The Visual Vocabulary of Rosa Douma

We talked with the speaker of the last session of the Visual Thinking School Colombia. Rosa Douma told us about her thesis project, The Visual Vocabulary, work with which she wanted  to make a reflection about how concepts are drawn from different contexts.
Visual Thinking School Colombia: what is visual vocabulary?

Rosa Douma: I would describe it as the ability of people to interpret, evaluate, and infer meaning from information presented in the form of an image.

In order to understand visual vocabulary, I asked several persons from different backgrounds to draw various concepts.  A selection of the collection of drawings is combined into a playful book.

VTS Colombia: Why do you think is important and useful to build a visual vocabulary?

RD: I think Visual vocabulary is a subject of deep concern to all designers, visual artists or anyone working with images.

The intention of my thesis was to bring light to the phenomenon of visual perception, so that people working with images,may use an objective model of reference that differentiates laws, where they exist, (or even confront these) and identifies where there are no laws. I discovered that these ‘laws’ are different for each society, culture or group of people.

VTS Colombia: In your Project you asked people to draw  how they relate to different concepts. How often do you find similar drawings? Does the age, profession or gender influence in the posible similarities?

RD: A example of people’s background is men and women on equality. Drawings on equality by women seem to be more related to social issues like for example races and emancipation, than drawings by men.

Visualisations of a lot of concepts show a personal perspective on the subject. An example of this is ideolgy. Most of the drawings were related to communism, the second world war, the seventies, the no future generation, or the islamic state.

VTS Colombia: Now that you have build the Visual Vocabulary, what are you planing to do with it? What different uses does it have?

RD: I am in contact with people who are interested in using my project in the fields of science and psychology. I am also in contact with a institute who whats to use it to communicate with disabled people.  We will see  what will  happen, I a not sure about working with scientists. For me it feels too much like an art project, I dont want to loose the intuitive and personal aspects of this project, which make it strong.

Personally I think it could also be interesting to use Visual Vocabulary in situations where people do not speak the same language. On art school, we also did a project for doctors without borders. We had to make a visual manual of a medical tool. We could only instruct people how to use this tool by showing them images.  I like this way of working, because of in this case a graphic designer can really make a difference.

For me as a designer, it will always be useful to keep on studying this subject. I believe it is the privilege of the graphic designer to be the mediator between the message and the public. And to do this in a proper way, a graphic designer should speak the visual language of the public. The graphic designer’s voice need not merely be the record of messages, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help messages endure and prevail.

VTS Colombia: Having a visual vocabulary helps in the development of visual thinking? Do you think these are complementary tools?

RD: Yes, I am sure of that. I am also giving workshops, and I see it happening already.  But what I also find interesting is the fact that people seem to be really dependent on their language in visual thinking: I wondered what people would draw if I would instruct them to draw a concept that they would not know. Therefore, I have been searching in the Dutch dictionary for unknown words. When visualizing an unknown word, people can only relate to the speech sound of the word..

A example of this is ‘nanisme’ This means dwarfism. Some people figured out that it has to do something with being small, probably because of they knew the word ‘nano’. I also have a lot of other examples of this phenomeon.  Looking at this part of my research, I  can conclude that we are really dependent on the speech sound of words and language in visualizing new and unknown words.


VTS Colombia: Do you think that by using these  tools we are going back by comunicating like we did through hieroglyphics?

RD: People already do by using existing symbols and signs. I can conclude that these exisiting signs play a big part in the public’s ability to communicate visually. But these existing signs can still be used and iterprented in so many ways. For example, the peace sign from the 70’s has been used by people to visualize various things like freedom, democracy, ideology, tolerance, progressiveness and happiness.

Other populair or overused existing signs were hearts, arrows, light bulbs, gender signs, euro signs, and signs that represent religions. It seems like existing signs do not always represent the same thing in everyone’s personal visual vocabulary.

VTS Colombia: Wich were your references or inspirations for this Project?

