Think with Pictures

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These will mostly be reading notes about Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin but with some additional connections or anecdotes peppered in.

Start from nothing

You should begin your visual thinking from scratch. Roam talks about how templates and shapes provided in powerpoint or other programs will unnecessarily limit and constrain your thinking. Rather than pulling out charts or visuals and following it up with the question of “how can I use this?” you should start from your question or solution and work to build a visual that answers the relevant questions.

I was working on a presentation with a team recently and a teammate said “I think this slide should have a venn diagram on it” but didn’t know what should go in the venn diagram. After spending some time talking about what we wanted to convey, we landed on a much more helpful and meaningful visual.

This is one area where an overabundance of frameworks can actually be a detriment, because you’re thinking inside those constraints before you’ve considered what your visual really needs.

The W’s

Roam makes an important claim about visuals: that they’re just answering the questions of who, what, when, how much, where, how, and why.


Maggie Appleton’s excellent essays on her process of illustrating coding concepts.

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