Visuals Speak to Me – Quite Loudly as it Turns Out

I am a very visual person, although I have more of an ability to recall those things I’ve seen rather than being very good at creating visuals.

This week my cup overfloweth with colleagues and students pointing me to some great uses of visualization – Amazon Books and VisualsSpeak.

Dan Becker, a student in Professor David Socha’sEvidence Based Design” course at UW Bothell sent a pointer to a new service to visualize book linkages from the Amazon data feeds.  He’d come across the service in an article on mediabistro.  So I cranked it up and as a test put in Russ Ackoff’s name as a test.  It was with amazement that I saw what feels like a good portion of my business library of books come out in the diagram.  I particularly love the rank ordering and information on any specific selected book.

Ackoff Books on Amazon

The developer, Andrei Kashcha, rapidly responds to user feedback and a recent innovation allows you to bookmark the feature and when you are at an Amazon product page you can click on the visualize option to see what the product is related to.  It was a hoot to visualize all of the Nespresso products at Amazon:

Nespresso on Amazon

As part of a team visioning process last weekend, Sylvia Taylor introduced the VisualsSpeak Image Set. She spread out 200 images on a couple of tables.  The idea was for each of us to explore the question of “What we want for our future?” and then find in a few minutes the images that spoke to us.  Then we were to arrange the images to be able to tell a story. I selected the four images below:

What does Skip want in the future?

I wanted to take my photo editing tool and resize some of the photos so I could get the layout I wanted, but this was a one size fits all. So I arranged the photos in a “Z” eye movement arrangement.  The story I told went something like:

“I am standing in the present looking backwards at my footprints in the sands of time at the journey that I’ve been on for these sixty years.  As I turn around to look at my future, I see the ‘net of knowledge’ that reminds me that my passion in life is teaching others to ‘fish’ like the old Chinese Proverb ‘Give a man a fish and he won’t starve for a day.  Teach a man how to fish and he won’t starve for his entire life.’

“In teaching others about their future path, I try to be the light that is both attractive and yet warns of the surrounding dangers. Yet, as I walk through the doors of the years, I can now glimpse the end game of live.  I wonder what the carving in the stone over the final resting place will have to say about my life’s legacy.”

Sylvia suggests we take a picture of our images so that we can print them out and do additional work reflecting on what those images mean.  A couple of days later, I print out the images and write what comes immediately to mind.

What I want?

Amazing.  The visuals really do elicit a different set of thoughts and ideas than what is coming out of my “writing my way into existence.” I start thinking of this process as “visualizing my way into existence.”

I am interested in trying out the online version as Sylvia shared that the ImageCenter has images of paintings that the founder Christine Martell created.  I was secretly hoping that I would have the same images to choose from so that I could recreate what I did with the Image Set and be able to resize the images.  However, the images were completely different.  OK, Skip, go with the flow.  So I picked the same question we’d used at the start of the group envisioning process “What do I want in the future?” Out came the following (see full PDF):

What do I want in the future?

I couldn’t believe how easily the text flowed out of the images to describe what I was thinking and feeling in the moment. However, the rest of the team that participated in the group exercise will notice some related imagery to the group future visual we produced – many hands, sustenance, and the tree of life.

The VisualsSpeak images, process and tools fit all my criteria for a good process – it is quick, it is creative, it brings together the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, and it reflects my inner state.  The process meets Chris Argyris definition of double loop learning that Schon describes in The Reflective Practioner: How Professionals Think in Action.

Double Loop Learning

It must be the unseasonable warm sunshine that is suffusing Seattle the last couple of days that is creating the context for all of these wonderful visuals and visualizations to show up.

The visual world is speaking loudly today.

This entry was posted in Content with Context, Human Centered Design, Idealized Design, Learning, Nature, organizing, Visual pattern Language, Working in teams. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Visuals Speak to Me – Quite Loudly as it Turns Out

  1. Tom Tiernan says:


    Glad the process was informative for you.

    Another question you might want to explore (based on what I’m hearing in your post) is “What do I want my legacy to be?”

  2. swaltersky says:


    Thanks for noticing. There are actually several questions I want to pursue and you certainly hit a key one. Another one is “how do I visualize my way into existence?” with the many variants of what visualize means in this context. I’ve been exploring the legacy in several posts over the last couple of months. Now I need to focus on it.

    Thanks again for developing such a rich toolset.


  3. Beautiful post…. Tweeting right now!

  4. swaltersky says:

    Thanks Dana. I can’t wait to combine this technique that Sylvia Taylor introduced us to with Bootcamp Team Art.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s