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Posts Tagged ‘visual

Anyone who still thinks that the VAK (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) typology is valid should watch the video below.


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A few people were blindfolded and had to guess who other people were and what they looked like just from the sound of their voices.

Proponents of any “learning style” inventory paint themselves into a corner because we are all visual learners (unless we are visually-impaired, of course). We are also auditory, kinaethetic, and other learners.

We are not predisposed to learning a certain way. Each of us might have learning preferences, but we also adapt to contexts. For example, there are times when only the written word or audio recordings is available. At other times, physical activities need to be performed and not just watched or listened to.

Extreme proponents of “learning styles” argue that teachers should provide what learners prefer. Not only is this impractical, doing that spoon-feeds instead of challenges students to learn new skills, e.g., active listening, improvising.

I say we stop supporting the charade is learning styles. It is time to remove that mask and to see the messiness of learning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

The chart embedded in this tweet is a good example of “just because you can, does not mean you should”.

More specifically, just because you think you can create a chart does not mean you should.

A chart should make obvious what is difficult to explain in words. If the chart does not do this, then do not use it or design a better one.

The logical problem with chart in the tweet that the visuals counter the intended meaning. A small chance of winning (1 in 14 million) is tiny, but it was represented by a large block. To illustrate the very low likelihood of winning the top gambling prize, the block should be tiny.

One could also critique the choice of fonts, the colours of the bars, the use of red font against a black background, etc.

Why harp on a seemingly harmless chart?

The chart is an example of what not to do when designing visuals for effective communication. It is also fodder for a module on critical thinking.

If schooling has not taught you to design better visuals, then continued education in your working adult life offers you some harsh lessons. This first lesson is free and could be worth more than the top Toto prize.

As I draft this reflection, I am facing an impasse with an organiser of a talk I am due to give overseas*. The issue is whether or not I should use the organiser’s PowerPoint template (complete with corporate branding) as the background of my slides.

My conversation with the organiser is between them and me. However, I realised this was a learning opportunity, not on how to negotiate in such situations, but how and why I design slides to visually deliver subtle yet powerful messages.

Visual design: Quote.

I often opt for a minimal look instead of heavy text and bullet points. I have learnt that I should tell the story, not the slides; they are there to back me up.

In this set of slides, I took minimalism one step further by relying on black, white, and the shades between.

Visual design: Themes.

The slide above is early in the sequence and shows the themes of my presentation. The slide below is near the end and highlights a closing message.

Visual design: Conclusion

The theme slide follows an online activity and the words scaffold what I lead participants to reflect on. The conclusion slide helps me deliver a closing mantra. The difference between the two is their lateral alignment.

The anglosphere is used to reading left to right. The conclusion slide is expected and easy to read. This is critical at the end of talk if you want the audience to focus on takeaways and temporarily put aside questions, dissonance, and tiredness.

The reflection slide might cause a bit of visual dissonance because the header and text are not where they usually are.

Visual design: Step back, reflective elements.

Here is another slide from the same deck that uses my switch-to-the-right theme. I use this visual technique to highlight dissonance.

When you look in the mirror, you see yourself laterally inverted. It is you, but not quite you. The reflection is an opportunity to examine yourself and focus on what needs improvement.

So my normal left-aligned layouts are messages I share while the right-aligned ones are for dissonance and reflection. My presentations tend to be iterative cycles of presenting forward and stepping back.

This is subtle and I do not explain this design to my audience. But I will invariably get feedback that the slides are visually impactful.

Visual design: Colour punches.

Before my audience can get comfortable with soothing greyscale, I provide the occasional punches of colour. If I go on a storytelling stretch or a series of slides to make a point, I emphasise these presenting forward elements with colour shouts to make sure that the main question, point, or challenge is clear.

Tomorrow I share how I design talks for interaction.

*Update: The issue is resolved and I am using my own visual design instead of a corporate template.

The image below was taken from Nancy Pelosi’s Flicker stream. Pelosi is the  Speaker of the House of Representatives in the USA.

The graphic needs little explanation, but if you need details, click on the link above.

Whether you are a visual learner or not, visuals often say things more loudly than words.


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