thinking and visual communication in your everyday work. Ask yourself: What’s the one thing you need people to understand about this communication? Write it down. What’s the one thing you want them to remember? Write it down. The Visual  Advantage  

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If you want the reader to act upon this message, what is it you want them to do? Write it down. Now you’ve got three things written down. For example, when we did this ourselves to write this chapter they were: 1. We want them to understand that “Visual communication really works” 2. We want them to remember that “Visual thinking makes their lives, and the lives of those around them, easier and more fun”, and 3. We want them to act and start using visual thinking every day. Now we need to take these 3 things and draw them. Use colour/intensity to highlight importance, use structure/navigation to guide the reader through, and use text where appropriate. Here was our first sketch! Send us yours to: klarifi@ltf.email

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4 How to communicate visually So we've talked about the reason visual thinking and communications is important in today’s world and how change is one of the biggest challenges facing the communication industry. We've discussed what happens when you don't communicate well and the problems that exist in communications today. Now let’s look at the practicalities of using visual communication and some tips we’ve learnt over the last five years,... It’s important to note here that the act of visual thinking and visual communication is so far embedded in our psyche, it can sometimes seem strange to people when it is analysed at this level. But while visual thinking and communication are not new, the analysis of it, and the desire to make better and more effective use of it in a business context, IS new. So, although you should recognise most of these tips as common sense, you were probably unable to use them consistently.

Humans are amazing. That’s the biggest thing we’ve learnt since our study into visual thinking and visual communication began. When we look at and see things we subconsciously analyse and organise a multitude of visual signals, without even realising we’re doing it! It’s only when you start to analyse it, in order to be able to use it, that you realise just what is involved. One of the hardest things when talking about visual communications and its intricacies and benefits is that most of it feels like “common sense” and so it is very hard to quantify and expand upon. But, as Dan Roam rightly points out in “The Back of the Napkin”, if you ever watch a group of school kids when they first learn to cross a road – it is NOT intuitive, they have to concentrate and really learn those visual signals and steps of processing the necessary information.

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4.1 Common mistakes made in visual communication Before we get into some of the best practices of visual communications and how it can be used to communicate just about anything in ten minutes, let’s talk about just a few ways in which visual communications can be used in the wrong way or have a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of the message. Let’s just call these “potential pitfalls”... these are things that are likely to happen if they do not put the necessary thought and analysis up front into the visual message they are creating. It’s what tends to happen in most business presentations... they hear that “visual communication” improves presentations, they hear people say “ a picture paints a thousand words”, and off they go – cutting and pasting as many random “hand shake” photos and “Bloke on mountain” visuals as they can into their next PowerPoint presentation. People are already overwhelmed, visual communication is about helping them digest easy to understand chunks of information – not giving them even more to swallow.

Vanity graphics In the 1980s, when word processors first came out, you would often see posters and leaflets where every line was in a different font and a different colour – with at least two borders. The technology made it possible – but using it did not make messages any clearer. The same is often still true of graphics. When presenting any kind of information visually, be it data, trends or a more anecdotal “story”, think very carefully about the level of “sophistication” of the graphics. Ask yourself – do we really need to spend thousands on creating a sexy 3D image for this? In some cases, the answer will be yes. For example, there may be a “perceived quality” that your audience seeks, and therefore the fact that you invest in sexy 3D graphics may well win over that particular audience and make them more likely to receive your message. In other cases, the answer will be no. For a simple example – if you are creating a road sign, it would be a waste of public money to create a 3D graphic for it. Not to mention the fact that the 3D sexiness of this particular image would add absolutely nothing to the strength of the message. Vanity graphics can be most disruptive when creating infographics, a term describing a visual explanation that helps you more easily understand, find or do something. Infographics are used frequently in the news media and quite often we find ourselves thinking – “is the sexy 3D effort and cost that’s been put into this, making it easier to understand?”

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We prefer simpler, clearer graphics such as this:

It’s our experience that simplicity really is the key in the majority of these cases. You can certainly use sophisticated artwork where appropriate, and in cases where this is likely to win over a particular audience, this will give the message more impact and so is worth the technical and resource investment.

Map shock! Another classic result of an ill-thought out visual is “map shock”. When creating your “big picture”, be wary of this phenomenon - an audience can easily become overwhelmed when viewing a complex visual map, and is likely to “shut down” as a result – thereby rendering your work useless. Also known as “Visual Shock” (A term coined by Donald F. Dansereau, Ph.D., of Texas Christian University) the next level up from map shock -- is elicited by graphs, charts, and diagrams. It is a big problem in any communication environment (e.g., education, business, counselling). The Visual  Advantage  

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There have been various studies into the amount of information that can be effectively conveyed by a single visual. The simplest results from these studies we’ve seen can be summarised as: • •

Perception: the average person can discriminate around 20 diagram elements on an A4 piece of paper. Cognition: the average person can understand around 7 different diagram elements at a time.

Visual of each with Caption (Like the four examples of “letters”) Map shock basically says that if you create an incredibly complex big picture, your audience will almost immediately shut down – and will not take the time to try and figure out where to start. The only thing they will learn about you is that you cannot communicate your message clearly enough for them to see the benefits of it. To avoid it, always have a clear starting point. Decide what you are trying to say, and show it – without showing everything else you know. This is a very effective way to avoid map shock when creating your big picture.

