In the footsteps of Galileo. As a pioneer in visualization, Edward Tufte (2006) recounts how – upon seeing the satellites of Jupiter – Galileo sketched hundreds of annotated and scaled images. This year as a Baylor Faculty Fellow, I wanted students to mimic Galileo as they discovered new facets of consumption and the marketplace for the first time in my principles of marketing course. To do so, we found inspiration to visualize from scholars like Tufte as well as authors, bloggers, and cultural creatives like Dan Roam (Back of the Napkin), David McCandless (Information is Beautiful), Mike Rohde (Sketchnote Handbook), Grant McCracken (Culture and Consumption), and Pixar, to name a few.
Three essentials helped make our visualization journey a real treasure this semester.
First, visualization needed to be a key learning objective. Thus, one of our five course objectives was: “to learn and play with visualization and graphic story-telling techniques to analyze problems, create solutions, and communicate more powerfully.” Students needed to know from the beginning that whether the results were good, bad, or ugly, we were committed to visualizing in class.
Second, we needed a creative landscape. Several advocates within the Casey Computer Center in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor came to the rescue by spearheading an effort to paint the back of the classroom with white-board paint. My students and I were rewarded with several hundred feet of free space to doodle, model, and visualize to our heart’s content. Along with having enough colored markers for everyone in the 50+ person class to “hold the conch,” this space provided the creative “servicescape,” we needed to visualize.
Finally, we attempted to strike a balance between exploratory and guided intake of visualization. As such, we engaged in organic, free-flowing visualization at various points in class, structured assignments to teach visualization techniques to the rest of the class, as well as insights from experts. As an example of the latter, we brought in speakers such as Dr. Alden Smith to discuss the intersection of linguistics, symbols, and branding and Raymond Blanton (PhD student) who is an expert in visual rhetoric and media to convey how images powerfully shape consumer culture.
By the end of the course, we practiced a host of visualization approaches, including class graffiti, story-boarding, mind-mapping, radar diagramming, flow-charting, perceptual mapping, 3D modeling, and geo-spatial modeling. Along the way, we found the use of technology very helpful. Often times, we would sketch things on an iPad, project the visual, and then annotate for all to see. We also attempted to make use of platforms like Google Sketch-up, Dropbox, Twitter, and Pinterest to create and share our activity.
Students seemed invigorated by our focus on visualization as exemplified in this note I received:
“I think what made me really enjoy this class was the visualizations. We did so many of them that it is hard to pick the best one, but i think that all the visualization we did on the walls were my favorite…Overall, I think that visualization in this class was imperative to my learning…I would keep that for next year!”
(See http://pinterest.com/chrisblocker/visualization for additional student quotes and class examples)
In the end, although there were several misfires along the way, I saw a greater level of creativity, engagement, and learning than I have seen in years in this course.