People who work with me realise that a good way to get me to stop listening to any explanation is to draw me a diagram. Don’t get me wrong sometimes a diagram is a great way to explain stuff… but most of the diagrams I see to explain things in business drive me nuts.
Is this because I am not a “visual thinker”? Nope, that’s not it. In fact, I think I am a very visual thinker and I see more stuff in these diagrams than the authors intend. So their efforts to explain end up overwhelming me with superfluous data. For instance, people draw me pyramids with different coloured layers to indicate some kind of hierarchy. The bottom slice has much more surface area than the top… but usually, that is not actually relevant. They only mean that it’s at the bottom… but their picture is saying more than that. Then they colour those slices in… again firing off a whole set more nerons, usually without conveying anything useful.
The second thing I loathe are diagrams used to say little more than “there are five aspects to this, and they’re all related”. Which is illustrated by some kind of pentagram with loads of arrows joining the nodes in every possible combination. It’s a mess and it adds nothing to the core idea.
Kathy Sierra’s latest, typically thought-provoking post gets to this too:
Differences in an image are interpreted as meaningful information. If two things represent the same idea, make them the visually similar. Conversely, if two things represent different ideas, make them different!
Sometimes, the stimulation presented by visual ideas can work, like great writing, to evoke complex and varied reactions by the observer/reader. I don’t want to rule that out. I think the point is that there is some kind of distinction between intentionally creating complex and creative responses, and doing stuff that just gets in the way of making a simple point.