What can you delete? Our designers always ask themselves “what can we delete”, when they get to the first draft of a “big picture”. The reason they go through this exercise is to avoid what Edward Tufte, a well know if extreme writer on visuals, calls "chartjunk" — visual content that provides no real information and is therefore distracting to the reader and often misleading. This “less is more” is easy to say – and can be quite therapeutic – but people often fall into the trap of “hoarding” information (Much like people that still have cassette tapes they’ll never listen to!) and becoming prescious about taking out hard learnt information. The key is to really think about what you want people to Understand, Remember and Act on – and “weed out” anything else that is just getting in the way. Don’t forget, there is still the deeper, “10 hour” version of this waiting in the background, if people want to drill down to the details. What we are focussed on here is the magic “10 minute” version bridging the gap between the headline and the details. Take a look at this example of a classic Junk filled Chart...

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EG 1 – too busy

EG 2 – clean and simple

Look at this, cleaned up version. What do you notice? Hopefully it’s now quite clear that a bedroom TV is bad but a computer helps grades. If you look back the first “chart junk” version actually showed the opposite of what it was supposed to be saying – but it was so confusing that the editors failed to spot it.

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Assign significance wisely One of the tools we’ll describe later is the use of colour to guide the readers eye to high priority or similarly grouped information on a page. But be careful not to assign priority by using colours in areas that are not high priority. Always keep the top level in mind .

Be consistent Be consistent when assigning meaning to colours or imagery! If Red is bad, and green is good – then stick to it. Perhaps your branding is rocket red, that’s great. Perhaps you want to use it to highlight an important area of information, fine. But be careful not to use red – on the same piece of communication – to represent “danger” or “negative” information, as this not only dilutes your branding but confused the readers eye when trying to organise the information being presented to them.

Figure 4-1 - Visual Communication where colours mean something, but same colours used elsewhere – confusing. NEEDS UPDATING TO USE COLOUR BADLY!

Figure 4-2 - same big pic with colours that mean something only used in one place This confuses the poor readers eye.

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When using colours to symbolise or represent things – make sure the colours are easily distinguishable, even for those with colour blindness.

International considerations Whilst visuals can work across multiple languages or multiple cultures, it is not as simple as just translating the copy. For example... Fiscal Reps had an opportunity existed to capture a significant amount of revenue managing insurance premium tax payments and compliance for international insurance companies. The limiting factor on exploiting this potential and winning revenue was being able to communicate the proposition clearly to senior decision makers at a number of tightly defined prospect organisations. Because of the shortage of hours the founder and CEO Mike Stalley had in the day, FiscalReps were limited in the number of prospects they could meet. A big picture to rapidly summarise the problems and show how FiscalReps solves them removed these constraints and allowed FiscalReps to rapidly attain a very profitable niche position.

The interviews showed that the biggest barrier was that people were not aware of the problem – so had no interest in solving it. What started as a very technical verbal presentation about the intricacies of Finnish tax law – focussing on the solution – became a much simpler guide to the problem.

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Focussing on the core value of IPT compliance; ie avoiding the risks, the FiscalReps big picture was built to educate first and "sell" second. Highly navigational and easy to follow - the big picture allows FiscalReps to communicate the key client benefit’s quickly, significantly reducing the sales lead time. Fiscal Reps grew and within a year needed a French version of the big picture for their launch into France. Testing showed that a pure translation was not enough:

Culture specific imagery/analogy: Analogies and imagery that we take for granted in the UK may not work in other languages and cultures. In the UK version of the Fiscal Reps big picture, we used the analogy of “a spanner in the works” in both the title and the imagery to describe the changing complexity of EU tax compliance. An analogy which means nothing in France. It was re-worked to the equivalent French phrase “un veritable ‘casse-tete chinois’ – which means, a real Chinese puzzle with a maze as the image. Copy creep: Due to the technical subject matter and the need to give “elevator pitches” for each aspect of the problem, the Fiscal Reps big picture was already copy-heavy. The full translation came back with far more words than we had started with – unable to reduce the word count without losing meaning, we had to re-organise the big picture to accommodate far more words. “Flipping”: When converting a piece of visual communication into Arabic, we had to “flip” the entire piece to read right to left. For this big picture, that meant reversing the The Visual  Advantage  

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navigation, and the entire structure, as well as the copy and alignment of the titles. We even had to change our company web domain for one project as the name “Klarifi” can be seen to relate to alcohol, which is prohibited in Muslim culture.

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4.2 Combining images, words and structure So, that was how NOT to do it, and some of the pitfalls of rushing into it – but how do we define and create a big picture communication in an effective manner? How do we use visual communication to ensure that our message can stand out among the morass of information being thrown at our audiences? Our definition of visual communications is much more specific - The art of rapidly and clearly communicating a complex topic using a combination of diagrams, images and text1. While the act of using visuals to communicate is not new, the increasing need for it and the developing techniques, are. We talked about the “magic ten minutes”, and where that fit’s in the communication pyramid:

Klarifi lives in this “10 minute” space, and we create these “big picture” communications by blending skills from both the top and bottom layers of this pyramid. By utilising Informed consultancy (traditionally the “10 hours”) combined with Dynamic graphic & information design (Usually the “10 seconds”) we uncover our clients ‘big pictures’ in a consistent and effective manner.

