Lena Shafir Creative Consultancy

Visual Thinking

‘What’s attractive about images is that they can trigger such a variety of thoughts, memories and emotions, each of which can give rise to new ideas. Usually, the most immediate response to an image is emotion; we don’t even need to think about.’

‘Words are different: you need to process each sentence. Emotions are usually quicker than thoughts. That’s where the power of visual language resides. It’s an effective tool to feed the conversation.’
— Jeff Gaspersz, New Ideas; New Opportunities: Use Creativity to Achieve your Goals (Dutch title Nieuwe ideeën, nieuwe kansen. Bereik je doelen met creativiteit). Spectrum, 2008

Beelden spreken tot de verbeelding

Images: working for you

If we hear the word ‘communication’, it’s often the spoken or written word that first comes to mind. People are used to expressing themselves with words. That’s certainly true of policymakers, managers, advisers and politicians. But their word-based communications are often abstract at best and at worst perplexing.


Well-chosen images have the power to disrupt. Images communicate directly with the human imagination. Images connect with the with the right half of the brain, our emotional and associative side, breaking the cycle of rigid thinking. In group sessions, participants loosen up and start accessing new ideas. And often this leads to a better understanding of what it is that connects people.

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A picture sparks a thousand ideas

Research conducted by Professor Victor Lamme shows that well-selected images can influence the mood within a group. In 2012, I compiled a series of images based on Lamme’s research for the LEF Future Center at the Dutch Ministry of Public Works. Using the images it is possible to create atmospheres in which people became more creative (divergent) or more focused on reaching consensus (convergent).

Victor Lamme uses MRI scans to find out how the brain reacts to visual stimuli. In this film the subject is the former Dutch cabinet minister Ronald Plasterk, who we see responding to images of Impressionist paintings, Old Masters, clogs, croquettes, sushi, former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, Barack Obama, eroticism and cheese.

Working method

How I implement the images differs according to each situation.
After preparatory discussions with the client, I compile an image series or visual story that will let me engage with a specific set of issues in a refreshing way.
The primary criterion when selecting images is whether it will open up new perspectives.
One approach is to get the participants working with ‘core value cards’ to arrive at a clearer vision of their shared values.
These are complemented by ‘image intervention’ sessions to focus on engaging with the images themselves.
In my Design Thinking courses, I use images during the ‘divergence’ sessions to tap new potential.

Werken met beelden voor verfrissende inzichten

The mayor:
'Introducing ”impartial” imagery enriched the discussion to such an extent that by the end of the intervention we had achieved a breakthrough.’

Ideeen voor nieuwe organisatiestructuur door beelddenken

Participating judge:
‘The associative imagery ensured we quickly arrived at fresh concepts for a new organisational structure. We never imagined we would get such a firm result in a single day.’

Concrete resultaten met beelddenken
Vogelzwerm op kaart


Lena Shafir
Mob: +31 6 20 976 000