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Part 2 of 3 - Concept Visualization: Bring the intangible to life in your presentations

Welcome! This is part two of a three-part series on Concept Visualization. It's a ton of content - text, videos, and slides - but by the end of the series, you'll know how to bring to life intangible ideas with stunning, easy-to-understand, visuals in your next presentation. Let's get it!

If you haven't see Part One - you might want to read that first.

What makes for an effective concept visual?

For a concept visual to be effective, a few things need to happen within an instant that visual getting put in front of a viewer:

  1. The visual as a whole needs to look beautiful

  2. The visual needs to look simple

  3. The visual needs to be scannable (visual hierarchy in both text and graphics)

  4. The visual should have a directional flow - a starting point and an ending point.

Beautiful and Well-designed

Humans process images approximately 60,000 times faster than we process text. Similarly, our decision on whether or not we trust something stems directly from our first visual impression of the thing.

I always use what I call the “pretty vs crappy ATM” metaphor: There are two, free ATMs on the street corner. The first one looks like Apple designed it - sleek and spotless with a gorgeous user interface. The second ATM looks like something from a Mad Max movie - there’s graffiti all over it, an entire hoard of teenagers stick their gum in the cash slot, and it’s practically wearing a trash toupee.

Which one would you take your money out of?

The question is: which ATM do you take your money out of?

If you said the dumpster ATM, I’d be flabbergasted.

Concept visuals need to look beautiful on first glance. This means using design best practices to ensure that it looks pleasing to the eye before anyone even starts to think about what the visual is actually trying to say.

Even though there is lots of information in this visual, it's simple and uncluttered - ie. beautiful.

Simple and Uncluttered

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to prevent my eyes from rolling out of my head when I see visuals that have dozens of boxes, arrows, and shapes going every which way. Why do humans hate complex visuals?

The reality is: no one wants to do any work! We like to conserve our mental energy as much as possible. This is why websites and apps place such an extreme emphasis on a simple user experience. If users don’t know how to achieve a desired result, they check out. However, in a business environment, we can’t check out.

We’re being paid to stay checked in! This dichotomy between our lazy-as-heck brain and our professional obligation to try and understand complex subject matter naturally causes us to be frustrated.

When we’re frustrated, our ability to trust others and be open to new concepts is at rock bottom.

Scannable with a Visual Hierarchy

Something is scannable when it has a natural, visual hierarchy. Our eyes need to be able to bounce around the page, searching for visual hooks to grab onto. This visual hierarchy doesn’t happen by accident. It happens very much on purpose.

Imagine you’re staring at a cloudless, blue sky and a crow comes flying into your vision. Your eyes naturally zip right to it and likely follow it for a bit as it flaps along on its journey to go eat some trash off that ATM from earlier. Our eyes and brains have evolved to be naturally drawn to things that stick out too us.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so hard to keep our eyes off of a TV that’s in our line of sight at a restaurant. Because of this, we as concept visualizers can exploit this fact in order to enable our viewers’ eyes to be drawn to the most important parts in a specific order. Different viewers will take different amounts of time to digest a visual.

Some will just do a quick scan (like myself) and others will dive in deep, trying to understand the ins and outs of every bit of it. Creating this informational visual hierarchy ensures that the most important parts get understood by the most amount of people while those that need to dive deep, can do so in turn.

Our eyes are naturally drawn to the most important element - the central one. Then, our eyes drift around the outside and use the icons as anchor points.

Directional Flow

Humans naturally want things to move in a certain order. Streams going downhill. Reading left to right, top to bottom (in western cultures). Time always advancing forward. Flowers radiating outward. Waves cycling in on themselves.

Taking cues from the natural world is best way to create a visual that has directional movement. If a concept you are visualizing doesn’t need directional movement, then you might just need a simple list. This idea of movement can apply to almost every concept that needs visualizing. Networks have a flow of information.

Processes have a certain order that they need to unfold in. Business models have inputs and outputs. Algorithms have cause and effect triggers. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you. Portraying a natural flow to a diagram doesn’t just mean slapping some numbers on a few things and calling it a day.

Ideally, a great visual doesn’t need numbers to describe directional movement - our eyes naturally start at the beginning and end at the end, following the appropriate stops along the way.

Thanks for checking out Part Two! Stay tuned for Part Three.

Here are the slides Part Two:

Next up: Part 3 - What’s the process for creating a concept visual?

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