Show it don’t say it

The 21st instalment in a series of lessons learned over the years. What do I know now that I didn’t then? What wisdom would I impart to my younger self, given the opportunity?

21. Show it don’t say it

Diagrams from a speculative project for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – open landscapes; vertical circulation; moulded openness.

We attended a lecture recently by Spanish architect, Francisco Mangado, touring in Australian thanks to the Australian Institute of Architects. I suspect his work is very good, though can neither write about it here nor even be certain of this claim, as Mangado seems never to have taken Presenting Architectural Projects 101.

This class is both very important and very simple. It has only two rules:

  1. Use less words
  2. Use more pictures

Mangado in fact had the two confused, speaking for many minutes without advancing slides, at times rushing through the few slides he did have as though they were insignificant, even presenting his lengthy manifesto for architecture without a single visual reference. It was such a blatantly poor presentation, I wonder if he was doing it on purpose. His manifesto did, after all, condemn image in favour of content – perhaps he was demonstrating by example how for him architecture should concern itself with attitudes and theory, not facades and glossy images.

Deliberate or not, the presentation was inexcusably terrible, offering scant insight into Mangado’s works.

Architects, like most designers and artists, are visual people. All the more so, considering how important the sense of sight is to the enjoyment of our work. Placing so much value in the visual field, we don’t want to hear about an idea, we want to see it. Words can be slippery, can conjure 40 interpretations in a room of 20 people. A picture conveys your idea far more concisely and directly, leaves no room for doubt.

Pictures also have the remarkable quality of inducing engagement. They are silent, cannot simply be absorbed but rather must be studied. Put a diagram or sketch, plan, section, axonometric projection or perspective on the page and we can engage with the work on our own terms, make up our own minds how it might or might not work. Talk to us instead, you reduce our ability to engage and demean our visual literacy.

Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry for the National Geographic, 1984

We have all heard how a picture speaks a thousand words. Use this powerful truth to assist you – when presenting an idea or project, choose your pictures to tell its story and only use words to provide context. I have heard scientists use the rule of thumb of 1 slide per 1 minute of presentation. An architect should use maybe 2 or 3. Enough to tell the story, not so many that they confuse it.

Show it don’t say it.

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