The Fat Pencil Approach

Design is thinking made visible

At the beginning of this year, I sat down with my staff to document our process for creative problem solving and visual communication. Specifically, we pondered the question, what is The Fat Pencil Approach, and how is it valuable to the customers we serve? In theory, this should be an easy question to answer, given the presence of a big button on our home page linking to a whole article on the subject. But our discussion on that January day revealed a more fundamental truth which has taken on new importance with the sudden and dramatic shift in working conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Humans have a direct link between visual stimulation and cognitive understanding. In other words, pictures have a strong influence on how we think about the words we read, how we react to the conversations we hear, and ultimately how we decide to to take action. This makes sense, given that we all learn to understand stories through pictures, before we learn how to read, and even before we learn how to talk.

For many years, I’ve been preaching to attorneys about the importance of using visual stories to drive collaboration and develop strategies, not only for trial, but from the very start of working on a case. As a company, Fat Pencil Studio has used visual tools such as timelines, diagrams, enhanced video, and 3d visualization for hundreds of cases. A common factor enabling our success is the ability to see and organize critical evidence in real time when meeting to discuss a project. We’ve learned that simply talking about the evidence is not sufficient, because team members all have different ideas about how their expertise fits into the bigger picture.

Today, we find ourselves in uncharted territory. With the closure of offices and businesses nationwide, many of us are unable to work at all, and for those fortunate enough to have the option of working remotely, everything is different. We can no longer depend on systems organized around meeting in person in conference rooms and courtrooms. We are realizing what was formerly taken for granted: that nonverbal visual cues are critical to our understanding of conversations, and the power of presence is instrumental in making decisions. (credit Sari de la Motte for that last bit of insight)

Fortunately, we now have video conferencing and screen sharing tools to help us tackle this new way of working. For many years, Fat Pencil Studio has been using services like Google Hangouts, Zoom and to provide visual facilitation for client meetings. Last week we shifted all staff to working from home, so we now use these same tools to collaborate internally. It’s been an adjustment, but quite effective in getting work done… which means we are still here to help you move forward with your most important cases. Call us, we're open!


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio