Blog Post

Five simple diagrams for visual problem solving

As you probably figured out if you follow @HASTAC on Twitter, I had the pleasure of attending South by Southwest Interactive this year, along with colleague Mandy Dailey. I went to over 15 different panels and talks, and most were excellent. We did a lot of live-tweeting during the sessions, and I hope to write up a quick summary of my favorites.

Only one session inspired me to actually take notes and it was the shortest one I attended. Visual Problem Solving: 5 Diagrams in 15 Minutes was led by Dean Meyers who quickly demonstrated the use of 5 techniques for visualizing thought processes. I consider myself a mostly-visual thinker, but Im also pretty linear/logical in my thought (and I can't draw at all) so Im a big fan of diagrams. I was familiar with most of these examples, but I really appreciated how they were presented as a toolbox, with the different advantages and features of each.

So with no further delay: here are my notes from this session. Sorry I havent had time to illustrate it visually as I should, so I am scanning in Deans hand out

  1. Mind map
    Starting with one central concept and iteratively branch out into related ideas, next steps, etc.
  2. Window
    The SWOT matrix is a common example of this.
    Two axes, eg strengths-weaknesses and opportunities-threats. includes opinions of the items (as opposed to mind map).
  3. System map
    Like a Venn digram. Circles may be separate, overlapping, nested.
  4. Force field
    Start with a big T, and create horizontal bars using the vert axis, showing how far each item is on the left or right of the scale. eg: Driving vs. restraining factors.
    Can also use number values & add them up at the bottom.
  5. Flow/storyboard
    Shapes with arrows, can also use photographs to illustrate, post-it notes for flexibility (can change or move them around).



1 comment

This is fascinating, Ruby.  Thank you.  So interesting to see this graphed, and to think about these distinctive styles and then the ways they mix and merge in real life situations.


I'm also curious where end-to-end principle, open sourced, customized, crowdsourced, user-generated thinking comes in---the kind that results in a collective product, whether it be Wikipedia or Mozilla?   Or where game mechanic thinking comes in where thinking is structured as a challenge that levels up when one's skills improve?