Group conversations are much easier with a visual reference point, especially one being created by the participants as the conversation unfolds. But many people aren’t comfortable to pick up the whiteboard marker and start. You can be the awesome person who does. With a toolkit of simple icons and a little creative thinking you can depict a wide range of ideas and concepts. Armed with these basic tools you can start to build pictures on whiteboards that will bring your conversations to life and quickly build shared understanding. Your colleagues will be impressed, you’ll be renowned throughout the lands, flags will be raised in your honour! Your head will be on postage stamps, and…(record scratch), sorry, I got a bit carried away there. I was doodling pictures as I was thinking and it just sparked so much creativity I was transported to another place and time. See I told you visuals are powerful. So here’s a list of common icons to jumpstart your creativity:



This is a great icon to start with as it will get used a lot. You don’t need to draw lifelike pictures or detailed cartoons for your audience to recognise that you are representing a person or people. A simple body and a head are all you need. To depict different characters or types of people you can add a letter to their body – L for leader, or C for customer for example.



A simple car shape can be used to denote movement, transport, a journey, different kinds of businesses even.



A computer icon can represent work, business, the internet or technology generally.



A phone can represent communication, connectivity, conversation, apps.



Trees are a very versatile symbol. They can represent the environment, nature, conservation, sustainability, being green, growth. You can also depict the roots as the foundation of an idea, the branches can be different streams of work, and the fruits and foliage can be the outcomes. They can be a great metaphor for your project or team priorities when used in this way.



Circles are another basic shape that can be used in a number of different ways. Concentric circles can show different rings of priority like in a stakeholder map. Overlapping circles can show where two concepts converge or have something in common. They can also show a cycle, or represent a year or a lifecycle.



Arrows are one of the great ‘connector’ icons that fill in the gaps and often bring the meaning of multiple other icons to life by showing the relationships between objects. Arrows can show direction, relationship, order, progress, a downward arrow can represent a negative, or a decline in something. In western cultures a left facing arrow often represents the past while a right facing arrow points to the future.


An arrow on a graph

Building on the last icon. Adding a graph around an arrow is an easy way to show progress or an increase – especially if you are representing numbers or stats.



When complexity comes up in conversation, it is often related to trying to find a solution to the complexity. So you will often need to show complexity, then an intervention or solution followed by the outcome. This icon can also represent a journey that has a lot of twists and turns or learnings along the way.



This versatile icon can be documents, manuscripts, policies, bills, guidelines, instructions. Anything that you would ordinarily find on a piece of paper. You can use key words on the top page to give it more detail.



This can be an idea, innovation, hope, bright future. If you put some people around the lightbulb it can become collaboration or co-creation.



Speech and thought bubbles come in very handy. You can write direct quotes in them, use them to symbolise people talking to each other, agreements, discussions, meetings. In thinking clouds you can put questions, ideas or ‘parking lot’ topics that need to be addressed at another time.



It is great to be able to capture feelings in your visual depictions rather than just things and actions, it will add an additional layer of meaning. A heart is a great one to start with. It can mean feelings generally, empathy, or more specifically passion, love or purpose.



A map can represent direction, leadership, having a plan or setting a strategy.



Like arrows, signposts are another great connector or marker icon. Signposts can show locations, destinations, journeys, a sense of movement, milestones, phases or places. It is worth developing a couple of variations to your signpost icon as you will often need to depict more than one kind of milestone or phase for example.


So there you have it. An icon toolkit to get you started. There’s nothing standing in your way now. Get drawing!

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