More than words – why think tanks should be more visualPosted: April 23, 2012
At our branding workshop a couple of weeks’ ago one of the participants suggested that if we wanted to be accessible to a much broader audience than think tanks traditionally are then we should be much more visual. This struck me as a really interesting idea, and it’s worth considering more as we develop this project.
After all, the web is increasingly visual rather than textual. Think about the sites that are building massive communities – Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr. But most think tanks, most of the time, are fairly conventional in how they communicate their ideas and arguments. Words – presented in the traditional ways (reports, pamphlets) – still dominate as the ‘respectable’ means of communication, perhaps with the occasional map or graph thrown in when required.
This neglects that pictures, though they can be more time-consuming to create and produce, often present information and data much more powerfully. Of course there are some really good exceptions to the generalisation that think tanks neglect thinking visually – for example the work Danny Dorling has done with IPPR, how the new economics foundation has increasingly been using video (see the vampire squid), and the short film Number Games commissioned by Runnymede and produced by Feedback Films. Special mention also has to go to the RSA, with its RSA Animate series created by Cognitive Media.
Pictures would also be more accessible to a much wider audience than think tanks traditionally talk to, and could invite more people to participate in what think tanks do (for example, by posting pictures to illustrate their experience of public services) – something which is crucial to this project of course. It’s something we’ll think more about and we’d welcome your thoughts, for example links to great examples you’ve come cross of visual ways of presenting information and arguments. In the meantime, here’s a few well-known advocates and experts of visual thinking and presentation that spark our imagination about what might be possible:
- Information is Beautiful – by David McCandless
- Edward Tufte – described as the “Galileo of graphics” by Businessweek
- Dan Roam – and his Napkin Academy
- As noted, Danny Dorling – professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield
- And the showcase at visual.ly.
For our own part, Stephen Lee Hodgkins has been kind enough to create a visual record of the discussions at our branding workshop, posted below. Stephen calls what he does – a colourful method for capturing ideas and information visually in real time, for example at a meeting or event – ‘graphicking‘. Check out his site by clicking on the link.
Remember that still we’d love to hear your suggestions for our name as well – we hope that Stephen’s graphic inspires you (you can click on the picture to expand it for a better view).