Most people are accustomed to visual icons that represent objects, directions, quantities and even emotions. But those of us in the business of visual facilitation must capture far more than that. We work live in the room creating murals to capture the essence, the gist, the big-picture gestalt of what is happening in a meeting, think tank, or conference. Our new book, Master Symbols: A Visual Insight Field Guide, explains ancient secrets of that enable this kind of visual alchemy.
Many people in the business of graphic facilitation, graphic recording or my practice of visual journalism have developed images that can convey a powerful vision of the future, the subtleties of a work environment, the attitude of a group and a vibrant picture of what people actually want to do together.
To strengthen my own practice of visual journalism, I embarked on a quest to discover why specific symbols seemed to work best to represent the complexity of the human condition. These symbols are archetypical, ancient, natural and subliminally resonant with people. To understand them, I delved into anthropological research with Bonnie DeVarco through our Shape of Thought project, and then into symbolism work of Dr. Carl Jung in a Depth Psychology M.A. Program.
In the process, I learned how the esoteric, even mystical world of ancient symbols could help us in the practical world of communication. The bridge between the ancient and the new seems especially critical at a time of relentless technological and cultural change, when human beings are struggling to understand one another, cope with an increasingly complicated world, and be true to their own creative spirits.
A key discovery: these ancient symbols — which I call Master Symbols — are complex verbs. They have multiple meanings, they do not translate directly, and they make sense within a context that is tacitly understood by the group. The sun is one of these symbols we all can (literally) feel, and yet it’s meaning depends on the subject.
For example, I’ve drawn a sun on a mural to represent an executive leadership team’s desire to energize and motivate people. It had a related but different meaning in a conference about the People Centered Internet, when we drew a sun to represent the hope to motivate global collaboration to nourish people in their daily lives.
While Master Symbols emerged from the practice of creating live murals, data visualization practitioners also will be empowered by symbols-as-verbs. The symbols enable a new layer of communication that’s deeper and more visceral than the current directional and quantitative approach. They capture process not just status of information.
In Master Symbols (Book One), I explain how 24 well known but little understood symbols work in visual communication. Bridging the practical and esoteric, with Bonnie DeVarco’s help, I compressed information about each symbol into a single page, but added copious end notes for those who want to know the history, biology, psychology and anthropology behind the expalnations. The book in available in paperback from Visual Insight with a discount for readers of this blog post (Code YDR6XS96). It’s also on Amazon in paperback or ebook.