                                                                                                                        1

This  is  our  definition  of  Visual  Communication,  for  others  see  Appendix.  

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We believe that the key objectives of an effective piece of visual communication (and therefore of our big pictures) is that the target audience should Understand (the message being communicated), Remember (the message and it’s meaning to them) and Act (if appropriate, on what the message is communicating to them).

“A pure picture paints a thousand different words for each of us”: Cliches become clichés because they are consistently proved to be true. One of those clichés is “A picture paints a thousand words”. We think that’s true, but that’s not what we think of when we talk about visual communications. The picture below might conjure up a thousand words in your mind, it may remind of you of warm summer days spent with loved ones, but those words and memories that it is envoking will be different for every single person that sees it. It is therefore not a piece of communication, it is merely a nice picture that can stimulate thoughts and feelings, or even debate in some cases. We feel that to literally COMMUNICATE something, a piece of visual communication needs to leave every reader with the same embedded message. If it creates more questions than it answers, then we don’t feel that is communication. It’s either completely factually incorrect, or it’s a piece of engagement work – which is something we talk about elsewhere in this book.

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Figure 4-3 True visual communication contains words as well as visuals To be a true piece of visual communication, your message needs more than just a picture. It needs words and it needs structure. Back in January 2008 Tom and Ricky flew to San Francisco for the inaugural VizThink conference. Upon his arrival he received a text message stating that “Multimedia Messages were 20p and SMS/Text messages were 40p” making picture messages cheaper than text messages. Being on a visual conference, he decided to try and send picture messages rather than text messages to communicate with people back in the UK - and save on his mobile bill! The first message he needed to get across, was to his wife and daughter that he had arrived in San Francisco and all was well. The first picture he took was just of himself with his suitcase against a random wall in the airport. As he was about to send it, he realised – it didn’t actually communicate the whole message.

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Figure 4-4 Sending vague information by picture message All it actually says is “Tom has his luggage”. Now that is no mean feat in it’self, but it’s not the message he wanted to communicate to his wife and daughter. So he then thought about how to restructure the message in order to communicate it properly. He took a second picture, this time it was Tom, with his luggage, smilling and happy and next to a pillar that said “Welcome to San Francisco”. Therefore communicating that he was happy, he had his luggage and he was indeed at his destination.

Figure 4-5 Incorporating text to send a clearer visual message This is where Klarifi differs in its approach to some of our fellow visual thinkers. In that for some, a picture is enough – but requires a facilitator/guide to talk people through it and can often raise as many questions as it can answers (which is often a fantastic result and The Visual  Advantage  

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entirely appropriate in some scenarios). For us though, a big picture needs to stand on it’s own more often than not, and in order to be effective it needs to be received and understood by remote audiences as well as face to face.

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4.3 How to create your big picture With each project, we try to improve not just the final deliverable – but the process, tools and techniques that allow us to create effective big pictures for the future. What follows are some tried and tested tools we use developed over the last hundred projects. Later, we’ll wrap all these elements and tools up into our “Top 10 tips you can start using today”.

Start with the right brief As part of our mission to make the complex world easier to understand we take on challenges to take a topic that people struggle to understand – and use visual communication to simplify it. For example – we work with lots of Project Managers and we asked them if we could simplify one thing for them, what would it be? The resounding answer was “PRINCE2”... a type of project management (PRojects IN a Controlled Environment - Version 2 in full). Clarifying the brief, how it would get used and what difference it could make, the project changed. The need was not as great for a “refresher”, with the detail of the methodology, but there was a need to get project teams to buy in to the concept of actually using a methodology. It turned out most projects start with a team meeting – led by the project manager – where at least one person is thinking “We don’t need you and your process, just let us get on with it”. The brief evolved how they can best explain the benefits of PRINCE2 to new teams and departments. The interviews therefore focussed on this need and although it includes a lot of the structure, the emphasis and even the language used are very different. Just a third of the space is devoted to the structure – with the rest covering background, why bother and focuses on the one area which affects delivery teams best.

Why are you doing this? What does success look like? In a year’s time, what will have actually changed (or not changed!) in the real world? If nothing, should you be communicating at all? Projects often start wanting to communicate the details of the project “so that people understand it”. True – but unhelpful. Digging in further shows that the real reason is to improve the credibility of the department, or to get people to buy in and support a project. Getting honest answers here can be tough but essential. Each different brief, different reason will create a different output. If you are focussed on establishing general credibility you would focus on different areas than if you wanted to train and equip people to “sell” your project.

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Who are your audiences? Not how would you want to group them – but are there different groups, who need different messages? For example, the bank IT project we read about earlier: Logically they were split into three divisions – but that would not have been effective. The only way to do this is to spend time with the audiences, understanding their concerns. Often the audiences are not split in the way you would expect initially. The technical audiences from three different divisions above were far more similar than the business, admin and technical functions within one division. The best way to make sure your messages are read is to make them relevant for the audience. Solve problems they are trying to solve using language they use and understand. It will always be easier to connect with your audience if the messages they are getting are messages they actually want to hear.

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4.4 Interviewing to get the right message Before you can create a big picture, you need to determinte the right message – or you will create the most beautiful big picture in the world, which perfectly communicates the wrong message.

