Making the world a more meaningful place

I like to talk about “meaning”.  A lot.  I believe that a more meaningful world is a better world, and I want you to believe that too.  And I want you to realise that making the world a more meaningful place is not some arcane mystical notion, but a practical skill that you can learn and put into practice every day.

Now, first up, meaning has two related senses, the first to do with significance (“that was a very meaningful experience”) and the second to do with things making sense (“I know what that means”).  Interesting as deep and meaningfuls can be, I am not going to talk about the first sense, only the second i.e. what is happening when you look at something and know what it means.

Imagine this situation.  You’re driving home from work and you
unexpectedly find your normal route is shut – for roadworks say.  So you take a diversion down some roads you’ve never used before.  At some point, the new roads reconnect with the old roads you knew before, and you probably say something like “Oh, I never knew that’s where that road went”.


In other words, your mental model has just been updated and now better reflects your experience of the world – a bit like adding an extra bit of map to a SatNav.  “Meaning” may sound a fancy word, but this is all it is – it’s the feeling that your mental model of the world (and the symbols you use to represent that mental model) corresponds to your experience of how the world actually is.

And boy does it feel good!  Every time you learn something in this way, your brain releases a shot of dopamine.  Sometimes this is dramatic (like when you smile because the film’s twist ending puts everything in place) and sometimes it’s subtle (“ah that’s where that road goes”).  Sometimes it’s conflicted (like when you get a terrible diagnosis, but it at least lets you make sense of six months of baffling symptoms).  But it’s always there.  And if you identify with this, then it’s not a huge leap to realise that a more meaningful world is also a happier world.

So how do you use this to make the world a more meaningful place?  Well, very simple.  When a diversion forces you offtrack, the meaning comes when your new route (of which you have had no experience) connects with your old route (of which you have).

In the same way, you make meaning for your audience when you connect with their experience.  It really is as simple as that.  Everything else on this blog elaborates this central principle.  So use examples that will have experience.  Use the language that they have experience using.  Use pictures of things they have seen before.  And (most importantly), structure your content in the same way your brain structures experience.  But that’s a subject for another day

What is “Visual Meaning”?

Visual Meaning is not just the name of our company, but the name of our discipline, which is understanding the way people make sense of the things they see.

By “visual” we mean everything people see – words, diagrams, symbols – not just pictures.  By “meaning” we mean the connection between our experience of being in the world and the things we use to describe that experience.  This connection is something you feel – a sense of resonance when you see things that makes sense to you … a kind of feedback loop, like this:


The reason our company exists is because there are too many things in the world – often really important things – that should be meaningful but just aren’t.  We use too many abstract words, pictures and diagrams that don’t connect to experiences in a way that people can relate to.  Where there is no connection between our experiences of the world and the way we are representing those experiences, meaning breaks down.  In business this happens over and over and over and over and over again:


Our mission is to rebuild these connections and make the world a more meaningful place.  This requires us to be able to do two things:

  • Firstly, master visual language, understanding how people make sense of what they see, so that the visual models we make are read in the way we expect them to be read
  • Secondly, master the analytical skills that allow us to fully understand the content we are trying to depict, so that our visual models match the mental models of the viewer

When visual models connect with mental models, meaning is made.  Visual Meaning as a business is about doing this for clients.  Visual Meaning as a discipline is about understanding how those connections are made.