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August 7, 2008 Vol. 1, Issue 7


It’s the night before a big presentation, and your slide deck is half-finished. You’re at dinner at a hotel, mulling over the same complex problem that has been bugging you for months. Lightning strikes. You scramble for a pen and paper — your napkin will do the trick — and begin sketching.

In The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, Dan Roam, an expert in visual thinking, makes a simple suggestion: just draw it. He leads by example: his book is filled with simple cartoon-style hand drawings that illustrate his method for visual thinking. He explains why and how many familiar tools work, and offers rules of thumb for determining the best kind of picture to make a given point.

For readers familiar with Edward Tufte’s series of dauntingly beautiful books on visual information, The Back of the Napkin may seem like the other extreme: a low-tech, friendly primer filled with solid conceptual advice and examples. Both have their place on a visual thinker’s bookshelf. Tuftes books bring to mind works of art. The Back of the Napkin makes for a handy desk reference for when you’re searching for inspiration or just plain stumped.

Read a real-life ‘back of the napkin’ story from COBE Deputy Project Manager Dennis McCarthy..

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