Unbiased/wood for trees We strongly recommend you find somebody unbiased and objective to conduct the fact finding interviews required to uncover all the information. The person structuring the big picture, needs to be able to:

See the wood for the trees

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Get the helicopter view

See the big picture

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Choose your cliché! Again, these clichés start for a reason, if you have been in the middle of your field for years, you are no longer normal! More specifically, you see your world very differently to the people you need to communicate it to. In the case of Klarifi projects, we are obviously this unbiased and objective party – but there are other ways. You need people to believe there is both anonymity and confidentiality – so that when people are interviewed, they can be completely candid without fear that what they say will ever get back to their boss and be career limiting. More importantly, an outside party can build a true picture of what is happening in the organisation – where any resistance might exist, who is confused and why. What’s historically not worked in terms of change programmes or specific pieces of communication. They can then take all of this information and use it to mould a big picture that overcome these issues.

Figure 4-6 Independent interviews are important for getting honest feedback We structure who we interview based on a grid (below) from the high level strategy people, to the very detail orientated “shop floor” people, and from those that communicate with the audience to the actual audience themselves (the “audience” would usually be the staff or our client’s clients). Within that, we try and include someone who has come to the topic in The Visual  Advantage  

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the last six months (So they can still remember their learning curve – where they got confused and how they got through it) and both advocates who love the idea with cynics who do not. The more fully we can understand around the topic, the more effective we can be at communicating it. This is not the same as understanding the topic itself. We purposefully choose a consultant with a similar understanding to the audience (Generally low!) and does not know everything about an area – or they risk being part of the problem!

Effective Interviews: Good interviews are more like a detective piecing together the clues to what did happen than a scientist carefully measuring what should. The aim with each interview is to get as close as possible to the “real story”. Most of this is simply a case of asking the right questions – but ideally you want to get beneath the inevitable politics

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We have found the best way to do interviews one on one and in a location where they feel comfortable (E.g. not in a staff canteen where they could be overheard). This is partly because the more intimate setting helps people be honest – but more than that it allows you to find out what they think. Having a proper conversation allows you to follow their story (We aim for 60 minutes – but they generally vary from 30-120, shorter for the “audience” and longer for “detail” people).

The Wisdom of Crowds A term coined by James Surowiecki in his book of the same name, which basically states that groups are wiser than the smartest member of the group IF certain conditions apply. Those conditions are often conveniently ignored but basically say that a group must be independent, diverse, decentralised and aggregated. It’s well worth a read but in the meantime, he defines those terms as: Diversity of opinion Each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts. Independence People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them. Decentralization People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge. Aggregation Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision. He is also clear on when crowds lose their wisdom and turn into “mobs”, largely the opposites of the above: • • • • •

Too Too Too Too Too

divided (For example, having different people do the interviews) homogeneous (For example, all company staff) centralized (For example, all senior management) imitative (For example, no audience perspective) emotional (For example, group meetings can create peer pressure or “herds”)

People think and speak differently in groups. Our experience fits this assertion that you need a group – but not herd. A friend once asked five designers to choose a colour for the meeting room in their office. After two hours of debate, they finally agreed on magnolia. When one of them was singled out, they came back two minutes later with ox-blood red. The other four loved it.

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A famous experiment by Asch in 1956 showed that 75% would rather “lie” about blatant facts (In this case the length of different lines) than go against the crowd. Most discussions are much more emotionally charged than pure facts and ideas can live or die, not on their own merit, but on who suggested them. There is a line about a duck-billed platypus being a swan designed by a committee. In summary, there can be times where group buy-in is important – but if you want to harness the wisdom of crowds, you need to do so in one-one interviews (Ideally coupled with a larger, online survey!).

Key people You generally cannot interview everyone in an audience – nor do you need to. Aside from the “usual” categories, there are often other perspectives that can be particularly helpful depending on the project. For example:

Internal audiences “The recent optimist” They have only been with the company a few months, and still have the enthusiasm and zest of youth (Independent of their age). They proudly share the achievements of the company with friends, they are passionate about working somewhere they are proud of and will have gathered up the facts which support their passion. They are one of the few people that read all the emails, the posters, listen intently in meetings. They are therefore up to date on what you have been trying to communicate. Their “innocence” means they’ll have a feel for which messages seem loudest and which are confused. Be wary of assuming everyone listens this intently – they don’t! They are the closest you can get to the “now” of the company. A present which for everyone else exists deep within layers of the past: “Company historian” Especially useful around repeated mergers and changes. They have been with the company for years, probably longer than the CEO. Fiercely loyal but highly vocal – often confused as “trouble makers” as their loyalty can lead them to speak out when they see problems. They are probably not obvious from the organisation chart but are widely respected by many – and people will often wait for their opinion before deciding on their own reaction. Because they remember the previous changes and have experienced the different cultures, they understand the political history bubbling away unseen. At one large corporate we worked with, everyone knew if people were a “green man” or an “orange man” ten years after the two brands had merged. Two cultures, both of which need addressing for change to succeed. The Visual  Advantage  

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There are two added benefits to involving them early on – their experience can help shape the change and it’s positioning to be more successful – and if it’s good they’ll be your most vocal supporter. Authenticity is critical with all these interviews – any attempt to manipulate them or pay only lip service risks back-firing when they see straight through it. “Openly confused” Joined the company six months ago, but they are convinced that they understand nothing until understand everything. The fact that they asked all those questions and have joined recently means that they remember the “confusion curve” that anyone joining a company goes through. And they’ve probably asked most of the questions that other people pondered without asking – they may even have written down the questions in their notebook, which they probably carry. “Wise Consultant” External to the company, they have worked for a number of competitors and can therefore see the true differences in an industry where each company takes pride in “the quality of our people and the uniqueness of our products and services”. They have probably reached a point in their career where they no longer need to prove themselves every day – and have taken the opportunity to work smarter rather than harder. This smartness means they Equally helpful with messages internal and external, the key is getting the right introduction. Being too open with the wrong person could limit their future options and they’re wise enough to know it.

