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Graphic Jam


Object of Play

Words become more challenging to visualize as they become less literal. For example, the words computer and necktie offer immediate imagery. But the words strategy and justice are more abstract and lend themselves to broader visual interpretations. Graphic Jam is an all-purpose visualization game that you can conduct before many other games as a warm-up, but it’s also a useful game in itself. Visualizing abstract concepts supports logo development, presentation design, website design, metaphor development for e-learning, and so on. It exercises the visual part of our cortex—which accounts for 75% of our sensory neurons—and turns on parts of our minds that don’t get much action in a typical business setting. Why does that matter? Because business is getting more complex.  Being able to use your mind’s eye to see and show problems—and solutions—will be a sought-after skill.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

1. Establish a large, flat, white display area for this game. Give all players access to sticky notes and index cards.

2. Ask them to take 1–2 minutes to write words on the index cards that they have difficulty conceptualizing and drawing, like “quality” or “teamwork.” Ask for one word or phrase per index card.

3. Gather all of the contributions, shuffle them, and then draw one card and read it aloud to the group. Tape it up in the white space.

4. Ask the players to reflect on the word and draw a visual representation of it on a sticky note so that it can be posted on the wall. Give them 2–3 minutes to do so.

5. Have the players approach the white space and post their sticky note under the index card with the related word.

6. Repeat steps 3–5 until all or most of the words have been read aloud. If you draw repeat words or synonyms of previously drawn words, draw again until you get a fresh concept.

7. By the end of the game, you’ll have a gallery space of visualized concepts. Ask the group to spend time looking at how others interpreted the words.

8. Referring to the sticky notes, lead a group discussion by asking what certain images mean and how the artist related that image to the word that was read aloud. Ask players to discuss which words were easier to visualize than others and why. Close by asking them how they might see visualization skills applied in their daily life and work.


It is highly likely that the words the players contribute to this game will be on the abstract end of the spectrum. Note that the amount of time you’ll need for this game depends on the number of players, the number of words each player generates, and the complexity of the word concepts. Use your best judgment on how long to spend conducting a Graphic Jam session. And when you decide it’s time to call it quits, ask the group if there are any burning concepts they’d like to see visualized. If so, take a few more minutes with the group to tackle them. When the game is over, give the players a chance to converse with each other about the creative processes and techniques they use to conjure ideas and imagery.

The Graphic Jam game inspired by the same-named activity created by Leslie Salmon-Zhu, co-founder of the International Forum of Visual Practitioners.