visualsLogos, billboards, icons, infographics, memes, and other visuals are everywhere. A picture is supposedly worth a thousand words. “tldr” (too long, didn’t read) is an all too common acronym. And there are lots of articles floating around that discuss how much faster the human brain can supposedly process images than it can process words. There’s no denying that we live in a highly visual time. What’s so great about visuals and how can they help you broaden the way you think?

Why People Like Visuals

Visual Appeal

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way, pictures are pretty. And something that looks good is going to get more attention than something that looks sloppy or complicated.


People want to know exactly what’s being talked about, what they’ll get if they click “buy,” and so on. Visuals allow everyone looking at the image to see the same thing, which gives them a common starting point. There’s less room for interpretation with visuals than there is with pure text.


When they’re used effectively, visuals can distil content down into recognizable symbols, colors, patterns, shapes, etc. Think about road signs and traffic lights for a moment. They convey a range of critical information, in the moment of need, with minimal text and little time available for mental processing.

Using Visuals to Broaden Your Thinking

There’s more to visuals than how they can be used in courses or marketing campaigns. Have you ever sketched something out on the back of a napkin or drawn a mindmap to keep track of ideas during a brainstorming session? These are examples of visual thinking.

At its most basic, visual thinking is the use of visuals (often with some text) to help organize thoughts and/or express ideas. Ok, so what does that look like? If you do an online search for “sketchnotes” or “visual note taking” you’ll find lots of examples. And seeing them will make more sense than if I try to explain purely with words! Seriously though, you can think of it as using an infographic, chart, or quick sketch to record information or figure out how things are connected, rather than writing everything out.

You can also push yourself by limiting the amount of text you’re “allowed” to use. Find a text heavy screen or course and challenge yourself to visually re-design it without altering the content. Rely mostly on visuals, but give yourself a small word allowance for labels and such. Sound tricky? It is. But the more practice time you put into it the easier it will get.

Alternately, you could convert your own written notes into visuals. That way you’ll already be familiar with the content. I did this for one of the sessions I attended at the Learning 2016 conference.

Sources of Visual Inspiration

You can find inspiration anywhere you can find visuals. Here are a few ideas:

  • Road signs
  • Comics and graphic novels
  • Sketchnotes and visual note taking examples
  • White board and dry erase board videos (when they focus on imagery)
  • Memes

Visuals are everywhere and people love them. There’s inspiration all around you if you stop to look at it. But there’s more to using visuals than just deciding what looks good on a screen or magazine page. Use visual thinking to expand your own thought processes and help others visualize and understand ideas.

If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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