Want to communicate visually? Build a Visual Library.

Showing is more effective than telling. Here’s why.

Being able to think and communicate visually is a core skill of our job as designers and facilitators. Communicating visually does not mean creating elaborate artworks that look like the real thing. What we practice at Meld is far simpler and succinct, and it consistently adds value to the interactions we have with each other.

Communicating visually means we can:

  • engage groups to think and problem-solve as a collective
  • create consensus and a shared dialogue around a topic
  • represent complex ideas in a tangible way to support decision making
  • give a ‘face’ to ideas expressed in conversations and meetings
  • map conversations, showing organic connections between ideas and topics
  • develop a deeper understanding about a topic

For more on the benefits of doodling read The Doodle Revolution by Sunni Brown.

What is a Visual Library and how will it make me a better communicator?

If you use words more than sketches, but want to do more of the latter, you should build a Visual Library for yourself. A Visual Library is made up of sketches of everyday objects. They are simple sketches that you can draw in 5 seconds – and you feel confident drawing them.

Confidence is important – drawing each object should be a reflex – so that drawing feels more efficient than writing and describing (and this confidence will only come with practice).

The ultimate goal is to make your Visual Library a permanent part of your toolbox – your simple sketches are stored alongside words, gestures, body language, sounds – so that you have go-to sketches to help you describe scenarios, show relationships between concepts, explain processes and record talks or discussions.

ACTIVITY: Build your own Visual Library

We ran this activity internally so we can all get better at expressing ourselves visually.

We ran this activity internally so we can all get better at expressing ourselves visually.

This activity will take 30mins.

What you will need:

This exercise is about practicing the basics. You will use the ‘visual alphabet’ to represent everyday objects. The visual alphabet is a series of marks, that when combined, form a visual representation of a thing. Just like words and sentences are constructed using our alphabet, so too are sketches.

Visual alphabet

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Step 1. Rapid object sketching – 10 MINS

On the doodle challenge activity sheet draw as many of the objects as you can. Construct your drawings using your visual alphabet (in 2D). Make sure you use a PENCIL – this is important because you will add or remove detail to your sketches in step 2.

This is the level of detail you’re going for. The simpler your drawing the better, and here’s why.

From Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics

From Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics

Reflections from participants:

“The less I thought about how I draw it, the easier it was to represent it.”
“I didn’t think I could draw a snail!”
“I couldn’t draw a pram because I was thinking about it in 3D.”

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Step 2. Add or remove detail to each sketch – 10 MINS

Look at each object you sketched or if you have a buddy, share your sketches with them. Which sketches resemble the object and which don’t?

Using a SHARPIE PEN to trace over each sketch and add or remove details.

  • If your sketch doesn’t resemble the object, ask yourself, what detail do I need to add?
  • If your sketch has a lot of detail, ask yourself, what detail can I erase to simplify the sketch?
    sand castle_before after

    Add or remove detail to your sketch so it resembles the object as simply as possible.

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Reflections from participants:
“I didn’t need all this detail for others to recognise that this is a sketch of a car”

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Step 3. Attach meaning – 10 MINS

Look at your library of objects and begin to attach meaning to them. Being conscious about what each object might represent will help you make ‘visualising’ a reflex. Ask yourself, what concept or idea could each object represent?

Write the concepts or ideas next to each object. Your page will look something like this:


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Step 4. Apply it!

Congratulations! You now have a library of objects that YOU drew. It’s now up to you to use this as a tool for how you communicate with others. Remember, no one ever got great at anything without practice!

If you’re interested in further building your visual thinking skills, we’re running a Visual Thinking workshop on Friday, October 14. For event details click here.

Here’s some sketches that people in the class have done for practice.



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