Original Paper

Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 361-376

First online:

Rich Pictures: Collaborative Communication Through Icons

  • T. BergAffiliated withSchool of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Email author 
  • , R. PooleyAffiliated withSchool of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University

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A visual language of pictures, such as the rich picture used in the Soft System Methodology, offers a way of global communication that far exceeds the limitations of text and speech. Simple graphics can be rapidly communicated, processed and transmitted within a large and culturally diverse constituency. This paper looks at the benefits and interpretative risks when using rich pictures for system understanding. The aim of this paper is twofold: firstly to report upon an observation of a large scale collaborative diagramming workshop and compare the resulting pictures with a previous workshop study. Secondly, to develop further ongoing research which suggests rich picture construction can be aided by providing an icon legend. This paper compares 2 rich picture workshops: the diagramming workshop at the Open University eSTEeM Diagramming Colloquium in March 2012 and a workshop held in Heriot Watt University in February 2012. The comparative results are set against the ongoing empirically grounded rich picture research within Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. Preliminary results suggest there are a set of distinguishable icons and shapes that are generic across all rich pictures regardless of domain. Further analysis of the early results suggests a natural intrinsic grammar is manifested within rich pictures in terms of relationships, icons, context and connectors.


Rich picture Visual communication Language Icon Workshop