Visual Thinking Structures: Outside Inspiration

In a recent video I identified the two primary questions that we ask and answer as visual thinkers:

  1. What are the pieces?
  2. How do they fit together?

In my experience, the second question is harder to answer than the first. You’ve gathered a bunch of interesting ideas on sticky notes or across the page of your sketchbook, but you can’t yet see how they fit together. It’s an easy place to get stuck.

In those situations I find it helpful to look outside of myself for inspiration. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite resources to turn to.

Two of my favorite books to flip through are Visual Thinking and Visual Doing by Willemien Brand. It often only takes a few minutes to stumble upon a template or an icon that has the potential to serve as a container for my own set of ideas.

Within both Visual Thinking and Visual Doing you’ll find a nice blend of large-scale templates and small-scale icons that are likely to spark some ideas for you.

I also enjoy browsing through the work of Scriberia. Their work is more illustrative than my own, but I still find value in analyzing how they structure and fill the page. Here are a few examples to give you a sense of what I mean (check out their portfolio of sketchnotes for even more inspiration).

Note the singular primary image of a person reading, with five sections for individual ideas: the front and back of the book plus a trio of spaces above the head separated with simple lines.

Here we’ve got a map as a container, perfect for the topic of creative road trips. Note that some of the tips live within pop-out boxes “above” the map, others within the layer of the map itself. That creates a dynamic visual journey that we get to go on as the viewer.

Next, a scene with a Christmas tree as the focal point and family members decorating it, with tips on how to have an ethical Christmas filling the gaps.

Finally, a simple large arrow pointing downward to reinforce the message of living with less plastic.

Note that in each of those cases, the choice of overarching structure aligns perfectly with the content of the sketchnote itself.

That’s what you’re on the lookout for: an engaging visual structure that aligns with and can serve as a container for all of the individual pieces that you want to capture.

Have you come across other good examples of overarching visual structures?

Let us know about it with a comment on this Substack post!