Our curious ability to un-see

and the importance of visualizing ideas.

First impression


Or call it instant memory or call it a quirk of human nature, but when we first see something, even if we recognize it as irrelevant or a mistake, we cannot forget it, or worse yet, erase it from our cognitive memory. Sort of like when a judge asks a jury to dismiss something outrageous they have just heard, it’s impossible.

Our first impressions are the cornerstones of a memory, of a thought that gets stored in our brain, of a new folder that is instantly created to hold all of that particular subject matter.


We all make instant visual judgments


Just by looking at this web page you have made a graphical judgment. Google recently released a study that measured the average time a person needs to form an opinion of a web page and the number is ridiculous, it’s so fast that it is measured in fractions of a second.

Since this overall concept is probably nothing new to you, why bother to bring it up? Well, in the context of visualizing ideas it is a concept as basic as the air we breathe yet I find it inexplicably missing from so many visualizations. At the heart of this phenomenon is that we should not try to create a physical reality, to create a photograph, this is not only impossible, but useless and more likely than not it will produce a visualization that is disconnected form us, the audience that will look at it.


Everything is relative


Even beauty is relative (sorry Plato, but I’m going with Aristotle on this). So forget reality and concentrate on the idea, what is the idea? Can you distill it to its bare concept? What’s the all important nugget that you have to crystallize? Visualize that idea. Of course all of this is pointless if there is no idea, that my friend, I cannot help you with.

Now that you are concentrating on the idea, who is the audience? Yes, very important, are we talking all of humanity? If that’s the case I would like to meet your client, although I’m tempted to say she does not exist. Seriously, identify your audience, maybe it’s one person or maybe it’s a community, either way do a little leg work and find out about them. Now your work as a communicator of ideas is clearly defined, how do I communicate this idea to those people.


Let them fill in the blanks


Leave out everything else, in fact, if you understand your audience as well as the idea, let them visualize it (I believe that is called art), just give them a push in the right direction.

Say too much, especially incongruous thoughts and irrelevant ideas and who knows what their first, and in most cases – only impression, will be. We have a curious ability to un-see as humans, remember?


Paolo Bertolotti, NY