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Our method of communicating complexity

Communicating complexity doesn't have to be... complicated

Here’s a scenario: you’ve just undertaken an incredible journey to develop a new service, system or framework. The inputs and issues to consider may have been vast and complicated, but you have managed to create a nuanced and innovative response that tackles them all. Now all that’s left to do is to get your target audience to engage deeply with the initiative, and action it in the way you need them to.

So how do you translate your complex new initiative into clear and powerful messaging? How do you cut through the noise without losing the nuance that makes your initiative impactful? 

What if we told you that there is a more powerful and impactful way to communicate your messages than dry reports and confusing diagrams? 

At ThinkPlace, we thrive in complexity. Our work is in complex systems, and we understand that the key to transformative design is to embrace complexity and work with it.

But we also know that when it comes to engaging audiences, complexity can seem like your biggest enemy.

The only simplicity to be trusted is the simplicity on the far side of complexity" - Alfred North Whitehead

 

Introducing Complex Collaborative Visualisation

Coming from a graphic design background, I’m a passionate advocate for the power of images to communicate messages in a way that resonates more quickly and intuitively than words might. “A picture is worth a thousand words” is a time old adage - but it takes on new significance in an attention economy where you need to capture engagement fast. 

That’s why I’m so dedicated to Complex Collaborative Visualisation. 

Bringing together human-centred and information design, Complex Collaborative Visualisation is our methodology for creating compelling narratives that incisively communicate the complexity of your initiative. 

Working with your experts and stakeholders, we collaboratively distil the key messages you need to communicate to your audience. We unpack the information you need to convey and the actions you want your audience to take, harnessing our human-centred design expertise to generate insights about how you can best generate inspired engagement. We then take these insights to create a compelling visualisation that captures both your concept and your audience.

Although I do always aim to create stunning images, Complex Collaborative Visualisation isn’t about simply illustrating your concept with a pretty picture. Visualisations are a powerful tool that can actively shape and reshape our understandings of ideas. They can transform something abstract into a distinct and persuasive narrative.

Visualising the future aspirations for disaster resilience

The theory in practice

Recently, I was part of a team working with CSIRO, Australia’s peak science body, to create a visualisation that made sense of Australia’s complex system of disaster resilience. On the spectrum of complexity, nation-wide disaster resilience systems ranks pretty high. Disaster resilience frameworks are no longer focussed around specific hazards (cyclones, bushfires etc.), but now comprehensively examine the wide range of factors that put people, infrastructure and other assets at risk. Our visualisation needed to capture the connection between all these diverse features, and do so in a way that was readily understandable. 

We assembled a core design team with specialists from climate science, risk assessment, emergency management and other areas within CSIRO. Together we co-created the design brief for the visualisation, capturing the project intent; the target audience; all elements to be included; as well as the overarching narrative. We took this away to create prototype sketches which we then tested in stakeholder workshops, amending the sketches in real time as ideas evolved. It was then a simple process of transforming these low-fidelity sketches into a highly-polished final visualisation of the nation’s resilience system.

It was an incredible experience. By working intimately with the specialists and stakeholders who knew the detail of the system, we were able accurately represent the complex detail of the system. The process of collaboratively workshopping the sketches actually even allowed us to unlock new connections and understanding of the system. 

CSIRO’s Dr Deborah O’Connell said of the process:

We would write some words, do some analysis, test some concepts with [ThinkPlace] and they would sometimes come back with pictures that reflected exactly what we meant. But just as usefully when the pics didn’t reflect what we meant, it forced us to re-examine the robustness or utility of the concept itself as well as the communication of it.”

A methodology for any sector

We’ve had similarly great results implementing our methodology across different industries. We’ve co-created a visualisation of Australia’s innovation system; co-visualised the experience of rough sleeping in NZ; and co-designed the future vision for the Out Of Home Care system in Victoria.  

It’s a versatile methodology that works in any sector, and can be delivered in face-to-face engagements or digitally, as part of our Airlabs service. Because complexity doesn’t have to mean complication, and there is no piece of information that cannot be transformed into sharp and precise messaging.
Visualising disaster resilience systems

 

How to harness the power of visualisation today

I’m going to leave you with three simple questions to challenge yourself with to think more deeply about how visualisation could transform the impact of your initiative:

  1. What are 2-3 actions your piece of communication should compel your audience to take?
  2. Why should they take those actions, and what would it mean for them?
  3. What are the core concepts and messages you could visualise?

When you have your answers, you’ll be on the start of your journey towards accessible and impactful complex communication. Reach out to us to explore your challenge and build a business case for using Complex Collaborative Visualisation.

The mathematician Alfred North Whitehead famously said “the only simplicity to be trusted is the simplicity to be found on the far side of complexity.” That’s exactly the simplicity we can help you find – the kind you can trust to accurately communicate your initiative. 

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