Minimal IT logo and link to home page
Research, training, consultancy and software to reduce IT costs
Home | About | Newsletter | Contact
Previous | Next Printer friendly
25 May 2010

One thousand words is worth a picture

By Andrew Clifford

What would it be like if you were not a picture person?

I know I am in a minority, but I am not a picture person. I like words. I like numbers. I can cope with simple graphs or formal diagrams. But my mind does not work in pictures.

Most people are picture people, and work best with pictures and diagrams. I respect their preference; but, in the same way, I expect some respect for my preference. So this week, let me share with you what it is like to not be a picture person.

In my work as an IT-consultant-cum-software-developer-cum-business-owner, I get involved in a fair number of meetings and proposals for prospective customers. Typically I consider my contributions by writing them down.

As soon as I share my ideas with my colleagues and partner organisations, inevitably somebody declares "I am picture person", or suggests "Let's do some slides". My heart sinks.

Because I am not a picture person, not only do I not understand other people's pictures, I am incapable of explaining myself in pictures. Whatever I do is wrong. I try to recast my ideas as pictures, and I just get blank looks. I can not get the main ideas across, let alone the nuances that make our offer unique and compelling.

I am mystified by aesthetics. "The colours are a bit muted, it needs some more sparkle, can you love it up." I have absolutely no idea what people are talking about.

Because I have no empathy with the finished product, PowerPoint is, to me, an impenetrable work of Satan. I can do bulleted lists and simple boxes of colour, but anything more than that takes me hours and looks rubbish. I have to rely on the helpfulness of my colleagues to get anything presentable.

In my graphically-challenged mind, I am constantly suspicious of diagrams. Let me give a couple of examples.

My first suspicion is that pictures imply attention deficit. A lot of people like pictures because they find them easy to understand. The books I read to my children have pictures to keep them interested and to help them follow the plot, but something like a software purchase or service engagement needs more attention than a children's story. If I receive pictures, is it because the sender thinks I am stupid, or because they have not got any details?

My second suspicion is ambiguity. I greatly admire a chap we work with who has fantastic diagrams which he "talks around" as part of the sales process. His pictures are a series of topics and suggestions which he can weave into the story that the customer wants to hear. It's a great sales tool, but it works because it is ambiguous. It is very dangerous when the diagrams turn up later as somehow representing an agreement.

So, if you are a picture person, remember that not everyone thinks like you. Some people struggle to communicate in pictures. They will be incapable of expressing themselves to you, and will misunderstand and be suspicious of anything you give them. A picture may be worth one thousand words, but some of us still prefer the words.

Next: XML-based programming 1: means, not ends


To subscribe to the newlsetter, simply send an email to
Privacy policy

Subscribe to RSS feed

Latest newsletter:
Magical metadata

We use the term "metadata-driven" to describe IT solutions in which functionality is defined in data. Taking this to the extreme can provide unparalleled levels of speed, simplicity and versatility.
Read full newsletter

System governance

System governance helps you implement high-quality systems, manage existing systems proactively, and improve failing systems.

Try it for free!

Find out more