RD: Some of my teachers: Gert Dumbar and Max Kisman and Dirk Vis. In art history class I also learned about Otto Neurath, who had the ideal of creating a visual language. During the 1930s, he began promoting ‘Isotype’ as an International Picture Language. I learned that a objective visual language cannot work for the whole world, but still I wanted to find out more about visual languages. I decided to dive into the subjectiveness of visual language. Therefore, I needed the input of the world around me.

VTS Colombia: This question is from our previous speaker Mathieu Spencer from Rock your Cortex:

 What do you think about making mistakes? Are mistakes part of the process of  visual thinking?

RD: On art school, I learned that making mistakes is the best thing you can do, when you are designing or developing something. Especially when your are a art student. Now that I am not a art student anymore, but a designer, I hope I will never be afraid of making mistakes.

VTS Colombia: What  would you ask to the next speaker that the Visual Thinking School Colombia interview?

RD: Do you consider visual thinking as an universal way of thinking?

The Visual Vocabulary of Rosa Douma

Interview with Mathieu Spencer: Visual thinking in medical diagnosis


VTSC  interviewed Mathieu Spencer, the speaker from the last session. Spencer spoke about his project Rock your Cortex,  his passion for visual thinking and the way he articulates his work. Spencer makes his patients  draw their pains, as part of the diagnostic process in order to treat them.

Visual Thinking School Colombia: What  is Rock your Cortex about and why did you started this proyect?

Mathieu Spencer: Rock Your Cortex is about empowering healthy rock stars thanks yo technology, entertainment and design! The two main tolos that I use to do this are Chiropractic and Visual notes. Chiropractic can physically help artists to naturally get ride of their pains and also improve their performances.  Visual notes can help them understand what are the different aspects of health and what they can do for themselves to be at their best and achieve the life that want t olive. I believe that by combining this approach to the body and to the mind people can fully express themselves and make the world a better place. And if I was able to help them on that adventure, I’ll be a happy man.

VTS Colombia: Why did you started using data visualization as a tool to explain chriropractic?

MP: It’s the easiest way for me to do it. I started doing mind mapping about 15 years ago, which evolved into my own style over the years. In 2011, with help from a couple of friends Iñaky Bernal Redondo and Toño García, I made my first video that I presented at TEDxZaragoza. After sharing it on Facebook I got almost 200 views in less tan 24 hours, which felt like a lot at the time. That was an eye opener for me. Wow. I can actually have an impact on my digital network.

So after opening my office in Warsaw, a few years ago, it was just natural for me to make a video with Visual notes to present what chiropractic is all about.

VTS Colombia: Have you always drawn?

MP: For as long as I can remember, especially when my teachers were boring!

VTS Colombia: Do you think other people might use visual thinking  as a tool in their work? What benefits would it bring to them?

MP: Yes, anybody can benefit from using visual thinking in their work. It’s a very powerful tool, it’s the easiest and fastest way on a neutological level to represento r transmit ideas. That’s why it’s developing so fast these days. In the past 5 years there has been an explosión of it. This goes in parallel to the exponential increase in information that we consume thanks to the internet. We feel overloaded with all the texts, images and videos published daily around the world. Visual notes help us to express and understand all these complex ideas in a very effective way.

VTS Colombia: Have you ever asked your patients to draw their pain  in order to have a better undestanging of what they feel? Do you think that would help  making your diagnosis? Would a drawing be better than the explanation with words?

MP: After the basic, name and address stuff it’s the first thing I do. Ask them to draw on a little guy where they have a problem. It is easy for the patient to be precise and to show the región that is bothering him. This will help me to find where the cause of the problema is. If someone draws that he has pain going down his lega ll the way to his big toe, I am alredy thinking that he might have a problem at the L5 lumbar level (that’s the lowest vertebrae in our spine). Alone a drawing is not enough, the combination of drawing and talking is, in my opinión, the best way to figure out what is precisely going on with one of my patients.

It’s similar to doing Visual notes, you want to use the creative aspect of your brain and the logical aspect.

VTS Colombia: Did you got or get  inspired by someone else in the use of visual thinking in your work?

