[[* I reviewed the lists of tools, but understood that the selected tool does not need to be among the ones listed *]]
As a reaction to the access to huge amounts of information, we’ve seen a surge of explanatory media. Vox.com is known for its tagline “Explain the news”, theSkimm has a set of guides to hot news topics, and the tool FOLD lets writers link media cards along with their writing to provide more context.
News and storytelling already rely on images, audio, maps, cards, data diagrams, and more, to support their arguments and provide context. There is, however, an underuse of illustrations that help explain how systems work. We are visual thinkers and most of us learn better with pictures. While glorified illustrations of data and aesthetically pleasing designs are appealing, I am now talking about pictures that enable understanding by for example showing how things are connected. Future news sources that leverage this tool of explanatory illustrations, and successfully satisfy readers’ demand for understanding the news, will be at an advantage.
A specific tool that teaches anyone to problem-solve and communicate with pictures is Dan Roam’s book The Back of a Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures. Dan Roam provides a methodology for discovering, developing, and selling ideas through pictures. He shows how to decompose a problem and come up with both simple pictures, as illustrated in Fig. 1, and more complex pictures.
Dan Roam describes the process of visual thinking as four steps, with separate chapters describing how to do each step:
1) looking, i.e. collecting and screening
2) seeing, i.e. selecting and clumping
3) imagining, i.e. seeing what is not there
4) showing, i.e. making it all clear
The book also includes concrete methodology charts, as shown in Figure 2, that can be useful starting points when determining how best to illustrate a topic or your ideas with pictures.