A commonly used categorization of learning styles is Fleming’s VARK model, which discusses visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles. Fleming’s theory is visual learners have a preference for seeing - pictures, visual aides, diagrams. It’s a learning style where ideas, concepts, data and other information are associated with imagery. 

People (self included) who learn and communicate visually, struggle with concepts presented primarily in numbers or words. For instance, you can tell Facebook was not developed by a visual thinker. Facebook has a lot of words streaming. A lot. 

There is a growing trend in our culture, perhaps due to the explosion of information, toward visual storytelling. Information is so easy and inexpensive to get, but it takes talent to deriving meaning from information. It takes critical thinking to make connections and gain insight from information. I remember sitting in a presentation with a senior Fortune 100 executive. About 5 minutes into the presentation the executive stopped the presenter and said, “Why are you telling me the weather?” Ouch. 

Seeking meaning from information is creating a trend in visual storytelling. Data visualization storyboards reveal patterns, infographics inject emotion and pin boards provide examples. There are several solutions popping up online geared toward this visual storytelling trend including Pinterest,Visual.lyMindMeister and so many more. Visuals package data and information into a story.  Stories create possibilities. Possibilities create dialogue. People like to share dialogue with other like minded people. I’m on board for this visual storytelling trend, and so are these companies:


Much of the early buzz about Pinterest was focused on the sharing of recipes or crafts, but Pinterest is wonderful example of visual learning. Look at the early adopting audience of Pinterest vs. Google+.  When Google+ first opened their doors, I could only find other technical or social media professionals. Pinterest is where the creatives and divergent thinkers live. By creative, I don’t mean artists. I mean creative problem solvers. People who like to see possibilities. For someone like me, it’s a dream to organize my ideas in an aesthetically pleasing vision board. I have always done this on paper, so I view Pinterest as a strategy planner.  According to a study by Shareaholic, Pinterest now drives more referral traffic than Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined. 

We aren’t all natural visual learners, so it’s something deeper - is it the need to consume massive quantities of information quickly? For me it’s that Pinterest inspires me, gives me a place see works of beauty, charity, grace and quality. I like the site because it makes me want to do my best work, whether it’s making a bow or solving world hunger. It demonstrates the element of pride in you works and I get to gain insight from and interaction with the masters who created it in the process. And of course, I get to do it visually. 

Visual interaction is the key ingredient to Pinterest. Engaging with other users is a big part of creating a connection.  While so much of the crafting community has jumped on to Pinterest, one early adopter was the Milwaukee Bucks Basketball Team. The team started using Pinterest to profile players and show off new gear, while also connecting with others who follow the team. 

Nick Monroe from the Milwaukee Bucks says “Pinterest is such a great visual medium and that is a perfect way to showcase our strong community presence.  One of the things most appealing to me is the longer shelf life content can have.” He explained that “On Pinterest, as more users join and add our pinboards, repin our content or follow their friends, it allows this content to resurface easier and  gives us a longer life per post.” The entire interview can be read on Get Pinterested.


Visual.ly is tackling the infograph trend by building a warehouse of the best data visualizations on the web. Recognizing data visualization is changing how people find and experience information, through storytelling, the company is collecting examples of great infographs on the web.  The site also serves as a portfolio for visualization designers, giving them the ability to track how popular their content is with other data visualizers. I’m presuming that’s a tough crowd, so if they like it I bet others will too.

Visual.ly is working within their labs to remove the design illustration requirement and expensive software to create professional quality designs with your own data.  I’m still waiting, anxiously, for that capability for the masses. The company has capitalized on the visual storytelling trend, understanding people are in information overload and attention spans are waning. They are on the cusp of the growing trend to present complex information in visual stories. For this growing need, I blame PowerPoint but I like this trend because decision makers get more out of a visual story with data than an Excel spreadsheet chart embedded in a PowerPoint. Both show you the numbers and trends but the visual story more clearly depicts the value, or story, of the decision path. 


Another great visual tool is Mindmeister, an online mapping tool for note taking, collaboration, business planning and problem solving. The concept of mind mapping, fishbone diagrams or any other stream of consciousness mapping tool isn’t really that new (and neither is MindMeister). Mind mapping has been around forever, as a tool for diagramming words, ideas, tasks arranged around central concepts. They are perfect for generating, visualizing, structuring and classifying ideas for the all important problem solving or decision making. Peruse Mindmeister’s online mapping software and you will see the tool lets people get started without being stifled by not really knowing how to do this “properly”.  Want to facilitate your next business strategy session? MindMeister has the ability to facilitate a session and then export your work to Word, PowerPoint and PDF format. The tool is popular because it gives you a visual map for expressing a solution. Have business leaders with short attention spans, you know the ones who jump to conclusions when you are on slide 2? Map out your thought process in one picture and use it as a discussion point rather than walking them through your story slide by slide. Love. it. 

So how do you put it all together? Start your presentation with a mind map of the problem you are addressing and potential solutions.  Segue into an infograph with the supporting data and contrasting scenarios.  Then hit them with visual pin board examples of use cases that worked to support your presentation. If that doesn’t create more discussion than your average PowerPoint, then hit them withinterpretive dance.

by Leigh Dow