Visual thinking is a type of thought process that helps organize your ideas through a shared tangible understanding of what you’re thinking. Because visual thinking strategies are so spatially oriented, they are the perfect tool to implement into whiteboarding instances. Below we will highlight the best ways to integrate visual thinking into your whiteboarding sessions.

If you’re interested in learning more about visual collaboration we have an extensive guide for that, and you can always check out our guide to online whiteboards if you aren’t familiar with them already.

People working together to brainstorm and configure new possibilities through visual thinking.

Visual Thinking Definition

Visual thinking is defined in our guide to visual thinking and collaboration as follows: “ Visual thinking is a strategy of thought organization that engages your ability to communicate and think creatively. It succeeds at conveying complex and intricate information and helps you further develop your thoughts.” Not only does visual thinking help break down complicated information to make it more digestible for people, but it emphasizes the use of a shared space for people to envision their ideas together. Shared visualization helps promote a collective understanding between people and teams, making visual thinking a perfect solution to people working in collaboration, either professionally or in the classroom.

A common misconception of visual thinking is that it only applies to people working in the arts. While this method is largely used by artists and creatives, it has tangible benefits for many more people in various diverse fields. Collaboration and whiteboarding have many real-world applications of visual thinking, and when working online these activities are heavily reliant on the use of digital whiteboards.

Part of why visual thinking is so important is that it engages with the use of outside tools in order to externalize, or physically manifest, your thoughts and ideas. It can be difficult to flesh out a theory in your head, so following a visual thinking process can help realize the actual potential of ideas, theories, or possible solutions.

This is super important when collaborating, especially when using online whiteboards. Whiteboard tools embody the possibilities of visual thinking by letting you diagram any idea you have in a collective space, so using this thought process and digital whiteboards together makes perfect sense.

Below we will outline 5 popular visual thinking strategies that blend well with online whiteboards.

Visual Thinking Strategies

Example of a customer journey map, and one that is available on Fresco.

Use Mind Maps and Journey Maps

Customer journey maps are structures that help envision the path your principal user takes to complete a certain task, and mind maps take you through the user’s thought process during a specific task or process. These structures provide a journey that you take alongside the customer, following their actions and motivations of their thought process step by step.

When you want to break down the actions/thoughts of your customer, it’s extremely helpful to use a visual template like this because it allows you to take another step closer to putting yourself in their shoes. Being able to empathize with them is crucial in order to understand their actions and thoughts, so using templates like this increases your ability to accurately display your user’s journey.

When using templates like these it becomes inherent to actualize your ideas and implement visual elements to better display solutions with your team. Using mind maps and journey maps creates a visual precedent for your team to work from, and helps implement visual thinking into whiteboarding.

Spider Diagrams

Spider diagrams are very similar to mind maps but have a key difference. Unlike mind maps, spider diagrams can be entirely unstructured, providing a wider lens of possibilities and directions. Spider diagrams can be really useful for teams that are making a very general map and want to explore a wider range of possibilities.

Thanks to their broad focus, spider diagrams have the flexibility to accommodate the exploration of ulterior possibilities and the expansion of your collaboration to visual thinking. When working in such a flexible environment, try and cement your ideas with visual elements, either pictures, drawings, or vivid details. While you maintain a wide lens to capture all possibilities, these visual elements help center your contributions and solidify their position.

Spider diagrams are a great brainstorming tool for teams looking to expand their possibilities and are a great way you can implement visual thinking into your whiteboarding sessions.

Example of a spider diagram, a common visual thinking exercise.

Practice your Visual Thinking Strategies

Doing visual thinking strategies that help boost your creativity, even if they aren’t work-related, helps people practice what visual thinking in collaboration looks like. 

One fun activity you can do is have everyone draw a random shape and give it to another teammate. With the shape you receive, you have to complete the picture and draw something with the shape as part of that sketch. This helps people think creatively and manifest that onto a physical platform, something you want them to replicate in your whiteboarding session.

While this may not be directly related to the work you’re doing, if you get people to practice the skills you want to employ during your whiteboarding session it will give them the confidence to apply these skills to their collaboration. This is a way that you can engage your team in fun team-building exercises while also making their whiteboarding more effective.

Brainwriting

Brainwriting is a great way to encourage collaboration on digital whiteboards and is effectively a structured method of brainstorming. During a brainwriting session, your team will exchange turns to collaborate on specific sections of a template, or exchanging different templates to collaborate on altogether. Unlike traditional brainstorming, this gives people an equal chance to participate in all steps of the collaboration process and contribute their ideas on equal ground. 

Brainwriting exercises are good vessels for visual thinking because people have the individual space to express their thoughts without worrying about doing it in front of an entire team. This means that people can creatively contribute in ways that might be more difficult to do so otherwise, allowing them to explore various different possibilities. Try to find ways to be creative when making your contributions during a brainwriting session!

People working on a shared whiteboard using visual thinking strategies to diagram their work.

Centrality

When operating on a digital whiteboard it is super easy to quickly insert images or sources of inspiration onto your board or template, so try and use that to inspire visual thinking. Think about incorporating a central point of focus (relative to your end goal) into your whiteboarding and using that to guide your collaboration. Have your team try and orient their contributions towards that piece of content and use it to inspire other pieces of visual collaboration.

Using a central image helps align everyone’s thought processes and gives them a constant point of referral so that they can make pointed contributions. Restricting their contributions to a certain context doesn’t actually stem their ability to collaborate effectively, but forces them to think outside the box and more extensively about how they can be creative within the certain limits that have been set.

Having a central point of focus allows people to easily align their contributions towards your end goal, and making this centrality a visual element helps promote visual thinking.

Conclusion

Visual thinking is a critical strategy to help improve alignment and understanding within teams, something that is often missing when working online. Hopefully, these 5 visual thinking strategies help you improve your online whiteboarding sessions.

  1. Mind Maps/Customer Journey Maps — Using journey maps helps drive empathy for your principal user and implements inherent visual elements for your team to work with.
  2. Spider Diagrams — Having a less structured version of a mind map means teams can be very versatile in their contributions. This flexibility means visual thinking can help people stay aligned and in sync.
  3. Stretch the Creative Muscles — Implement fun creative activities with your team so they are more comfortable using those skills in your whiteboarding sessions.
  4. Brainwriting — Restructuring brainstorming means people work with solid guidelines and are allowed to rethink how they collaborate within each element. 
  5. Centrality — Having a central point of focus allows people to easily align their contributions towards your end goal and making this centrality a visual element helps promote visual thinking.

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