If you want to be able to express yourself more compellingly in writing and visually, then you really ought to pick up a copy of Writing for Visual Thinkers: A Guide for Artists and Designers by Andrea Marks.
As someone with deep roots in both areas – writing and visual thinking – and a keen interest in 21st century communication strategies, I highly recommend this book. The forward of Writing for Visual Thinkers explains its purpose with great clarity:
“Writing for Visual Thinkers presents ideas and methods that can help visual thinkers become better writers. It covers topics such as 21st century literacy, the workings of the brain and its connection to creativity, and how to use writing in more pragmatic ways… The goal of this book is to explore the potential of written communication asa way to better understand the process of visual communication.”
The structure of the book
Writing for Visual Thinkers is divided into 6 chapters:
- The writer’s toolbox
- Thinking in words and pictures
- Verbal and visual connections
- Narrative structures: Verbal and visual working together
- Writing and editing in the 21st century
- Writing in practice
The book’s well-designed layout makes it easy to skim and consume in small chunks, ideal for today’s time-challenged writers and designers. Or you can sit down and consume the entire book in a few hours. In any case, this book is a resource that you’ll want to keep handy at your desk, because you’ll refer to it on a regular basis as you seek to grow your visual thinking and writing skills. Each concept in the book is, not surprisingly, well illustrated with images, drawings and diagrams. In short, it’s a very visually appealing and interesting book. Kudos to the author and designer, who obviously worked closely together to make the medium strongly support the message.
The writer’s toolbox
Inspired by great thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein, who filled numerous sketchbooks with drawings and writings, Marks covers a wide breadth of lateral thinking tools and techniques in chapter 1, including mind mapping, concept mapping, brainwriting, key word lists, reflective writing and sketchbooks. She explains, clearly and concisely what each technique is and how to make it a part of your repertoire. She also suggests some exercises to practice each technique.
The importance of visual literacy
Chapter 3, which delves into the topic of visual literacy, is also quite interesting. Visual literacy, as defined by Marks, “refers to an understanding of how to create and use imagery, as well as an awareness of how a particular image delivers a message.” If you’ve been reading this blog or my reports for any length of time, then you know I’m a big believer in making careful use of images, icons and symbols in mind maps. They must have a near-universal appeal, often drawing upon shared cultural interpretations of what certain images and symbols mean, to ensure that others understand what you’re trying to communicate when they view your visual maps.
This is perhaps one of the most important chapters in this book, because it addresses some of the ways in which reading and writing have evolved in the early 21st century. “The bottom line is that traditional notions of reading and writing have changed, and this has opened up new opportunities for artists and designers to think about reading, writing and publishing in our visual culture,” she explains.
In this chapter, Marks also covers the importance of critical thinking – reading material not just for its surface knowledge and value, but for its deeper, underlying meanings and implications – capturing both the macro and micro ideas contained within it is how the author describes this process. As you would expect, Marks is a big believer in visually annotating what you read – writing notes in the margins of a printed article, for example, or using a tool like Diigo to capture online articles of interest and annotate them with highlights and sticky notes. Lots of great ideas here!
Narrative structures for effective storytelling
As social media continues to evolve and grow in importance as a communication channel for influencing our target audiences, storytelling is becoming more important. Chapter 4 digs into narrative structures, which are essential to creating persuasive, engaging stories that move our customers to take desirable action.
In addition to containing a wealth of ideas and techniques that you can use to improve both your writing and visual thinking skills, the book comes with a CD that contains an e-book version of Writing for Visual Thinkers plus a variety of templates, examples and other supplemental resources that you may find valuable.
There’s no question in Marks’ mind, or mine while reading this book, that strengthening your visual and written skills can have a huge payoff. Everyone is starved for attention today. That means for your message to punch through the clutter, it has to have almost a visceral appeal – using powerful imagery – and then deliver the goods through concise, engaging storytelling.
For anyone who wants to be a more persuasive visual thinker or communicator, Writing for Visual Thinkers is an essential guidebook. I highly recommend it!