MIX09: Way of the Whiteboard

by March 21, 2009

Dan Roam’s Way of the Whiteboard presentation at Microsoft’s MIX09 conference discussed the structure behind solving problems with pictures.

  • Any problem we have the ability to articulate, we have the ability to clarify, if not solve, with pictures
  • We are fundamentally visual creatures. We all know how to draw when we are kids. It’s an innate ability.
  • Visual thinking’s unwritten rules: 1) whoever best describes the problem is the person most likely to solve the problem 2) we can’t solve a problem that overwhelms us 3) the more “human” your picture, the more human will be your response
  • Visual problem-solving spectrum: 25% black pen (hand me the pen), 50% yellow pen (I can’t draw but…), 25% red pen (I’m not visual). Yellow pen people are good at looking at other drawings and keeping the dialog going. Red pen people usually have most of the facts and issues behind the problem but think the process of drawing simplifies things too much.
  • The human brain cannot assimilate information in pure text and charts unless the brain is stimulated emotionally or finds something personally relevant to us.
  • When voting for the stimulus you are voting for a number: $787 billion. Where is the picture that explains things?! The stimulus bill is 778 pages of bullet points without a single image.
  • When there is too much information coming at us too fast, we freeze up. We’re like a deer in headlights.
  • We first need to break problems down into small bite-sized pieces.
  • There are really only a six kinds of problems in the world and each problem is composed of the same six pieces.
  • Our mind likes to look at things that align with how we see the world. Processing in the brain is separated into parallel slices.
  • What: identify what objects are in front of us.
  • How much: system that counts up quantity of objects.
  • Where: in relation to each other & me
  • When: watch change of “where” in the “what” we identify
  • How: more objects changing over time. Build up model of cause & effect by looking at interactions of objects
  • Why: the model of how these interact
  • With 6 ways we see the world, there should be 6 different ways to represent it.
  • Who or what –draw a portrait. Need to identify the object. Example is the Wong-Baker FACES pain rating scale used to visually identify pain levels.
  • How much –draw a little chart. 90% of business presentation visuals are charts. Is that telling us that only “how much” matters in business?
  • Where –draw a map
  • When –draw a timeline. A series of steps are better processed as a line than as a circle.
  • How –flow chart.
  • Why –multiple variant plot. Will show several dimensions of data on a single framework.
  • Drawing wins. Use bite-sized pieces. Keep it human.