Defining Concepts Visually

The dictionary is updated yearly to include new meanings and new words that our ever-evolving human race creates in any given year. Urban Dictionary is in a constant state of construction as users write and update new definitions for new slang words. But with a culture that is beginning to focus more and more on images, which can be seen through the rise of Instagram, we should be taking the time to define major concepts visually as well.

Pick a word and pick four images that define the chosen word, then compare with a friend. On a visit to San Francisco’s Exploratorium, my museum-exploring friend, Alyx, picked the word “freedom” with the turn of the wheel and we each sat down at the exhibit station and started rummaging through our own stack of images, which were identical.

The images were generic stock photos, some depicting families, some picturing objects and some featuring life experiences. We each picked four, placing them picture-down on the table. Alyx shared her chosen images first:

  1. A group of people hiking a mountain.
  2. A new house being built.
  3. A group of three women hovering over a cell phone.
  4. A nature picture featuring a mountain with a lake.

I asked Alyx to explain why she picked those images to define what freedom means to her. She explained that to her freedom means (1) freedom to go on an adventure; (2) freedom to own a home; (3) freedom to gather with friends; and (4) freedom to explore nature.

Alyx with the Image Cards

After she shared, I shared mine:

  1. A lion lounging.
  2. A sports car.
  3. A statue of Buddha
  4. A group of people hiking a mountain.

When asked to share, this is how I defined freedom: (1) freedom to rest without worry; (2) freedom to go where you want quickly; (3) freedom from anxiety; to have a clear mind; (4) freedom to go on an adventure.

The beautiful part of this activity is that you are encouraged to think deeper than a standard definition.

The beautiful part of this activity is that you are encouraged to think deeper than a standard definition. Had I been asked to define freedom solely in words, I do not think I would have reached the depth of the definition that I did with the images. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – and I think this activity validates that ideation.

I found sharing our different definitions eye-opening.

I found sharing our different definitions eye-opening because Alyx and I only had one common photo definition of the word freedom: the freedom to go on an adventure. We are good friends who have lived and traveled together, yet we have different perceptions of concepts and images. For instance, I saw the photo of the house being built as meaning that you were locked in, whereas Alyx saw it as a new beginning. In the photo of the three women with the cell phone, she focused on the women socializing while I focused on the technology. I appreciated spending the time to learn more about my friend and to learn about our different perceptions. Learning her perceptions challenged me to think about freedom in a different way; in a way that encompassed more than just my viewpoint.

I did this with a friend and I learned something new. Imagine doing this activity with someone you do not know well. Imagine doing this activity with someone from a different culture or religion. Imagine doing this activity with someone you disagree with fundamentally. Imagine what you can learn.

 

The Featured Image is sourced from Josef Grunig and is entitled Freedom.

 

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