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Building a Visual Vocabulary

Darren Murray

Experience has taught me that a key difference between an active project and one that is having difficulty gaining approval can be a simple visual that helps explain and provide a foundation for the design and implementation to all stakeholders.

The recurring metaphor I use is one of the layers or building blocks, a very simple visual which can prove valuable in a wide range of situations and I use two tools to digitally create them - Microsoft PowerPoint, and Font Awesome. These are generally available making it easy to share and collaborate with others. Font Awesome comes into its own when I need to add icons to help the visual, or to establish a repeating theme as the technology solution progresses from architecture to high level, detailed design and finally implementation plan. Icons also add a little more visual interest and they allow the reader to quickly understand that all areas are being considered without necessarily having the details of every item represented.

I believe it’s important to use familiar icons that can be instantly recognised but if none are available or it’s a new technology, just remember to remain consistent throughout your presentations and designs to establish your solution’s own visual vocabulary. It is a surprisingly simple and powerful thing to do and becomes a valuable reference point for a technology team. I personally find immense satisfaction when I see visuals I have created posted in offices or meeting spaces of the companies I have worked in. I very rarely see a copy of the report or detailed design document that accompanied it as they can not always be easily or quickly referenced.

One last note on Font Awesome, if you do have access to a fantastic design and marketing team or talent for vector graphics, you need a way to create visuals that can be used in a variety of document types and be able to resize, change the colour and other aspects. Font Awesome is a collection of icons embedded in a font, a simple idea that provides an amazingly flexible visual toolkit. It has also been made available for use under the equally flexible Creative Commons license, be sure to check it out.

Font Awesome by Dave Gandy -