External audiences “The vocal cynic” A client, a strong supporter – although they appear to be your most avid critic. They see it as a client and they share because they care. Not only is it free consulting but it comes from a proven buyer. Beware of feature creep though: they are describing their perfect solution – which may not be everyone’s optimal solution – and many of the features they want may not be worth the cost. They are generally an extreme case but can show you areas to develop which others would love but never think to ask for. “The perfect client” Most service companies make 200% of their profit from the top 25% of their clients. This apparent impossibility is cancelled out by an equal loss from the bottom 25% of clients, which companies would be better off without. Therefore, make sure you include the clients you want more of – not just the clients you have today. It is healthy to assume that these “perfect clients” have different wants, needs,

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and priorities to the average majority – and as the people who really pay the bills, these differences are critical. In particular, try and understand what they were buying. Where many other buyers may have been buying a commodity, your best clients probably had a specific application which you are not yet exploiting. “The form filler” Many clients buy because of a strong relationship. But there are cold, analytical buyers who carefully assess and follow the numbers. This represents a goldmine of (imperfect!) competitive data on how you and your competitors are perceived. If you can establish trust, that you will use the data to become better, many will happily share their findings. Almost as important as the data are the actual categories and weightings they appear to use. You may be competing on time when all they care about is quality. As with all these profiles, they give an insight, not a definitive answer. “The one that got away” They appear to be the ideal client, but have not signed – or worse, have signed with a competitor. They may be persuaded to share the comparisons they made - and even if it was simply a stronger relationship, give insights into where you won and lost. Be careful not to give up when they first talk about price – unless they are true commodities, price is rarely the deciding factor but being impersonal, is the easiest to use.

Listening to your audience Try to understand their perspective as fully as possible – perception is more important than straight facts. For example, when they talk about something being “good” – ask why? You may assume it’s good because it saves money – but your audience may think it’s good because it’s more environmentally friendly. The words used can make a huge difference: Banks talk about deposits and withdrawals, but most of us talk about paying money in and taking money out. For example, when working on a project to communicate a small consultancy we managed to get an interview with the head buyer for a large corporate who had just chosen them over two of the world’s biggest IT firms. Our client was convinced that they won the work because of their small size meant they could not risk failing, but were worried that they only had skills in one area. The buyer produced the actual report which had been used to compare the small consultancy with their bigger rivals and it turned out it was completely the opposite. The client saw that they could have sued the large firms if they failed – but knew that such a small company would actually need supporting financially if things went wrong. The client also saw their narrow focus as a strength – meaning they would collaborate with other teams, rather than trying to place their own consultants.

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The key point here, is that the perception of strengths and weakness was completely different when viewed with the audience. This insight allowed the small consultancy to focus on being themselves – rather than blindly chasing their larger competitors.

Follow the tracks Any existing message will have left clues about what does and does not work across hundreds of conversations. Where are the “magic moments”? For each person’s journey there are normally a few key things which . Understanding something happens in a few key moments: it’s not understanding it that takes the time. Where do people get confused? If you can find out where other people get lost, you can work backwards to the false assumptions that led them there, and cover those before people get confused. What history is there? If you were talking about hospital waiting lists to newspaper readers in the UK, you would be starting with an audience that were convinced they were long. This may or may not be true today – but if you do not start from the same place as your audience, you risk ending up in different places at the end!

What needs to be heard – not what wants to be said Going back to the project with Fiscal Reps, their presentation focussed on the details of the solution such as the intricacies of Finnish tax law. From the interviews it became clear that people did not understand that they even had a problem. When they realised they did have a problem, they had very little interest in the details of the solution – beyond knowing that they could pay Fiscal Reps to take it away! The result is therefore nothing like a visual representation of what was said in the original presentation. It is much more of a visual guide along the path that the audience could walk.

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4.5 Distilling the core message Once the interviews are over, we go through our process of filtering the information into a summarised format. Through this process, we pick out the key facets of the message, those elements we need to overcome any resistance or confusion, those elements that are absolutely core to what everyone needs to know. EXAMPLE OF ELEMENTS:

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Creating a rough sketch

Once we have distilled the information from the interviews, we pick out the key themes, facets and axes and construct a “rough sketch”.

How best to communicate that message At this point we have a development session to turn the rough sketch into a “structural draft”. A structural draft is a fully worked up version of the big picture, but all copy is left in printers Latin. This use of meaningless Latin is very deliberate, to keep the client focussed on the overall framework and flow – and NOT worry about the exact wording, spelling and grammar. This process includes: • • •

The consultant who did the interviews and has developed the message The designer, who focuses on creating a clear, attractive message The account manager, who tests everything back to the “brief”

This collaboration is a vital part of the process. It is difficult to quantify what happens here, it feels almost magical sometimes. It is the marrying up of the consultancy and

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communications strategy with the knowledge of visual organisation and design that pushes the big picture to another level. Often what the consultant presents at this stage develops.

