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Visual thinking for creative designing

Type: Method

Project Phase: Initiation, Planning and Design

Purpose: Instigate creative thinking; clarify designs, objectives as well as roles and responsibilities of stakeholders

Requirements: Visual thinking sessions require the presence of a professional visualiser and facilitator

Relevant Software: none


Visual thinking is the process of translating one's thoughts to relatively simple images on paper. This process has proven to be very useful in assisting the development of concepts, identifying key elements, and synthesisng group ideas.  It follows the idea that “an image speaks a thousand words”. This tool description is based on the way a Dutch industrial design company (JAM) puts visual thinking into practice ( Building with Nature has implemented this tool during workshops to translate conceptual designing discussions into conceptual design visualisations. It successfully assisted with clarifying a certain issue at stake, including roles and responsibilities of people involved. It also helps in illuminating project objectives and to gain a distinct overview of the situation. The results serve as a communication tool for all people involved in the project.

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How to Use

Depending on the chosen setting and purpose of the visualisation process certain skills are required. In case of a workshop a professional visualiser is needed who teaches the basics of how to draw. In case of a session or project, an experienced visualiser is required who is able to sketch quickly and at the same time is able to integrate with the discussion as well. Furthermore a facilitator is required who is able to lead the discussion and summarise key points. This makes it easier for the visualiser to translate verbal input into a sketch and synthesise group ideas. In both cases it is favourable if the visualiser has an industrial design background and is able to think process-wise, analyse issues and conceptualise ideas.

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Practical Applications

The tool was applied in two projects within the BwN Singapore case. In the project ‘eco-dynamic design for coastal defence’ several local and regional scientists, consultants and employees of governmental agencies were brought together in a two-days course. Visual thinking had to initiate, stimulate and support communication among the participants of the course. The program consisted of 3 steps.

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