Is the Ability to Create Visuals an Important Work Literacy  

Being able to present information and knowledge in a meaningful way seems to me to be a critical work literacy skill. In checking out this graphic on a post about creating and using wheel taxonomies, it occurred to me that for many knowledge workers, developing an ability to present information graphically or visually may be an important, but under-developed and under-utilized skill.

Certainly in some professions (graphic design, architecture, etc.) visual representations are a part of developing the core knowledge and discipline for the occupation. But increasingly this ability to use visual means to create meaning, analyze trends, etc. may be moving into other professions, although we don’t realize it yet.

Harold Jarche had an interesting post the other day on negotiating social meaning in which he asks if knowledge work isn’t a misnomer–or at least a skill that isn’t quite as advanced as we need. He quotes David Weinberger in Everything is Miscellaneous:

In the world after the Enlightenment, the cultural task was to build knowledge. In the miscellaneous world, the task is to build meaning, even though we can’t yet know what we’ll do with this new domain. Certainly some will mine it for knowledge that will change our lives through science and business. But knowledge will only be one product. Knowledge’s new place will be in an ever-present mesh of social meaning. Knowledge is thus not being dethroned. We are way too good at knowing, and our continued progress - and survival - depends on it. But knowledge is now not our only project or our single highest meaning. Making sense of what we know is the broader task, a task for understanding within the infrastructure of meaning.

I think that this is the issue–that knowledge work is something broader, that it’s about making meaning. With that being the case, it seems to me that we’re all going to have to explore and develop a variety of ways for doing that, particularly visual means such as graphics, charts, videos, etc.

Thinking and working more visually is potentially also the way that we make information more accessible and less overwhelming to people. Over at The Bamboo Project, Daniel Bassill left me a comment in which he said:

I think you’re right about information overload and “good enough” but I wonder if you’ve looked at how information visualization and mapping might help people find what they want when they want it?

I have a large library of links on the Tutor/Mentor Connection web site, which are all related in one way or another, to helping kids move from poverty to careers. However, the list is intimidating. Thus, I’ve been working to map it, using free concept mapping tools. You can see an example at http://tinyurl.com/23aa9w.

If you check out Daniel’s example, you can see how he’s trying to use mind mapping as the navigational scheme for his website. For many people, this might make more sense and make the vast array of resources available more meaningful and easier to move through.

What do you think? As knowledge workers, do we need to develop our skills in representing knowledge visually? How do we develop those skills?