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4.6 Test and improve

We then go back and test this “Structural Draft” before adding any copy. Testing at this early stage forces people to think about the top-level message – rather than getting dragged into the minute details. If you give someone a full document to review, comments tend to come back referring to tiny grammar errors or choice of client names – as these are easy to do, compared to the “heavy lifting” of thinking about the entire structure. The key questions are: • • • • •

Does it tell the right story? Is it onbrand? Does it feel right? What is missing – and important? What is superfluous and can be deleted? What is unclear? In particular: o What is inaccurate or wrong? o What is misleading or unhelpful? o What could be reworded to be clearer?

(These last questions look very similar to each other, but often uncover additional issues) Some, detail loving, people find it very hard to give meaningful feedback at this stage as they find it hard to assess something without the all important (to them!) details. Their time comes later in the process.

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4.7 Designing an effective big picture There are two distinct aspects to the design of visual communication: visual organisation – and look and feel.

Look and feel This is the personality, the emotion, the branding of a piece – visual tone of voice and body language. You can communicate exactly the same message with the same words in very different ways. Every message stimulates different emotions and conjures up or lends itself to different themes and styles to effectively communicate each message.

Figure 4-7 Different projects with very different styles Often the initial design brief can hinder the impact of the message. For example, one project we carried out for Darlington Youth Service in the North of England – on which we were working on a big picture aimed at increasing awareness and engagement around a specific Government Youth Initiative. The initial design brief was to stay on brand, but during the feedback with the audience (teenagers) it was obvious that the corporate style brand was diluting the impact of the message. We went back to our design team and asked them to give this big picture more of a teenage personality, and got the client to agree to go “off brand”... the next feedback group was much more positive – the kids loved the new look, and because of that – they were able to get involved and actually understand the message.

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Figure 4-8 Two variants of the same project with the same content but different look and feel

For a message to be effective, it is important to find a style which is right for your particular audience. We talked earlier about a project we did for a large financial organisation. When they were communicating their IT infrastructure changes to all of their group business it became apparent early on that we needed to create two quite different messages. One for the executives and one for the techies. The message for each was relatively similar – but the language and perceived benefits and therefore the style very different. Executives were interested in economies of scale and lowering cost – the “techies” more interested in working smarter and less “red tape”.

Visual organisation and hierarchy There are different Schools of thought regarding how people think and understand. We could argue all day, (and people do) about which are “right” and about what constitutes a “visual language”, but that’s not what this book is about. For the psychologists among you, here comes the science...

Gestalt principles The way in which we create big pictures and use visuals to communicate, is captured in the gestalt principles as applied to visual perception. Gestalt principles of proximity, closure, symmetry, figure-ground segregation, good continuation, and similarity provide a powerful approach to making instructions more inviting and consistent, as well as easier to access, follow, and understand.

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In the 30s and 40s Gestalt psychology was applied to visual perception. -

Law Law Law Law Law

of of of of of

proximity similarity Prägnanz symmetry closure

Klarifi tools/principles for aiding understanding of a big picture through the use of graphics:

Clear navigation As the “top of the jigsaw box”, big pictures combine the elements of the story, the “pieces” with how they “fit together”. Showing this fit, and showing the eye the right way to understand the message in order is what we call navigation. Some is explicit and obvious like arrows and numbering – but much of it is discreet such as alignment, use of proximity and the other Gestalt principles above. Note: Some of the things you need to do to make the message clear and effective are very different to what a designer would want to just make it beautiful. You are effectively choosing to make some areas “jar” visually, to make them stand out and lead the eye down a specific path. There are two main different ways a big picture is used, each has different navigational needs:

Standalone: A standalone big picture would be predominantly received by the end user in a remote way – be it via email, Disc or on paper – with nobody there to talk/walk them through the message. Big pictures that are to be received in this way need to be extra clear in the way they display information to ensure that these remote users are being delivered the same consistent message.

Talked/Walked through Fiscal Reps example

Anchor images Sometimes the anchor image is the core of the message being communicated. Other times, it is simply a resting place for the viewers eye (these are particularly useful if a big picture is particularly detailed, or based on a process or journey – it gives the eye a chance to relax in between following the process).

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Using brand elements to push the message Using elements of the brand or creating completely new ones to support the message. You can often take these new brand elements and use them elsewhere in their business to support the same message in a consistent manner.

One project we worked on was for a young Business Process Outsourcing consultancy. During the interviews, we discovered they were attempting to portray themselves as “IBM” or “Accenture” and people were finding a gap between the image they were attempting to portray and their credibility as a consultancy. This formed the brief for the big picture, which was to differentiate them, indeed position them as complete opposites to, the likes of IBM and Accenture. We went beyond our usual brief to create brand elements they could use across the business that played on this difference, and focussed on the fact that they were a crack team of experienced people, rather than a “faceless corporate”.

The importance of themes: Creating a theme. In this case an ironic one... A humorous theme for an incredibly serious, life and death message. Deliberately so, for maximum impact. This particular audience had The Visual  Advantage  

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been so bombarded with “serious” messages, we had to come from a different angle and in a very direct and strong manner – in order to embed the message.

