How is your work being viewed and (possibly) used?

Do you have a sense of where in the world your work can be found and how it is being seen, understood, and, perhaps, used?

Just a few days ago, I woke up early, checked in on social media, and became emotionally involved with a post. Truth be told, I wrote a fairly thoughtful response to the visual and shared it, then I edited the post, shared my thoughts a second time, and edited it a second time, all within the space of less than five or six minutes. By the third posting, I took it down and replaced my (perhaps) critical thoughts (as in judgmental, not essential) with a “placeholder”— a short paragraph that essentially said that I was still caught up in getting clear about my swirling emotions and thoughts and that I would post when I was feeling more articulate about my reactions.

I have thought about that visual, my reactions, and now responses, for the past few days. The experience has led me to wonder about a few things—some are big picture musings and others are ideas that are specific to this incident.

  • How is our work (that of visual practitioners) out in the world/wild?
  • For whom are we creating…ourselves, others present with us in the experience (as graphic recorders, facilitators, or coaches)? Or, others who are not in the room yet will see and/or use, and therefore need to understand, the work?
  • What are the implications of the answers to those questions?

I saw this visual, without attribution or explanation on the Graphic Facilitation FB page. I can identify the person who originally posted it, though I do not know if it is his work.

Heres what I initially wrote on the GF FB page and “took back.”

“I find this piece to be of interest only as a starting point for a rich discussion about the language/labels chosen, the lack of fluidity/static nature of the categories, and the realities of our human conditions (plural) right now—as if anyone “identified” with being in just one place. (Sounds a wee bit angry about this conceptualization, no?)

I cannot find any depth of understanding or nuance in this particular delineation of aspects of our experiences. I walk away from it —both the visceral reaction to the actual visual/Venn diagram and (what appear to me like the judgments embedded in the design)—feeling frustrated, angry, and inspired to talk about both the content of this topic and the process of depicting it! Does this accurately represent our/people’s lived experiences?”

My experience took this path…

I am feeling a swirl of emotions and thoughts—anger, surprise, puzzlement, disbelief, disgust.

This piece feels static, without nuance, and judgmental… the language, the labels, is this reflecting real peoples’ lives?

How can I shift my thinking?

Can I become curious? Yes, I can!

Perhaps my reactions are actually a very good experience—in that I am feeling stimulated to think more deeply. I wonder

  • Where did this visual come from?/Who created it?
  • What is the context of its creation?
  • What is it based on/what’s the data and where did it come from?
  • What is this visual meant to convey?
  • Wouldn’t the diagram actually “go the other way” meaning that the biggest percentage be the largest circle? If that were the case then maybe I would see that a person could be in all three places simultaneously—or is that just my thinking and not meant to be implied?

Okay! Perhaps I have shared my concerns enough… It’s time to turn the spotlight on the big questions when creating visuals:

  • What assumptions is the visual practitioner working with?
  • What types of information are being shared (what are the sources, are we viewing facts, opinions, ideas, etc?)
  • What are the goals of the piece developed?
  • How do we discover the context for the works we see—what annotations might be developed?
  • How does seeing this piece without knowing who the creator is, or the context, intersect with conversations about use and copyright?

In my training programs, we discuss the breadth and depth of the field of visual practitioners. We also address the question of the audiences for whom the works are developed and how they will be used, in the present moment and/or the future. I believe that planning for, annotating, and curating our own work are critical steps in creating greater clarity in our field.

What do you think? What’s been your experience? Please tell me!

2 replies
  1. Caryn
    Caryn says:

    Very interesting discussion, Jill. As someone who engages in complex visual work, coaching and other nuanced work, you’re bothered, at least, in part by how the simplicity of the visual fails to represent reality. You also mentions the data issue, which with my quant and research focus, would have been most off-putting to me.

    It’s like the story of the blind people touching different parts of the elephant and getting completely different impressions. So I’d come to the question in your title, “who is potentially using it?” and add “what are they getting from it?” I’m not excusing poor visuals if they’re promoting productive conversations, especially if they’re intentionally or sloppily misleading, even if they have a positive result. Just raising that that’s where our emphasis should be.

    As an example, the great infographics creator and academic Alberto Cairo posted a visual yesterday that people were complaining about being misleading because it had a lot of separate line graphs using different scales. He said it wasn’t misleading if people were complaining, because obviously it was clear to them. I’d ask though, what about the people who weren’t sophisticated enough in their understanding of graphs to notice that?

    So my take is that we can all be more intentional. Who is the audience for the visual? What is the intended use? How are people using it? What result is it having? I wonder how many visual practitioners follow up with clients to find out what happened after an event or project. I know I haven’t. Your article helps illustrate (no pun intended :-) the need for that type of insight into our own work. Thank you.

    • Jill Greenbaum
      Jill Greenbaum says:

      Caryn, thank you for your thoughtful reply—though it was months ago, I am moved to write to you now. The additional questions you ask are so important and really a part of a complete project/package… it reminds me of the levels of evaluation of training programs—at what level(s) are we assessing the results of the time, energy, and resources that were devoted to the design, development, and delivery of the training program?

      Thanks for engaging with me around this topic!



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