Aristotle wrote that “metaphor is the worst form of argument. He’s right. If you have something to show/prove, then do so precisely and in a way which is meaningful and useful to your target audience.
Recently the guys at Innovation of Risk posted an article on the use of infographics to analyse risk. I don’t know who coined the term “PowerPoint Engineering” but most infographics fit neatly into this category. Infographics can save presentation or they can sink it but mostly they are used to convey ill conceived and poorly thought out ideas which snowball into worse run projects. The best advice is to take these bath-tub moments (why do people think they have great ideas when they’re washing?) and run the analysis with an expert using an expert system. If you can’t do that then (a) you’re in the wrong department for having the idea in the first place, and (b) chances are that there is a tonne of minute but important detail you missed out.
Whilst I think that visual display of graphics is vital to achieve stakeholder buy-in, it is also clear that imprecise PPT-engineering masquerading as infographics is the worst form of management snake-oil there is. An erstwhile systems engineering mentor of mine used to say, “if you think they’re BS’ing you then ask them what the arrows mean”. 9 times out of 10 they won’t have a clue.
Visual search is not new and it’s so obvious that it hardly seems something to get too excited about. In well understood, discrete systems visual search is an excellent means to share and develop multi-disciplinary, cross-functional information without the need for complex ontological integration or the tedious and often futile process of trying to agree on corporate taxonomies. If there is no visual boundary to the relevant information then creating contextual diagrams will hinder the retrieval of information.
The military have used visual information storage and visual representations of information in counter-terrorism generally and within intelligence systems in particular. “Starlight” by PNNL and I2 (Analyst Notebook) both use various methods to visualise terrorist networks and their contexts. Nimbus Control has used this technique for a number of years. By building a simple graphical representation of a company’s process (eg, Carphone Warehouse etc) which then links to SharePoint file stores in corporate repositories allows various functions to collaborate around a common visual understanding.
In a recent blog I wrote about the utility of visual search (and its limitations) in managing corporate information. It doesn’t matter if information overlaps but those intersections need to be link back to the relevant file systems. The beauty of visual search is that visual representations are more easily understood so long as the user communities are not too disparate. Moreover, they are more cost effective because they require less UI consultation and design as well as lower Change Management budgets. In summ, there needs to be a purpose and the ability to draw a boundary around a discrete area of information and companies should limit visual systems in order to coral common understanding.