Drawbacks to visual thinking • Meaning Guide – Mark Nicoll

Drawbacks to visual thinking

Drawbacks to visual thinking

I came across this question on Quora: “What are some drawbacks of visual thinking?” “Drawbacks”? It got me thinking…

Dave Gray answered the question directly and objectively, emphasising the need to match the right tool and thinking style to the right situation.  This is undoubtedly true, but I want to focus more on some of the problems and challenges faced by visual thinking practitioners themselves. In my experience, with the power and potential of visual thinking to create meaning comes the power and potential to generate sticky situations.

If you don’t know your stuff…

If you apply visual thinking to a subject you don’t really understand, it’ll be more obvious than if you’d just used vague abstract words. Verbally, anyone can waffle and seem like they know what they’re talking about. Visualising stuff means relating ideas to experience, and if the experience being visualised is lacking, it’ll be clearer for everyone to see. The trouble is, most people assume you’re there to add clarity. That’s a stressful place to be.

People interpret symbols differently

Though totally obvious, the fact that people have different points of view is easily overlooked, occasionally with consequences.


Black woman becomes white woman because soap? It might seem unbelievable that Dove failed to foresee how offensive this could be… but it seems they actually didn’t mean to make a racist advert. Perhaps you’re thinking this is actually an example of failing to think visually, like “how could they be so stupid!”? However, the problem has more to do with assuming that other people would look at their design and understand exactly what they intended them to understand (eg. that all skin is wonderful and equally deserving of their lovely soap). Confirmation bias and failing to fully consider the context are problems visual thinking is unlikely to fix.

Continues in source: Drawbacks to visual thinking • Meaning Guide