Visual Thinking Strategies

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is an inquiry-based teaching method originally developed by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine twenty years ago and used today in museums and classrooms across the country.

VTS provides a way to jumpstart a project team’s appreciation and understanding of divergent thinking by trying a learning exercise where they think deeply about an image as a group activity. It can be used in facilitated setting at the beginning of a meeting to set the tone, rapidly develop group interest and appreciation for the value of diverse and wide-ranging ideas, and experience linking and combining fragments from the dialog stream to create new value. It is process-focused; learning and discussion is the outcome. It establishes an environment that supports a period of ambiguity during which a fully divergent exploration of ideas can take place in a stakeholder-centered exercise.

VTS utilizes a sequence of open-ended questions:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see what makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

Participants cultivate a willingness to present their own ideas while respecting and learning from the perspectives of other stakeholders. Momentum builds rapidly through active contribution of  observations and ideas triggering further insights.

  • Creates a stakeholder-driven atmosphere with open-ended questioning facilitation techniques including paraphrasing.
  • Important to carefully stage a complex problem with an emphasis on uncovering evidence while considering and building on the contributions and perspectives of others.
  • Rigorous, inquiry-based approach that nurtures a positive culture and encourages independent ideas

It enables team members to engage visual and cognitive skills building confidence in their ability to characterize what is unknown and seeing value in discovery as a group activity.

  • Draw out unique perspectives from each individual across all domains especially those outside the immediate context of the problem, office, domain, workgroup, etc.
  • Reduce the risk of group think saturation.
  • Fosters critical thinking in group setting
  • The process is learner-driven and places the ownership in stakeholder’s control.
  • Sharpen skills to identify, articulate, and test as group evidence that supports hypothesizes generated during ideation activities.
  • Develop better and more precise language, and embed use of more descriptive, complete, and clear language as a best practice. Reduce the use of overly simplistic words, i.e. “normal”; resulting in a more accurate shared understanding of stakeholder requirements and surfacing of unarticulated needs.
  • Use as one of a set of tools to reduce the overall uncertainty profile

Uncovering unmet or unarticulated needs-a rich source of innovation hypotheses

The focus on hands-on observation of customer behavior looking for emerging patterns that may signal what we can do to make a customer’s life or business better, is at the heart of the work of uncovering unarticulated needs.

The key learning driving this observation technique is that we’re bad at describing our needs and often fail to see or articulate areas that can translate into distinctive value. By approaching the problem through close observation of what customers are trying to accomplish, not necessarily what they say they want to do, we have the opportunity to uncover valuable early signals, patterns, or components.

A Visual Thinking exercise elevates the sensitivity of individuals in a group setting to observing widely across multiple perspectives and deeply down paths that might otherwise be easily glossed over.