Need blog ideas? Get inspired with visuals

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I often get stuck when I am coming up with ideas for my blogs. I stare at the blank screen and wonder what I should say. Using visuals I can get clear and come up with things to write about. This is how I do it.

Why do you want to write a post?

Think about why you want to write a particular post. In the example I will share here, the charter membership for the VisualsSpeak VizPeeps Community is ending at the end of the week. I want to have a series of posts that talk about why people would want to join us.

Once you know what you are trying to achieve, craft a question that starts where you are and moves you toward what you are trying to do. I’m not clear about all the reasons people want to be VizPeeps, so I ask:

What is the value of being a VizPeep?

Select images that say something about the question

Go through your collection of images and select ones that spark something for you. It could be something that reminds you of what someone else said, or it can be something that sparks an idea. The possibilities are endless. Just allow your mind to wander, but work quickly. You don’t want to think too much.

Once you have selected your pictures arrange them on a table or desk in any way that makes sense to you. This is your collective image in answer to the question you asked.

I set up a session on the ImageCenter to explore my question. Here is a 2 minute video showing what I selected.

Describe the image

Once you have created the image, go back and reflect on what the pictures you selected mean in relationship to the question. You can do this by writing or speaking. I often record what I say, then go back and listen to it. It creates a bit of space, which helps us see things slightly differently.

Here is my description of the image I created. The video is 6 minutes long.

Reflecting on what you see

There is information in the stories of the individual pictures as well as in how the images relate to one another. I like to use mindmaps to get an overview of the ideas.

Often times the central image holds particular significance. In my example, as I talked about the picture of the potter, I realized there is something about the ability to collaborate- to create something together with other people, that is important to me and part of the value offered.

Take a break

Next do something else. The best thing for me is to do something physical where someone else is affecting what I do. I go to a yoga class, bike ride with other people, walk with a friend. Second choice is to do one of these things alone, play with my cat, or take a shower.

This is for two reasons. First, you change the way you are engaging from visual and verbal to kinesthetic, so it uses other parts of your brain. Second, it provides some space for other ways of knowing to emerge. Fresh eyes often bring fresh insights.

Revisit the visuals

Using the ImageCenter, I can print out a copy of the image I created and use it for journaling. It’s the process of going from visual to spoken verbal to visual to written that can release new insight. It’s similar to what happens when you work with a coach or a friend to help you see new perspectives.

Look for emerging insights

As I mentioned before, the central image often holds something important. It’s almost like your subconscious puts it there to get your attention. It’s a good place to dig into a bit.

In my example, after going through more of the process, I’m seeing the significance of the central image differently. I have always struggled with making art just for the sake of doing it. I’ve always had an easier time creating things that have purpose or a use. This is one of the reasons I love VisualsSpeak, I finally have a use for all the work I create.

This ability to use visuals to create something for yourself or with clients is a big part of the value of the ImageCenter. It’s a co-creation process where the coach or facilitator brings their best selves, adds them to the images, and offers them to the participant to create something uniquely theirs.

Generate a list of ideas

Look back over your image, your mindmap, recording, or journaling. Make a list of possible ideas you can use as a starting point for blog posts.

Here’s a few of my ideas that came out of this process.

  • A visual tool as versatile as you are
  • Revitalize your coaching practice with visuals
  • Co-creation in coaching conversations
  • Deepen your professional practice by adding visuals
  • Attract new clients by expanding your capability
  • Tangible or digital images, what are the similarities and differences
  • Similar tools, different outcomes

Next you just have to write all the posts. When you do, remember to look back at the images you selected to give you ideas for the visuals to illustrate the post.

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Restarting a neglected blog

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It starts out innocently enough. Too many things to do. The thought that the blog can wait. The weeks go by. Then it becomes months. The longer the time goes, the easier it is to forget. Or ignore. Depending on the day. Just don’t look.

Victoria Brouhard ran into a similar blogging delay and offered some questions in her post,  When the Thing Becomes Too Important

So what had happened?

What rules are you trying to follow?

What are you trying to avoid?

What’s the kernel of truth in the fear?

How can you take some of the importance out of writing a post?

In the interest of actually breaking through and posting, I will answer her questions, then hit that publish button. Ready?

So what had happened?

We added an operations person to VisualsSpeak. An organized, business and detail oriented person to help strip down and rebuild the core business model. To come in and take the idea we’ve been working on and put the structure under it to support a different level of business. So now we have two artists and one business person. Two focused on big picture concepts and one how are you going to make it happen.

It’s exactly what we have needed for a long time. But it hasn’t been easy. Exhausting. Watching everything we did to the best of our ability get broken down, much of which got thrown out. Having to look deeply at entrenched behaviors that are getting in our way. Having to re-guess what might work. Change management in all its grueling finest.

What rules are you trying to follow?

That I’m supposed to offer something to my readers, something spectacular, insightful, full of wisdom. Certainly not whining about the agony of change. Or reciting the litany of things I was struggling with on a daily basis. Or admitting the vast list of really bad habits I have developed to attempt to keep my head above water.  It took all I had emotionally to get through the process, there was nothing left to allow me to take the risk of posting anything online.

