We’re living in an ultra-connected and increasingly fast-paced world that is demanding more and more speed in everything we do, everyday, in a constant quest towards ever-growing productivity. With these ideas in mind, we thought this month’s Visual Thinking School was the perfect playground to run a fun experiment that combined both a deep sensorial journey with the clarity that visual thinking provides. We prompted our participants to “Slow Their Roll,” to re-connect with their senses, unplug from technology, and be more aware of their surroundings.

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The idea for the VTS on July 1 was inspired by the Slow Movement that started back in the ‘80s. This notion of Slow Design created a revolution against the idea that ‘doing things faster means doing them better.’ This new movement instead focused on savoring time, doing things as well as possible (not as quick as possible), and aiming for quality over quantity – a new approach toward problem solving that is more mindful, conscious, and aware.

We kicked off our afternoon session with an icebreaker and an XPLANE lesson on drawing fundamentals. From there, tables of teams took the tips they learned and dove right in to the first VTS task: map drawing. Each team was given a card with a secret destination around downtown Portland. The groups then worked together to draw a detailed map, with their phones as reference, from our office to the destination.
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Our VTS-ers then took it to the streets! With maps in hand, each team was tasked to find their destination without any tech aid, keeping a keen eye on the colors, textures, architecture, scale, sounds, people, and smells that surrounded them and documenting all of these on a clipboard as they walked.
Once groups got back to XPLANE, they were asked to re-draw their maps (tech free) with a difficult twist: They could not draw maps using the standard aerial view. Instead, they could do storyboards, street-views, or even a “recipe” type map with instructions, all while incorporating the colors, textures, and sounds they noted through their journey. Street names, arrows, and direction words were not allowed!
After the drawing and instructions were complete, we mixed it up again. All of the groups swapped their maps and were asked to go on a scavenger hunt across the city to re-find these secret locations.
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To wrap up this three-hour long adventurous VTS, we had a full half hour sharing session with the whole group. People came together and showed off their extremely cool new drawings and talked about their adventure through Portland. It was interesting to see how the activities led groups to an experiential journey that bonded team members, started conversations, and prompted participants to be aware of their surroundings using all of their senses to perceive places they’ve been before, though in a completely novel way.
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Our goal was to have participants leave with a spark. In these crazy days of our ever connected, multitasked lives, we wanted to stop people, give them focus, and ask them to look up from their phones. Ultimately, we wanted to help them question the process of decision-making and take into consideration what’s around them.

Technology has taken us further than ever and it’s helping solve both the simplest and the most complex challenges. However, it is important that we remain aware of how to use it and when to take a break from it because technology can accelerate us towards a rather unproductive way. The fine balance between using our human senses with the right amount of technology is key to more meaningful and mindful decisions.