Reflecting on Visual Frameworks #GameStorming

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 20 seconds

I’m always up for learning new things, especially new approaches to facilitation. Most recently, I’ve been participating in a Gamestorming Expedition led by Dave Mastronardi, and it’s always interesting to build on things that are already familiar and integrate new things – and always, always, the most valuable thing is the discussions with others in the room, and in this one, we’re all experienced facilitators from different contexts, so the discussions are really rich and insightful.

These sessions have a huge emphasis on visuals and drawing/sketching. I have a strange relationship with visuals. As a younger person, I used to love drawing, and I could draw pretty well. Like, not an all-out artist, but I was especially good at drawing humans (portraits and bodies of people doing things), but I’m usually less good at drawing and doing graphics on a computer. I’ve gotten better at it, and I do love color, and I think also my child loves both drawing and doing graphics on the computer, so, with her influence and occasional support (even at age 8 she was helping me), I’ve been designing creative and colorful slide templates, and I’ve been trying to integrate more meaningful (not just aesthetically beautiful) visuals wherever I can, to better communicate what I am trying to communicate. I’m often frustrated by people calling something an “infographic” when it’s just text with no graphics. I’m like, that’s just… “text”.

Anyway, so the key thing I learned yesterday was that there are different ways to represent things that appeal to different audiences. This seems obvious at first, but I don’t think we actually always put this into practice. So Dave was saying that there are basically three key things we often want to communicate (process, comparison/characteristics and system/relationships) and three styles that appeal to different audiences (logical schemas, appeals to upper management/VPs; metaphorical meant to persuade, appeals to middle managers; practical how-to, which appeals to line manages or those on the ground who will implement). And I think I had a lightbulb moment where I realized: Oh! This might mean that we need to use different looking visuals when talking to these different audiences, even if we’re communicating the same message… and also, made me think about: but what about when we have a mixed audience, do we include two types of visuals, layered over each other, or separately, or? I also realized, that as a former computer scientist, I found drawing things like flow charts simple and straightforward and quick – and thought these do communicate a message quite clearly and concisely, they may only influence upper management who need that abstractness, but they wouldn’t have the kind of appeal that metaphor and how-to have for people who need to be persuaded for buy-in or to actually do the stuff.

And then our homework was to think of which visuals might be useful for a “poster session” for our imaginary company that small groups of us are working on. And they offered us some “visual frameworks” to get started. These are also really interesting in the sense of opening up my mind to how certain visuals could support an idea and make it easier to express than… other ways.

I’m also thinking about how visuals bring in other connotations along with them? So, for example, one of the visuals I liked from the frameworks was one with puzzle pieces. But I also know this: puzzles can only be put together ONE way to fit, and so that kind of mataphor implies that there is only one way to do things, not only a certain combination of things, but even a certain orientation and relationship between the pieces. So, for our “imaginary company” that roughly aims to be an inclusive event organizer, my initial instinct to use puzzle pieces to highlight the main characteristics of an “inclusive event” is probably off-track, because it would imply that all inclusive events have a certain number of characteristics that have to fit together a particular way, and I don’t think that’s true. Perhaps a better metaphor would be LEGOs! Because LEGO pieces can fit together any which way, and you can create whatever you want with them, re-order them, use different colors, shapes, sizes… I’m not sure yet if there is a visual for LEGOs in the frameworks offered to us, but I’m comfortable with there not being one. It just occurred to me that as someone who uses metaphor ALL the time in my writing I should probably use it even more in my visuals. Duh? I’ve used LEGOs as a metaphor SO often, but now I’m seeing it as something I can use even more concretely to express a particular idea, rather than an abstract one, if that makes sense?

There is another visual in the frameworks that caught my attention, one that is a tree with many branches. I like visuals that build on nature for many reasons, and I’ve used them in many places, as well. I like the one with the branches because it can show how one branch can have different sub-branches (or whatever they’re called) and it’s a way to group some ideas together within a larger system.

Now the thing about visuals, is that they can really go wrong, or be misunderstood. There is one visual that made me pause. It was of a cow and it’s called “butcher view”. It looks like that thing you see at some butchers’ that explains what each part of the cow is, but I’m not really sure what to do with it. However, I can see how this would be an offensive image, culturally, to use in a context with Hindus participants, or possibly with people who are against butchering animals more broadly. Human figures are often male-presenting, and then I always struggle with drawing skirts because that’s also stereotyping females (I don’t remember the last time I wore a skirt?).

I also struggle with visuals a little bit these days because I’ve been interacting a lot with someone who is blind – as a friend, and in MYFest, and in my class, and I always think about when I use a visual (which is important, it really helps sighted people, right?) would the alternative text help a blind person benefit from the visual as well?

I think about the Equity/Care Matrix and whether our use of a matrix with minimal graphics and without much metaphor is helpful? I think of the Compassionate Learning Design model which has two visuals (one more abstract, one very metaphorical with trees and sun and stuff – I remember the process of developing that) and the impact of each one.

The other thing, though, that visuals, as with metaphor, might lead us in a direction we didn’t intend to go, or put us in a corner. Which is why I really value the idea of trying several quick ideas (6-8-5 is an approach where you sketch 6-8 ideas in 5 minutes, and it’s really helpful to push yourself to try to come up with 6-8 ideas in 5 minutes, rather than try to come up with 1-2 ideas in an hour!) to help refine our thinking. So even though I kind of did the homework in 5 minutes, selecting just two visual frameworks, what I think I’ll need to do, for this homework, but also in future, is to give myself a chance to explore a variety of frameworks and keep refining until I find the one that will work best – for the purpose and audience!

Feature Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

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