What are you trying to avoid?

I discovered a limit on my ability to be transparent. A line beyond which a fragility cut off words. I wanted to paint, and couldn’t find the time. Or more truthfully, allow myself the time. The visual is the doorway to a well of emotion. I didn’t think I could process any more.

What’s the kernel of truth in the fear?

The professional is personal. No matter how much I try to manage the edges, they bleed together and affect each other. And I have limits and boundaries that keep it all in check.

How can you take some of the importance out of writing a post?

I’m declaring just posting, the act of sticking something up is enough for now. Maybe someday I’ll be profound, but in the meantime, I’m just going to start sharing as feels right. Not trying to be more than the person trying to do the right thing. Working on accepting my limitations. Trying to make a difference somehow.

Now, pressing that publish button.

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Does my header make my blog look fat?

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Sue Waters has been cleaning up her blog again. She wasn’t happy with her former header image.

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I assume this is the skyline of the Australian city she lives in? I don’t know for sure, and many of her other international readers may not know either. Is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not. But let’s look to see what she might be trying to convey for her blog.

What’s the blog about?

The title is Mobile Technology in TAFE. From her About page, we learn TAFE stands for Tertiary and Further Education. She is an aquaculture lecturer. But it doesn’t take reading very far to learn she is passionate about all kinds of technology. Not just a little, she lives and breathes it. And it’s not just using it, it’s about helping people all over the world learn how to use it.

The old image is busy. Lots of buildings, and the image is cropped so there is no space above the buildings. When she first started using this header, the busy visual quality reflected the posting frequency and how the blog was chock full of information.

The blog went on a diet

Now Sue didn’t stop her constant output of information, rather she added other outlets. She found Twitter early on, and it was a perfect medium for her. I still don’t get twitter, but I know everytime I log in, Sue will have posted something interesting to look at.

She also started writing for The Edublogger to help people using the Edublogs system. What I know is when any new thing comes out, if Sue hasn’t already written not only about how it works, but how to actually apply it in educational practice, she will very soon.

So if you follow Sue in various places, you know she has increased her output. If you only look at her personal blog, the quantity of information is lower. Not in quality, just quantity. So, I think her instinct to reduce the clutter in the visuals better reflects the new overall feel of her blog.

A new header image

Sue put up this new image.

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And she got this comment from Christy Tucker

Does it seem like the header image leads your image off the right side of the page though? Look at the line of the rocks and the direction the person is facing–it seems to all be pointing off to the right. I wonder if you flipped the image horizontally if it would work better. You’d have to move the text somewhere else, perhaps, but with the image flipped it would draw your eye right down to the content.

Just a thought–you might want to check with Christine Martell or someone else more visually inclined. It’s possible I’m simply imagining things!

Well, Christy, you are not imaging things. The header does lead the eye to the right. But lets’ look at why.

At first glance, you might think it’s just the direction the boy is facing. This certainly contributes, but it’s aggravated by the type which is anchored visually by being right up against the left edge and visually pushes into the back of the boy.

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Now, there aren’t any right answers for how to deal with this. Just some options to consider. First, you can move the type over so it leads the eye to circle back around the rocks.

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If you have more image software skills, there are some other things you can do. You could shorten the tag line so it fits in the rocks, and flip the boy so he is looking back the other way. This shifts the eye to lead strongly down along the back of the boy. In order to really see if this works, you would need to look at it in the template to see how this lines up with the rest of the template.

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You could also remove the boy entirely, and allow the header to lead the eye down the space between the rocks, but in a softer way.

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Moving the type to the top balances the image standing along better, but once again, you would want to test it in the actual template to see how it works with the rest of the elements around it.

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The same would be true for darker type. You would want to look at it in context, and pay particular attention to how it related to the title of the blog.

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What do you want to say with your image?

We’ve made the isolated header work better visually, but does it say what Sue is trying to convey? She said:

the idea was the lonely person staring out into the vastness of the ocean wondering what to do and where to get help.

To make this work, we probably need to bring the boy back. However, when we face him toward the pile of rocks, he isn’t really looking out into the vastness. So, I moved him to the right and adjusted the type to visually relate the the framing of the rocks on the left and the boy on the right.

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This leads the eye to circle back and focus on the tagline.

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The type feels a bit crowded still, so I also try the shorter tag line and change the type color to relate to the lichen on the rocks below it. The water where I removed the boy also needed a bit more touch-up, and I could spend even more time improving it.

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But what’s the right answer?

In design there isn’t a right answer. It’s a balance between what you are wanting to convey and the limitations of what you have to work with combined with the opinions and desires of the person who gets to decide. For a blog header, you are also affected by the template you are using and all of the other elements that surround the header.

Any of these headers can work. Let’s send it back to Sue and see what she thinks. And have her try some of them in her template to see how they work in context.

Design is a process of trial and error for many of us. It might look like we can just pull these things out of the air, but I think for most of us it is iterative. Some people can visualize exactly what they want in their heads then just create it, but I think there are many more of us that try lots of variations to see what will work.

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