An Exercise to Gain Visual Consensus

Get a large group on the same page with this brainstorming technique.

Wendy Ruyle 5.21.2012


At a recent meeting someone asked a question about how you bring someone on your team along if they have no sense of design. It got me thinking about an exercise we do with clients to see where everyone is at visually on a project. This exercise works particularly well when you have a large group of stakeholders and you want to gain consensus.

Not everyone has a visual sense, and that’s ok! We need people with all kinds of skills on projects. Keeping the budget in line, making people happy, managing the details, etc. But you don’t want to get bogged down because someone doesn’t understand what the visual element brings to the table.

Leave personal feelings out of it

Visuals can get you in the gut. They can be visceral and emotional. And that’s exactly why people can get hung up on them. But we all have to remember that our personal opinions about colors, shapes, and images are just that, personal. Just because we don’t like daisies doesn’t mean the rest of the world can’t see them as happy, joyful flowers.

The exercise is simple. You go out and buy 10-15 magazines, depending on the size of your team and ask everyone to go through the magazines and pull out pages that they think reflect the brand. They can be photos, ads, just words, whatever speaks to each team member.

You want to make sure you have a good variety of magazines. Don’t just get O Magazine and Real Simple and call it done. You need a mix of different aesthetics: news, fashion, home, technical, maybe even some trashy scandal rags. Don’t pigeon hole the brand before you have the discussion.

Once everyone has pulled out their clippings, take them all and post them on the wall. And then talk about them. A lot. Why did you choose this image? What did it say to you? What does everyone else think?

Have the discussion

What’s important in this process isn’t the clippings themselves. The design we do for a client after this exercise won’t be an amalgam of the clippings. I may look at them a bit before I start design, but what really matters is that discussion that happens with the team. They all see and hear what imagery means to everyone else in the room. And they see that perception can be different from their own. They talk to each other and listen to each other. And that’s how you gain consensus.

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