problems as pictures

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Providence is the home of the Rhode Island School of Design (RIZZ-dee]. This fact was our inspiration to include a third V in this year’s Call for Papers http://sciedxroads.org/callpaper.html: 1) a Vexation, 2) a Venture, and 3) a Visual. Just as with everything else associated with Crossroads, we followed our typical process for making this change. More specifically, we had a hunch it would work, we asked one other person and when they didn’t hate it, we decided to give it a go.

Representing ideas in a visual form is not a new idea. Books such as The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte and Visual Complexity by Manuel Lima offer intriguing possibilities. In the hands of these data scientists and visual artists, rich datasets are reduced to clear representations – of processes, of interactions, and of complexity. Such creations (such as the graphic below) are far beyond what we are expecting from those submitting proposals for the 2012 Crossroads gathering.

Cyclogram time-chart, Salyut 6 mission

Instead, what we have in mind are hand-drawn sketches that fit on an index card. Or the back of a napkin. It turns out that there is a “how to” book by this title offering guidance about how to present problems and products with relatively simple sketches and scribblings. Author/artist Dan Roam has an interesting approach to generating such drawings. He claims artistry is not necessary. Instead, he offers that showing what we are thinking and perceiving is the last step. What comes before is looking, seeing and imagining. If these are done well, then the illustration will flow from mind to hand.

Roam provides clever videos to accompany his book. There he suggests that we “see” in six different ways and that there are six corresponding diagrams that can be used to sketch these for others to see. To show “what or who” we can use a portrait, “where” is depicted with a map, and “how” becomes a flowchart. With these starting points, knowing how to translate our thoughts into a Visual worthy of a Crossroads proposal is less outrageous. None of this is to suggest that we know what or how we are going to draw our ideas. At the very least, we’re excited to see where this could lead rather than fearful about our capabilities to do so.

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