MP: For the past years, my biggest inspiration has come from Jean-Michel Basquiat. He’s one of the biggest artists to have emerged from the Street art scene of the late 70s early 80s. If you are lucky to see an exposition go for it. Besides him, artists’ sketch books, they are usually very creative in their way of taking notes.

VTS Colombia: What is your concern in the way people get related with visual thinking?

MP: My biggest concern is when people tell me “but I don’t know how to draw”. That’s not a problem this isn’t about making a piece of art. It’s about representing ideas, like Dan Roam suggests. The artistic aspect will come afterwards if you want to develop it.

VTS Colombia: What would you asked to the next speaker that the Visual Thinking School Colombia interview?

MP: I’d like to ask the next sepaker what he thinks about making mistakes. Are mistakes part of the process of visual thinking?

Interview with Mathieu Spencer: Visual thinking in medical diagnosis


Foto: Beto Durán / Tool Kit

Desde hace un par de años ha crecido el interés por el pensamiento visual como herramienta para facilitar la comunicación en diversos escenarios  desde la educación  hasta los negocios.

El pasado 9 de abril se inauguró el Visual Thinking School Colombia (VTS Colombia) en Bogotá. Ya cuenta en su fanpage con cerca de 2700 miembros y busca convertirse en el espacio donde los interesados en la práctica del pensamiento visual puedan reunirse, compartir ideas y construir proyectos.

Martha Perea, que hace parte del equipo organizador del VTS Colombia, acá nos cuenta más sobre la iniciativa.

Tell: ¿Qué es el Visual Thinking School Colombia?

 Martha Perea: El Visual Thinking School Colombia es un espacio para que los interesados en el pensamiento visual, como herramienta de trabajo se reúnan, aprendan y compartan experiencias.

Tell: ¿Cómo nace esta idea?

 MP: Desde el año 2008 le estábamos siguiendo la pista a Dave Gray, el fundador de una empresa llamada Xplane, que se especializa en explicar conceptos complejos, y el creador del alfabeto visual, que es ampliamente usado por facilitadores gráficos en todo el mundo. Para preparar a su equipo sobre cómo comunicar visualmente, Gray organizó un evento mensual que llamó el Visual Thinking School, en el año 2008. Este evento era solo para los empleados de su empresa, pero fue tal el éxito entre sus clientes y la comunidad en general, que decidieron abrirlo a un público general.

Estos encuentros aún se desarrollan en la sede de Xplane en St. Louis y Amsterdam pero con menos frecuencia. Para este año tienen programados tres encuentros.

En Colombia vimos cómo desde hace un par de años habían surgido empresas que promovían el uso de herramientas visuales para resolver problemas y visualizar ideas complejas, inspirados especialmente por el libro Back of the Napkin de Dan Roam que se distribuyó en el país en el año 2013 por Norma. Sabíamos que habían muchas personas interesadas, muchos gerentes tratando de vincular el pensamiento visual en sus procesos y muchos profesionales preparándose y ofreciendo una oferta de valor que se diferenciara.

Pensamos que hacía falta un espacio que nos permitiera conocernos, intercambiar experiencias y fortalecer competencias, y es ahí cuando decidimos organizar en Colombia el primer Visual Thinking School de Latinoamérica.

Tell: ¿Cómo funciona?


MP: ¡Lo primero es que es completamente gratis!

Entre 25 y 35 personas participan de cada sesión que se divide en tres partes. La primera es una charla de 20 minutos que hace un invitado vía Skype. Tratamos de que los invitados sean internacionales, por un lado porque queremos conocer las experiencias de los grandes referentes del campo, pero también porque no son muchas las oportunidades donde podemos contactarlos y hacerles preguntas directamente, y el VTS Colombia se convierte en una buena plataforma para lograrlo. Por ejemplo, Dave Gray estuvo con nosotros en la sesión inicial, Jonah Sachs en la segunda y esperamos para próximas sesiones a Sunni Brown, Dan Roam y Alexander Ostelwalder, entre otros.

