10 Replies
Todd Thornton

If you can install the Visual Bee plugin for PowerPoint, they can get used to sprucing up presentations with images since it will search automatically for images related to the words on the slides. I guess you could paste the articles into PowerPoint (portrait mode) and then export to PDF, but I'm suggesting this more of a way to get people to think about imagery with text as opposed to converting what you already have. Once they get used to the concept, then text by itself will no longer appear sufficient as it will seem far too plain and they'd likely be more open at that point to searching/inserting images.

Bob S

Hi Sid,

This may seem a bit of a stretch, but you might consider teaching them the method we use to use for determing which words to leave out in a fill-in-the-blank...

Strip away everything in the sentence/paragraph until you finally reach one true essential point(s). That is your blank..... or in your case, the image you want them to include.

Hope this helps,


Steve Flowers

Hey, Sid - 

Dave Gray (Author of Gamestorming) uses a matrix to determine the construction of a visual. He calls this forms, fields and flows. This is a little esoteric but if you combine this with his simple visual thinking alphabet it's pretty powerful.

Dan Roam (Author of Back of the Napkin) offers a similar setup he calls the visual codex. This is a little less abstract than the fields and flows matrix above. I like them both but I think this one is more concrete for someone new to making visual communication decisions.

Along the left side of Dan's codex are pattern matches:

  • Who / What? (Portrait)
  • How much? (Chart)
  • Where? (Map)
  • When? (Timeline)
  • How? (Flowchart)
  • Why? (Plot)

Across the top of his codex are S.Q.V.I.D or:

  • Simple | Elaborate
  • Quality | Quantity
  • Vision | Execution
  • Individual | Comparison
  • Difference | As-is

This is a pretty simple way to match the pattern / nature of an intended message with potential models for quickly and naturally articulating that message. These are detailed in his book and I think this is a great model for setting up and deducing a great visual match. For very little $$ you can access Dan's "Napkin Academy" with chock full of videos and tools for building visual thinking skills. 

A fellow by the name of Danny Langdon has a really great set of tools for determining types of information visualization would most probably hit the mark. This one is a bit on the old side but still relevant. He starts by asking for a type of information:

  • Procedures (ordered sequence of actions)
  • Processes (changes in events over time)
  • Classifications (sorting of information according to one or more factors)
  • Structures (complex entity or configuration like an organization, organism, machine)
  • Facts (data presented without supporting evidence)
  • Concepts (general idea or understanding)

He then makes recommendations for illustrations that match the information type as well as visual enhancements that could help. For example:

  • A procedure might be best illustrated by an algorithm, checklist, chronology, decision table, flow chart, form, plan, procedure table or worksheet.
  • A procedure might be best enhanced by arrows, circles, shapes, line drawings, numbers, photographs, and shading / highlights.

This one is more complex than both the models above but when coupled with examples it provides a rich support tool.

We're in the process of refining our media selection model and tools for stuff like this is fresh on my mind. We're on the hunt for more / better ways so if you have suggestions, please post them. I'd love to take a look.

Andrew Elder

Sid, I'm a 'layman's terms' kind of guy myself. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but if you pick the wrong one it means you're saying a whole lot of the wrong thing. Not every piece of text requires an image. Would the Declaration of Independence been improved with a little clip art?

Images are best when they enhance the content and intent of the article they accompany. If the article is about cross-country road trips, a thousand images come to mind: mountains, cars (natch), expansive vistas of coastlines, the World's Largest Twine Ball, or Route 66. But if it's a strict how-to, you'll want images that are straight-forward and illustrative. If it's an editorial with a humorous bent on the experience of the road trip, something with more personality might be appropriate; same subject different angle.

Bottom line: let the images support the content, not simply be a default choice.

Daniel Brigham


If you don't already have it, you may want to purchase Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. You can find the presentation zen site online, and you can find Reynolds' stuff on slideshare.net, too. He talks about how to use images actively. It has much to do with evoking an emotional response in the viewer. 

Guy Greenbaum

Wow, some great guidance provided above.  

I don't know what your subject matter is or how much you can push the envelope, but it's a safe bet that thinking creatively will produce more engaging images.  Ideally, you can help your SME's have fun with the process.  It may even have a positive impact on their writing.  In that spirit, I'll focus my input below on having some fun with the process of finding and creating interesting images.

Once you have an idea for the specific elements or motif you're looking for, perhaps by using Dan Roam's codex or similar, you'll have some focused keywords with which to search for examples.  Depending on your budget, there's no shortage of stock photo sites.  If you want to get beyond conservative content, try a site like http://awkwardstockphotos.com/.

Depending on your licensing needs and availability of designers to adapt material, you'll find very creative ideas at social sites like flickr and pinterest.

Hope this helps.

Paul Lush

Sid, Many great ideas have been shared!  If I were to offer a tidbit of info, it would be to match any graphics with the message.  I have worked with other in the past who start their presentation with images and animated graphics first and built the message around them (The "This picture is so awesome, we have to use it" syndrome).  The end result - a distracted audience, or an audience that is receiving a conflicting message or focusing on the wrong points.  While I believe in stellar graphical outlays, it has to support the message.