Visual Synthesis

A lot of the time at Cognitive we are asked to help transform lots of complex information into a format that makes it more memorable and easier to understand.  – We get lots of word documents, PowerPoint slides and are asked to make it better. Most of the discipline of doing that comes from taking that information and expanding it in space. For us, thinking visually is exercising our ability to gain understanding from the relationship between elements when they are laid out before us. You can see how this works in a short explainer video we made using the whiteboard animation style here.

It does not always need to be a full animation to explain complex information. Merely unpacking all of elements in space and ascribing images and illustrations to that content can help us see that content much more clearly.  Our big picture products are contextual maps that explain relationships. We think that really helps with memory retention of that content as we can immediately see the links between things.



With the World Economic Forum is nearly upon us and we are collaborating with the UN Global Goals campaign to illustrate facts around the 17 Global Goals. As part of our research we came across this film by one of the co-chairs at Davos this year - Sharan Burrow.  Sharan is the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and here she is talking about the 'Future of Work' on the International Labour Organisation website.

We wanted to illustrate our approach by extracting the important elements from this YouTube video and putting into a big picture.  But first here is the original footage.

We start by listening to the audio and making notes and mapping out ideas and concepts. The first step is gathering the elements to see what you have to work with. The process the same as if we were mining word documents, articles or any other written content. Once you have the main themes and content elements, the next step is positioning them in space so they have a logical flow and hierarchy. We also cluster the information into chunks. These chunks are elements that have direct relationships.

Sharan Burrow - The Future of Work

When working this way it is best to try and keep a balance between the logic of a piece and the stylistic realisation. We want it to be attractive and engaging but we also want it to make sense to the audience. The key for us is to try and build a map of relationships, a connected diagram to visualise the thought processes of the speaker. Part of the role of a visual thinking practitioner is to facilitate the content so that it is more harmonius. Sometimes that means grouping elements and moving content so it flows with logic and harmony, without losing any of the intended meaning. We also use visual metaphors extensively to help us explore the concepts so they become instantly recognisable. Sometimes we like to play with humour and wordplay. When we pair information to emotion, it sticks in the memory.

We also like to do further research into the subject matter to round-out our maps so they have deeper contextal meaning.

This is how we create our Big Pictures – and hopefully you can see how useful a tool this can be to really land your messages with your audience.  Helping them see how it all fits together.

Animating from a 'talking head' video

Click the image to play the animation

At Cognitive, we specialise in visualising and animating content which has often been primarily delivered as a 'talking head' video. To be a good visualiser you first have to be a good listener. Whilst working on the RSA Animate series, we did an awful lot of listening and our ears are attuned to isolating important information and transforming it into powerful pictures that speak to a much wider audience. Animation is a fantastic tool for directing attention to the right content at the right time. Animation not only brings content to life, it signals where an audiences attention should be. This is done through the movement of the camera and also through the animation of elements that build or move in time with the audio. Director of Cognitive, Andrew Park says, 'To me the animation, in the films we make, is not only a creative tool, it's a practical one. The human eye has adapted to recognise movement and change and so we use this to our advantage and to direct attention of the audience.'

A lot of our content is laid out in space and that content is often connected via storytelling elements, so the use of the camera is really important to help us travel around that narrative landscape. It's always a journey. There is so much you can do with illustration and animation together. There is no story that you cannot tell. The only limits are your imagination.