Writing on the Walls
Visual Insight Network
As murals unfold on 4’ by 8’ paper around them, conference participants have a multi-sensory experience of the content. A visual journal communicates the “gestalt” of abstract ideas, encouraging interaction and a shared memory. With a background in journalism, art and theory of learning, the visual journalist is able to develop a literal big picture, a visual outline annotated with quotes and narrative. People emerge from meetings and conferences with a deeper understanding because the visual record captures tacit knowledge, intuition, unspoken themes, and creative ideas as well as information. The murals are digitally photographed and archived in the form of website or books, enabling participants to easily recall and disseminate what occurred at the meeting.
As cognitive psychology explains more of the mystery behind how images work on the human brain, visual communication increasingly is understood as a powerful strategic tool for organizations. It provides a cognitive “dual coding,” because people simultaneously see and hear ideas, which results in deeper absorption and personalization of ideas. Graphics function to create a literal “space” for emerging ideas in a way that allows people to see new patterns and relationships. This is powerful both for documenting the words of speakers, and for capturing emerging ideas during group discussions. With visuals, people can quickly integrate and act on new information.
Demographic studies indicate that today’s youths who are growing up with 3D video games, instant-messaging, and mobile phone image-swapping are relying heavily on images for the kind of information that previous generations learned through reading. Some are worried that images cannot convey the same depth as words, but imagery can sometimes be at least or more effective than words. Visual language (a specific combination of words and pictures) is developing as a rich, multi-dimensional communication form. Carefully chosen symbols, links, and phrases may convey as much depth as a report and can be absorbed in a fraction of the time. As communication and cognitive frameworks change, organizations are exploring how they can leverage visuals to bring everyone “on the same page” across cultures, languages, and disciplines.
The graphics are designed to enhance the “3Rs” of informal learning: Relationships (knowledge exchange among participants), Reflection (an opportunity to informally discuss and interact with ideas transmitted by leaders or experts), and Relevance (conversation designed to elicit examples and experiences that adds more interpretation to the material). As such, “gallery walks” are incorporated into meetings; people review the murals to assess their progress and what they need to do next. The digitized copies of the murals can then be used by the participants to diffuse the ideas to those who did not attend.
Visual Insight Network was founded by Eileen Clegg to integrate ideas from three disciplines – research in learning, journalism and visual language. She has brought “Writing on the Walls” to conferences, think tanks and leadership groups, including IBM, TechLearn, Thomson NetGlobal, Federated Department Stores, and Conference on the Future of Engineer Software. Her background includes experience as a journeyman news reporter, book author, affiliate with Institute for the Future, specializing in research on the future of learning, and consultant with Global Learning Resources. She has published numerous reports and articles on future of learning, creativity, and communication. Her chapter “The Agility Factor” and graphics are included in the Cambridge University Press book Creating a Learning Culture.