La segunda parte, de una duración aproximada de  40 minutos, es el Drill. Acá buscamos que los participantes pongan en práctica los conceptos básicos del pensamiento visual para fortalecer su alfabeto visual. Y, por último, el Challenge que toma alrededor de 60 minutos.

El Challenge es la parte más importante de la sesión. Creemos que no se trata solo de dibujar por dibujar sino de dibujar con propósito. En ese sentido nos hemos esforzado por traer a las sesiones empresas, emprendedores o iniciativas en general que tengan una necesidad en terminos de visualizar información. Así, por ejemplo, en la sesión de sostenibilidad dibujamos instrucciones para ahorrar agua y reducir el consumo y estamos organizando una session, donde el Challenge sea visualizar los puntos de las negociaciones de paz. Queremos hacer visibles temas relevantes para la comunidad. Al final se trata de cambiar el mundo con un dibujo a la vez.

¡Ahh!, y por último, todos los materiales que se usan en las sesiones son gratis para los asistentes gracias el patrocinio de Faber Castell. Y para hacer más divertida la experiencia siempre tenemos cerveza y snacks para compartir.

Foto: Beto Durán / Tool Kit
Foto: Beto Durán / Tool Kit

Tell: ¿Quiénes pueden participar?

MP: Pueden participar personas de todas las edades que sientan interés en el pensamiento visual como herramienta de construcción, análisis y comunicación. Hemos tenido participantes de diversas áreas del conocimiento, que van desde ingenieros, diseñadores, artistas, comunicadores y hasta estudiantes de colegio. Todos son bienvenidos. En el Visual Thinking School no hay que “saber” dibujar.

Tell: ¿Dónde se reúnen?

 MP: Cada sesión se organiza en un lugar diferente. Tenemos acuerdos para reunirnos este año en diferentes universidades, centros de emprendimiento y creatividad en Bogotá. Hemos notado que particularmente las universidades nos han abierto las puertas para acoger las sesiones, porque reconocen en el encuentro un escenario útil para vincular a los estudiantes al tema. Lo mismo ocurre con espacios como la Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, en donde el VTS Colombia se convierte en herramienta para el entrenamiento visual de emprendedores y empresarios.

Tell: ¿Qué se viene para el VTS en lo que queda del año?

MP: Este año tenemos dos retos enormes que ya hemos inciado. El primero es expander el VTS Colombia a otras ciudades del país. Ya tenemos solicitudes de sesiones en Cali, Barranquilla, Medellín, Bucaramanga y Valledupar. Queremos sembrar una semilla en cada una de estas ciudades para que las sesiones se desarrollen de forma autónoma.

El segundo reto es el Visual Thinking School Kids. Sabemos que el pensamiento visual no es una herramienta exclusiva de empresarios, diseñadores y comunicadores, de adultos.  Por lo que queremos que los niños también aprovechen el potencial de comunicar sus ideas visualmente. Este año ya hicimos una sesión en el Gimnasio Fontana y tenemos programadas varias sesiones en otros tres colegios.

Foto: Beto Durán / Tool Kit

Para más información sobre el Visual Thinking School Colombia pueden seguir las sesiones en:






La sesión se dio en la Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá y tuvo el apoyo como facilitadoras gráficas de Paola Sánchez, de la pastelería Merci, y Juliana Serrano de Amazink – visual storymakers. Hubo espacio para escuchar a Salli de They Draw and Cook, hacer una biblioteca visual con alimentos de cocina, experimentar con ellos y, al final, hacer la visualización de la receta de tres pasteles de Merci. Una versión de VTS Colombia muy sensorial.

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Esa era la pregunta que resolvimos en la sesión que se llevó a cabo en la Universidad Manuela Beltrán de Bogotá. Algunos de los asistentes contaban con proyectos de los que cada uno realizó una visualización, que después compartieron con los demás participantes. Uno de los resultados fue visualizar un proyecto en el que se busca entretener a los pasajeros de Transmilenio mientras llegan a su lugar de destino.

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