Perceptions: Colour, texture, hierachy Distinguishing between elements on the page, helps the reader to assign priority to them. There are various ways in which our designers use graphics to make these distinctions. Things like intense/hot colours to show important information, differing textures to distinguish between elements of information. And even very simple things, like giving areas of text a structure that can be understood from a distance.

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Use meaningful titles: Don’t say “introduction”, say something more meaningful that draws the viewer in and summarises the information being presented.

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4.8 What format will be most effective? ii

We think of the big picture as a blueprint of the message that everyone involved can understand and buy in to. We then convert the message: the content, structure and personality into the best formats, to spread the message to the audience, wherever they are and whatever technological, geographical or physical concerns there are. For example: • • • • • • • •

A mini website or section of a website An online (HTML) presentation A PowerPoint or “flash” movie A DVD A Pocket big picture A Laminated poster On walls or canvas Pocket guides

Whatever it takes basically, to get the right message to the right people. INSERT ELLENS TWO AXIS GRAPH – HOW FAR DO YOU NEED TO MOVE PEOPLE? Use appropriate media Different Channels Which format for which audience? Which format will be most effective? In one case, only a couple of years ago – it turned out that the most effective format for us to use to communicate with the management team of a particular financial institution was going to be a plain old VHS video tapes! They all had laptops but were not generally computer savvy. So we created a flash movie with a voiceover, and recorded it onto VHS tapes which were sent to each branch. Hardly leading edge – but highly effective. The technical aspects to a big picture format decision. Using the big picture as a blueprint for multimedia versions Example of flash/web big pictures (L4) Proof Effective Powerpoint Is it a powerful tool that’s poorly used or a poor tool thats over used? That’s a question for another book (although Vizthink did a podcast on this – vizthink.com/blog). We believe that powerpoint can convey powerful messages when used well. Again, to be what we consider a true visual communication – a powerpoint presentation must follow the same rules as a big picture (also see using dynamic graphic design...). The Visual  Advantage  

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Navigational slides Bring the viewer back to the big picture. Avoid the trap of “drip feeding” your audience with the bit’s of the jigsaw, without ever showing them the top of the box. It’s the top of the box you want them to walk away and talk about. When we build powerpoint big pictures, we use the big picture as a menu/overview and allow the user to dive into the detail they want. They can also be viewed in a linear fashion, but always bring the user back to the big picture to keep it fresh in their minds, Web Big Picture as a sitemap and homepage Big pictures make the ULTIMATE site map. Budgets for websites rarely incorporate the work required upfront to structure the message (not just the site) in the right way. When clients hire us to create a big picture, then later to produce a website – we are in a priveledged position. More so than a web designer/developer that might simply be handed a brief and given a deadline. We hold the company’s big picture and use this to create a perfectly “on message” website for the client. In DVD – we have the opportunity to appeal to every possible combination of learning style. Through the use of visuals, animation, voiceovers, and text – we use the big picture as a storyboard to inform the message.

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4.9 The end! So that’s the end of our book – now what? We hope you feel inspired to be more visual, more effective in your communication. The appendices that follow include ten things you can do tomorrow. We may be one of the pioneers, but we are sure there is much left to learn – tips, thoughts, suggestions are all very welcome: klarifi@ltf.email or call us on 0203 1372 844

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Appendices

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A. Ten things you can do today Now we are going to take all of the elements of visual communication we have discussed and wrap them up in 10 simple tips that you can start applying today to make your communications more visual, and therefore more effective message carriers. Remember these tips to make your visual communications stand out:

Let’s do this by looking at an everyday communication, an email newsletter, and applying our 10 tips to it – to see what happens: Here is a very basic text based email newsletter. it does have some things working in it’s favour – it is short, it is simple and it does have some kind of structure, albeit just the use of bold titles. But there is nothing here to really draw the reader in. The title is largely meaningless – and is likely to put me off straight away. There is no distinction between the introduction and the news items. The email appears to be “introducing” us to new people, but there are no pictures to enjoy. Basically, there is room for improvement and in this case we are going to apply our top 10 tips for visual communications and see what happens...

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But lets see how applying the visual tips we’ve learnt makes this a more inviting, more effective piece of communication. iii • • • • • • • • • • •

Look & feel – klarifi brand applied – makes the brand travel, reminds them who you are Size – intro is bigger than the rest, more important that they read it first. Colour – Klarifi red colours used to highlight action points and key information (act!) Meaningul titles – i.e. Not “Partner update may 2008” but instead “klarifi doubles in size for 2014” (so even if they only read the title, they got the message you wanted them to!) Infographic used to push point about the size of the team increasing Navigation used to push peoples eyes down the page and read everything – try and resist looking at the end of an arrow! Text structure, in the story panels – using ‘’similarity’’ to group the sections. Anchor images used against each piece of news – in this case actual faces of people, and people love looking at people! Themes – them e of growth applied to email, ruler up the side Brand elements – pyramid etc

So we’ve gone from this:

To this:

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we’ve taken a piece of everyday email traffic and turned it into a piece of visual communication which guides the reader through and gives them specific things to remember and do. It now has “inbox appeal” (bit like “curb appeal” in estate agent speak!)

