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  • Julian Talbot

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Fred R. Barnyard

I’m a visual person, and like most of us in the 21st century, I never seem to have a lot of spare time. Perhaps you are also short of time. If so, I write for people just like you. A few people have asked me over the years, how I create the illustrations. There is no simple answer to this as I'm forever playing with different tools. The easiest and fastest for most graphics is probably good old Powerpoint. Sure, it hasn't got the graphing capabilities of Excel or the photo editing power of Photoshop, so I use both of those when needed, but for most things, Powerpoint (or the free OpenOffice equivalents) will work just fine. Better than fine even. Even if I go to Fiverr or Upwork occasionally for specialist graphic design, I'll usually create a basic mockup in Powerpoint for the designer to see what I have in mind.

You'll find a few examples at my graphics downloads page. Most of these were created using Powerpoint plus some clip art from PresenterMedia. I also took most of the photos on this website with my travel camera (a Canon 5D Mk II DSLR if you're curious) but equally, I'm using my iPhone more and more as it takes decent shots and is what I always have with me.

If you wanted an illustration for example, to illustrate risk culture in Asia, have a look at the picture below. The construction worker at the top is squatting on a beam 6 meters (20 feet) above ground level. If it's not worrying enough that there is someone directly below where he is chipping away; consider that neither of them is wearing eye protection, footwear, helmets or fall arrest equipment. The 'best part'(?) is that he is happily belting away on the only attached section of the beam while squatting on it. Without a picture, you'd probably think I was making this stuff up. But no. It's real and no photoshop involved.

You'd be forgiven however for thinking that I would have to go a long way in the 21st century to find a situation like the one below. Or perhaps that I'd have to stage it. But no, I didn't have to go hunting far for this picture. I just pointed the camera over the edge of my verandah of my flat in Phnom Penh. It says a lot in one single picture about risk perception, culture, and safety legislation. Unless you're Cambodian of course; in which case, it probably just looks typical; as it is across much of the world. And sadly, I have many pictures like this one or worse. And no, you don't need to go to Cambodia or Africa; most of my clip art is from more mundane places.

But perhaps you're asking yourself, why bother? Why not just write using words alone? That can work, but the quote which forms the title of this article is my answer. If that answer doesn't satisfy, then you are not oriented towards visual communication but take my word for it (or just ask Google) that most people like at least part if not most, of their communication and learning to be in the visual format. Percentages vary, but roughly 50% of people prefer visual communication. In any case, suffice to say that there is some consensus that we utilize a range of learning and communication styles, often categorized as:

  • Visual (V) seeing

  • Auditory (A) hearing

  • Kinesthetic (K) feeling

  • Auditory digital (Ad) inner dialog or self-talk

  • Olfactory (O) – Smell and

  • Gustatory (G) - Taste

Olfactory and gustatory are not very helpful in our current version of books and the internet. You have full access to the other four types of communication however, so you may as well use them. Hence, wherever possible, I use a graphic, a table or a callout box to summarize ideas, add some key examples, or extraneous but useful information and implementation tips.

You'll find a few ideas regarding graphs at my article on numbers but below are a few examples. I have more articles and books which explain the concepts, but if you consider each graphic as 1,000 words, then this article is already long enough.

Positive and negative risk outcomes in a graph

Skewing risk towards positive outcomes by applying more resources

Example of a simple risk management framework

Swiss Cheese Model Example

Tables are handy also. It can be much easier (Ie. faster) to explain the differences between Shall versus Must, Will, Should, May, Could, 'Is likely to' etc. in a table than just in a block of written text.

Comparing two ideas in a single graphic has worked for cartoonists since cartooning first appeared, and it also works for contrasting different ideas.



It's not that I'm too mean, disorganized or lazy to hire a professional graphic designer to do a proper job with the graphics (although any of those are plausible excuses). It is mostly just that I enjoy creating them and seem to be endlessly tweaking them. Hence, you get to put up with my dodgy graphic design. Lucky you. If you like them, feel free to tell me. If you don't like them, you should probably just complain to your cat, dog, goldfish or Tamagotchi. If you are lucky enough to have a dog, he or she will be the best option, as they will at least listen to your complaints :-)

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