Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

The power and limitations of visual metaphors

Published on 12 May 2014
Updated on 05 April 2024

I usually communicate by drawing. This time, I will write a text. There is a saying that one picture conveys a thousand words. Sometimes I wonder if the opposite applies to me. I am part of Diplo’s Creative Lab, and Professor of Drawing and Printmaking at the Faculty of Arts in Belgrade.

Our creative sessions are great fun. Usually, an idea for an illustration comes from our professors and associates. Jovan leads the list of ideas. Vlada is high on IG topics. We get many inspiring ideas from Stefano Baldi and Ed Gelbstein. After an idea is articulated, we spend some time discussing the visual metaphor, the complexity of the message, a possible pun (drawing without puns could be dull).

NETmundial XL
Usually, each illustration takes four or five iterations before it is approved. The latest illustration for NETmundial was highly complex. The theme itself – Internet governance – is controversial, involving different views and approaches. In addition, organisers introduced the soccer association by calling the event NETmundial.

In our brainstorming session, we agreed that some other game – such as the ancient board game Go – would be much a better game metaphor. We ended up with soccer, with the accompanying risk involved in simplifying it to only two teams, as soccer is played. Players were more or less enthusiastic about the game. Some, such as civil society, could not agree where and how to play.

I added a few sheep to the field, which triggered tough debate. I am not a normally someone that ‘draws a line’ (pun intended), but this time I insisted on sheep. I felt like a sheep. I am an Internet user, and I do not have a clue what is going on. There are a lot of acronyms and abbreviations and some heated debate. I am realising that it is becoming an important debate, but I cannot grasp it. This is why I feel like a sheep, and insisted that they remain in the drawing. They represent me on the field!!!

Illustrations reduce messages from a thousand words to one drawing. But these words are rarely the same. They depend on the viewer. Each of us writes our own mental story, reflecting very often on what we want to see. 

I am inviting Diplo’s friends and other colleagues to discuss visual metaphors – both their power and their limitations. Please let me know your thoughts. You can find some of my other illustrations here.



Subscribe to Diplo's Blog