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B. Case Studies Download from www.klarifi.co

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C. VizThink

More and more people in and around the business world are recognising the power of visual thinking and visual communication. The very fact that there is now a growing global community created specifically for the nurturing and debate of these skills and techniques shows that visual communication is finally getting the attention it deserves. You only have to look at the “Periodic table of visualisation methods” created by visualliteracy.org to see the vast range of tools and techniques that have been developed in this field:

VizThink, launched with a conference in San Francisco in January 2008, with the goal to bring together the best of the best in our industry with participation from trainers, marketers, presenters, executives, planners, strategists, and managers, just to name a few. While each approach and application may be different, the community members all share the same philosophy in the power of visualization for learning and communication. VizThink believe that by bringing these diverse groups together, we can create a community that can take the industry to a new level and invite you to take part.

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We saw the need for and brought the community home with us, and in April 2008 we launched VizThink London. VizThink for us was like finding long lost family. We’d been “out there” for 5 years, ‘visually communicating stuff’ – but we felt like we had no real identity. We knew people were using visuals to explain things, we knew there were people called “graphic facilitators” and things called “learning maps” – but they all seemed disparate and out of reach. Suddenly, there we were in San Francisco with 400 people that had been feeling the same way! All of these visual thinkers, visual communicators, and visual ‘users’ had been out there, hidden, and here was this new place they could all hang out and share knowledge and debate ideas.

Some people think they can’t draw, as Dan Roam rightly points out in “The back of the napkin”, these are the ones that often tend to be the most visual thinkers. The fact is that all kids can draw, everyone was a kid, so you must be able to draw.

For more on vizthink, see www.vizthink.co.uk

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D.

Visual Tools

iv

As Visual thinkers and visual users we find ourselves drawn to new and visual ways to collaborate and organise thoughts and processes. The web 2.0 push toward collaboration and “bolt on” resources has created an absolute wealth of tools, some of which have become integral to our way of working and all of which are worthy of a mention is this book.

Creating visuals: As you would expect, we used visual thinking to create this book. One of our favourites is a tool called Mindmeister.com – an online collaborative mindmapping solution. You can use it online and copy mindmaps offline so you can work on them whilst travelling.

Gliffy.com is an online visual editing tool, which includes a Yahoo image search. Perfect for quick mock-ups

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Online Review Platforms: Internally, and sometimes externally, we use a fantastic tool for reviewing design work online. Conceptshare is a collaborative platform that allows design teams and clients to see versions of a piece of artwork and make live comments on it – for discussion with the artworker.

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Index: 1st Thought ........................................ 72 Accenture ........................................... 72 Autotrader .......................................... 32 Azlan.................................................. 35 Bob Horne .......................................... 30 Chevy................................................. 30 Cisco .................................................. 35 Coca-Cola ........................................... 30 Darlington Youth Service ..................... 69 Dubai Health Insurance System............ 48 Einstein .............................................. 18 First Thought ANONYMOUS REF ............................ 63 Fiscal Reps ..............................34, 64, 71 FiscalReps .......................................... 46 Gadget Shop....................................... 89 IBM .................................................... 72 Lynx................................................... 31 Meyer................................................. 35

The Visual  Advantage  

Mindmeister.com................................. 87 NAA ................................................... 37 NHS ..............................................21, 22 Oaklands ............................................ 21 An FE college .................................. 25 Perdue Farms ..................................... 30 Professional Excellence ........................ 31 redesign the film industry ...................... 6 Robert Horn........................................ 30 RSA Student Design Award .................. 89 San Francisco ..................................... 52 Sophie Kramhøft Cisco............................................... 35 Stanford University.............................. 30 Stockholm Environment Institute.......... 14 Terminal 5 .......................................... 22 Venia ................................................. 74 Wharton School of Business ................. 30

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Visual Index: Figure 3-1 How different people engage with visual communication ................................. 31 Figure 3-2 A picture shows far more than just bullet points ............................................. 35 Figure 4-1 - Visual Communication where colours mean something, but same colours used elsewhere – confusing. ................................................................................................. 47 Figure 4-2 - same big pic with colours that mean something only used in one place.......... 47 Figure 4-3 True visual communication contains words as well as visuals........................... 53 Figure 4-4 Sending vague information by picture message .............................................. 54 Figure 4-5 Incorporating text to send a clearer visual message........................................ 54 Figure 4-6 Independent interviews are important for getting honest feedback .................. 60 Figure 4-7 Different projects with very different styles .................................................... 71 Figure 4-8 Two variants of the same project with the same content but different look and feel ............................................................................................................................. 72

                                                                                                                                 

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The Visual Advantage

About The Author

Ricky O’Neill, FRSA Creative Director of Klarifi.co, and Founder of Viz-

By Rick O’Neill Think London, Rick O’Neill lives and breathes visual communication.

After 10 years of successful Information Design and Visual Communication for

Rick O’Neill, FRSA

the B2B world, including much of the FTSE100, Rick O’Neill has pulled together some of the science behind the use of visual thinking to clarify messages, products, services and processes. Share this comprehensive guide with colleagues to inspire the shift to Visual.

www.klarifi.co

© 2003 - 2014 Klarifi.co

The Visual Advantage  

Written by Klarifi Founder, Rick O'Neill (FRSA), The Visual Advantage serves as a guide for organisations shifting to Visual for communicati...

The Visual Advantage  

Written by Klarifi Founder, Rick O'Neill (FRSA), The Visual Advantage serves as a guide for organisations shifting to Visual for communicati...

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