Visual Metaphors


A visual metaphor is an image that the viewer is meant to understand as a symbol for something else. The main advantage that these devices have for visual thinking is that they allow you to link the new with the familiar. Visual metaphors provide you with a means and a way to communicate your visual message in a meaningful manner that helps build understanding, awareness and familiarity.

When to use it

  • Organize content meaningfully and convey a main message about it.
  • Use an image or set of images to represent another image or set of images, and serve in assisting the learner in recalling prior knowledge of familiar concepts before encountering new, unfamiliar concepts.
  • Use it to memorize the key elements of a method or concept by placing them meaningfully within a fitting graphic metaphor that shares one or more properties with the topic.
  • Employ a visual metaphor that has a strong and clear main association, and that is related to the conceptual domain that is mapped.
  • Use a metaphor with clearly detectable areas.

How to use it

  • Make a big, messy chart: Think about the words. Separate them. Find other words and phrases that are synonymous with them. Now draw what makes you think of those things.
  • Merge the images together: combine the images in all the ways you can think. Ask yourself how they can fit together; where they are similar. Experiment a bit.
  • Be a tease: Think about the timing of what you are saying in relation to the drawing. Revealing the next part of the image at the right time in your presentation looks really cool. (This step would be ideal for an automated animation with a zoom function such as a scribe, but think outside the box if you are using a whiteboard or a flipchart – you could come up with something similar).
  • Milk it: Finally, you could give these images one extra little push to make the most of them. What stories can you see in them? And what kind of message do they send? If you stumble on a good one and it fits with your story – use it.
  • Verbal to Visual (YouTube channel).


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