Remembering VizAbility

March 3, 2009

vizMet Dave Gray, Andrew Simone, and Jim Durbin for coffee yesterday afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the conversation over a range of topics. Dave’s approach to connecting visualization and explanation is always impressive. Andrew and I stayed around a while after the others left to talk about a range of things, but in particular his own interest in how we communicate what we know visually. The conversation led me to remember a Handbook from the mid-1990s that I worked through at one time called VizAbility, by Kristina Hooper Woolsey.

Upon entering my office at home I immediately pulled it out and popped in the CD to re-acquaint myself with a few of the exercises . I know a lot of books were written on visual design and communication over the past decade, but in my opinion VizAbility really stands out as both a classic and enduring resource of inspiration. It helped me through the visual design side of a couple of tough multimedia projects when I first read it in 1996. A short excerpt gives a good sense of its approach.

…for most of us, drawing is relegated either to our early school years or the hobbies of late adulthood, as if it were relevant on to the beginning and end of our lives. It is a skill that is approached lightly or not at all during the bulk of our education or professional activities.

But excluding people from the experience of drawing because they are not artistically “gifted” is like excluding people from speaking because they are not great orators or from writing because they are not first-class novelists. Drawing is not just a way to produce art, reserved for those talented in techniques and materials. It is a critial skill for bringing ideas into the world, and a tool for better learning and communication.

Anyone who doesn’t know the book ought to check it out. Now if I could just let that insight sink in again 😉

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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