Rich pictures: collaborative communication through icons

Tessa Berg, Robert John Pooley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
571 Downloads (Pure)


A visual language of pictures, such as the rich picture used in the Soft SystemMethodology, offers a way of global communication that far exceeds the limitations of textand speech. Simple graphics can be rapidly communicated, processed and transmittedwithin a large and culturally diverse constituency. This paper looks at the benefits andinterpretative risks when using rich pictures for system understanding. The aim of thispaper is twofold: firstly to report upon an observation of a large scale collaborative diagrammingworkshop and compare the resulting pictures with a previous workshop study.Secondly, to develop further ongoing research which suggests rich picture construction canbe aided by providing an icon legend. This paper compares 2 rich picture workshops: thediagramming workshop at the Open University eSTEeM Diagramming Colloquium inMarch 2012 and a workshop held in Heriot Watt University in February 2012. Thecomparative results are set against the ongoing empirically grounded rich picture researchwithin Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. Preliminary results suggest there are a set ofdistinguishable icons and shapes that are generic across all rich pictures regardless ofdomain. Further analysis of the early results suggests a natural intrinsic grammar ismanifested within rich pictures in terms of relationships, icons, context and connectors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-376
Number of pages16
JournalSystemic Practice and Action Research
Issue number4
Early online date19 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Visual communication
  • Workshop
  • Icon
  • Language
  • Rich picture


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