The book review leads to creation 7 Experiences in visual thinking / A book review by Hiroshi Ishii, Associate director and professor of MIT Media Lab

09.12.15

visual

Experiences in visual thinking
Author: Robert H. McKim (PWS Publishing・US$ 60.95)

A book review by Hiroshi Ishii, Associate director and professor of MIT Media Lab

Seeing and sketching are integrated with thinking

Seeing and sketching are integrated with thinking—this is a basic concept of “visual thinking.”

The first time I encountered the technical system of visual thinking was in a lecture by Bill Verplank (with IDEO at the time) at the Computer-Human Interaction conference on human interfaces held in Austin Texas in 1989. The theme was “visual thinking skills for graphical interface design.”

Verplank is a member of TeamWorkStation that made that classic computer, the Xerox Star Workstation, the forerunner of the graphical user interface. In the latter 70s his team created and commercialized a number of revolutionary ideas, such as icons, universal keys, property sheets, and the composite document interface. At that 1989 lecture I learned that a methodology called “visual thinking” was behind those revolutionary designs and I was greatly inspired by it.

In response to my question immediately after the lecture, Verplank said that the best text on the subject was Robert H. McKim’s experiences in visual thinking. Verplank told me that this book is widely used by professors at Stanford University and has become the bible for those working in visual thinking. The upshot was that this book is a masterpiece. I sincerely recommend this book to all designers who are interested in thinking and expression.

I feel that the important message of the book is the following. Visual thinking is a creative activity comprising an integration of seeing, thinking and sketching. Visual thinking is rough, freehand sketching and fundamentally different from formal, time-consuming graphic communication using power point. An important point to consider when externalizing an internal idea is what kind of expressive medium (numerical formula, language, sketch, model, etc.) to select. That’s because each of those expressive mediums has an internal operator for special data manipulation, and that puts powerful limits on the space of thinking. Visual thinking is a powerful technique when we want to take the ideas we have in our heads and quickly put them in sketchbooks and develop and convey them to others. It is particularly effective when discussing highly abstract concepts and their logical relationships. As a technique that creates a wealth of high-quality concepts and then quickly conveys them to others, visual thinking can be called a prerequisite for designers.

At the same time, the fact there are no digital tools that sufficiently support visual thinking is regrettable indeed. My dream of many years now is to someday create-based on a new kind of alternative to paper-digital media that go beyond paper and support visual thinking. (from AXIS vol.94)

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