Sunday, January 9, 2011

Clive Thompson on the Power of Visual Thinking

I recently inherited a stack of past issues of WIRED magazine from a friend of mine. He had invited my wife Megan and I over to have dinner with his wife, and asked me if I was interested in postponing their inevitable dive into the recycling bin. I said sure thing! The thing I like about WIRED magazine is that the editors and authors are able to strike an amusing, yet intelligent balance between technology, art, design, society, and current events (I've never been a fan of technology magazines or publications that are essentially one entire "Special Advertising Section" from cover to cover). The October 2010 issue (I know, its late, but I already informed you why) did not disappoint.

Clive Thompson, a regular contributor to WIRED, wrote a fantastic article about visual thinking and technology entitled, The Power of Visual Thinking. This article struck a special chord in me because I have recently been asking myself, "What else can be done with art and animation?" other than TV shows and movies. Awhile back I realized that animation isn't merely a technique for making films that wind up with Happy Meal toys, but rather a very powerful tool for explaining things that might otherwise be difficult to explain or grasp. If a picture is worth a thousand words, than animation (which is 100's or 1,000's of pictures blowing past the eye at a rate of 24 frames per second) is worth millions or billions of words!

In the article Clive talks about two men, Dan Roam and David Sibbet, who are pioneering the art of using pictures (often very, very simple pictures) to help people and businesses solve all kinds of problems. Roam's best-selling book "The Back of the Napkin" champions the art of quick and dirty, low-tech problem solving. Roam even used his simple illustration techniques to explain how President Obama's proposed healthcare reform would function, effectively accomplishing what no democrat or republican could articulate no matter what Ivy League school they had graduated from.

Visualization expert David Sibbet has spent the last three decades serving as a consultant for businesses, effectively drawing infographics during board meetings for distribution afterward. I used to illustrate my notes in Biology class (and virtually every other class) in undergrad and would have classmates ask me if they could see them. I just thought it was further evidence that I had chosen the right major (art), but Sibbet has turned it into a profitable career.

If the iPhone, iPad, the ubiquity of the television, and the rise of the smartphone (along with the death of the "dumb phone", I guess) are a harbinger of the things to come, then I see the art of animation and visualization mutating and evolving into applications and industries that were previously unheard of or nonexistent. One needs a screen to watch animation, and we've never had more screens in society than today. In the coming decades I foresee more and more animation, illustrators, and for lack of another all-encompassing term, "art students" making significant contributions to society in ways never before imagined. All it takes is a little imagination.

Thanks for visiting!

-Kurt

Illustration by Postypography

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