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communication, STC, tech comm

I can use napkin sketch artist skills at work!

In the past week, I learned about using visual skills to help improve my technical writing. Sketching out ideas is about thinking, it’s not about art.

At work, legendary Michael Hughes, suspected sketch artist and User Experience Architect at IBM Security, shared thoughts about using visual communication to gain consensus. I was convinced that working through wireframes (rough, not finished and not polished) was a viable method of working through challenges and seeing the story more clearly. When the visual form is not polished, we are able to focus more on function and less on visual aesthetics.

On Friday, March 25, I attended Don Moyer’s Building Better Visual Explanations: Practical Advice for Writers workshop at the STC Mid-Atlantic Technical Communication Conference.

I learned the value of visual explanations. I sharpened my pencil (twice) and practiced my skills at creating napkin sketches. Kids know how to draw pictures to tell stories. We do too, we just need a little practice to restore this skill.

What is so great about talking pictures? You, and the audiences that you want to reach, already know how to read images.  Visual literacy skills enable us to decode meaning in images. Visual explanations help you remember, and they help us share thoughts with others.

A good visual explanation depicts the most important parts of a story and makes the relationships vivid. Visual explanations are parades of ideas in a precise order. As good writers, we can build our understanding of complex relationships. The linear nature of traditional writing has limits. More importantly, writing largely ignores one of our key strengths: visual literacy.

Human beings are profound visual creatures. More than half of our brains are devoted to visual tasks. When we see, we experience an enormous number of relationships at the same time and we build meaning fast.

The next time you are struggling to capture an idea, sketch it out! Napkin sketches are best… rough and rapid.

You can learn to draw just 14 basic building blocks and string them together to create a napkin sketch about nearly any topic. Building blocks are useful elements that represent the actors in your story: people, places, things. Combine basic building blocks to express ideas, just like we combine words to create a sentence.

I need to practice practice practice my building blocks. According to Don, mastery of these basic building blocks will serve me well the rest of my life.

You can view photos of the workshop, generously posted on our workshop leader Don’s Flickr site.

About Barrie Byron

Innovative information developer specializing in presenting complex ideas in ways that are clear and concise. Persistent optimist, intrepid adventurer, mentor. Builder of relationships, connecting friends and peers to people they want to know. Social duct tape and generator of goodwill. Follow me on twitter @barriebyron


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