Illustration by Christian Leborg


Innovate work with visual literacy

You have become better at reading symbols and images, but have you ever designed work as a system that uses visual language?

Visual literacy has been an integral part of our species since the time we were hunters and gatherers. The legacy has made us understand visually 200 times faster than processing text. With today’s technology, visual communication has become increasingly sophisticated. Visual literacy is part of our everyday lives. If you want to establish a new way of working, maybe you should create something using visual language?
As an employee, executive or entrepreneur, if you want to design your work, visual language is one of the most useful skills. 90% of the information we take in from the environment is visual. 30% of the cerebral cortex performs visual impressions. With people retaining 80% of the visuals and only 20% of the text they experience, you can work on a higher level by developing a visual language for your work.
Your visual journey
Do you think pictures are just nice to have besides the text? The few times you dared to illustrate an idea by drawing a model may have made your colleagues pay attention to you. And you may have persuaded someone about a hypothesis showing it using visual tools. But you may feel alone because your colleagues do not dare to express themselves visually. Being a visual facilitator can remedy that fact and contribute to improving co-design. Should we all become visual facilitators?
Visual practice nourish innovation and design prototypes–Jennifer Shepherd

You have realised that many creative professionals have had success by having visual literacy as an integral part of their work. Hans Rosling was a professor who had great success with presenting information using animated data visualisation. People like Rosling have convinced you to use your innate skills to create things, convey stories or play. This makes you the obvious choice to pursue the purpose of visual literacy for work. Creative professionals have proven that visual literacy can be an important part of work.
The printing press has increased the linguistic literacy of the masses since the Renaissance. More widespread linguistic literacy advanced science and education. This may be the reason we are still rooted in communication with text and the general society thinks linguistic language is superior to visual language. The text feels more familiar because we learned to read and write at school, but did we did not learn creativity. In education, students do not use images to solve problems. Therefore, few professionals know how to work visually.

The three aspects of visual literacy
The three main aspects of visual literacy are:
1. Visual learning
2. Visual thinking
3. Visual rhetoric

Visual languages make you understand and learn faster. Your audience will also understand faster. Visual thinking with images makes you engage in divergent thinking and associative thinking. To increase creativity and solve problems, visual thinking will give you more perspectives. By communicating with visual language, you will strengthen people’s attention. You use graphic elements to create meaning.
Visual literacy makes it easier to understand, make and interact by using graphic material. Most professionals do not see it as their role to learn, create, or communicate with visuals. There is a need for visual language in businesses, because the society expects a high level of visual literacy. Except for branding and advertising, visual literacy is rarely used, and it seems to have low value for companies. Business cultures still consider text as the most important way of doing business.
Visual literacy will make you come up with more ideas that are more original ideas. People with visual competence can identify, interpret, and test problems. By doing visual thinking, you perform creative problem solving. You get an overview of the problem easier than with other ways of expression. It also makes it more difficult because images clearly convey a particular culture. Pictures are often so concrete that it takes time and effort getting them right.
The things you investigate or convey can be abstract matters, or they can be concrete phenomena. Conceptual things show an abstract idea, and material things make you engage several senses. The reward for working visually: Abstract things are good for idea generation, and concrete things are about sensorial discovery. Because you and others discover something, you will attract attention and engage the audience because they sense the content, the problem, or the message more intensely.
Complete visual literacy
To prepare for the launch of my company, I created a visual manifesto with thumbnails that illustrated why, when, what, who and where about my work idea. I crossed these five areas with ten specifications, such as, for example, “Vision”. It resulted in fifty images. “Why” in line with “Vision” was: “Purpose drives motivation” To illustrate this, I drew a compass that pointed to the North Star. (Sorry to everyone in the southern hemisphere who navigates with the Southern Cross)
The dominant way of working
Working with visual literacy does not exclude verbal expressions. Comics and graphic design, for example, include both text and images. Make assumptions about what your visual innovation can solve. Experiment with solutions using visual language. Gain insight and make the experiments more specified and with visual representations that are more concrete. My hypothesis is that creative professionals will design more meaningful work if they revive their innate visual literary skills of creating something, conveying stories, and making and playing games.
To prove the hypothesis, I have to experiment with publishing content and courses. I will illustrate all my articles and do experiments with publishing content without the use of visual language–and the same content conveyed with visual language. Another idea is to make exercises with or without performing visual thinking. My assumption is that the visual material will attract more attention, and the exercises will make the participants learn faster.

Exercise: Make a storyboard of a new way of doing a work task