The visual metaphor

The visual metaphor

Let’s expand on animations. All those abstractions you’re bombarded with – think “onboarding” or “innovation” or “sustainability” – they need to be visualised. Groundwater level management is depicted with water trays, case-oriented work with balloons, and shifting warehouses in logistics is done on checkered paper. Those trays of water, balloons and checkered paper in animation are visual metaphors.

What is a metaphor?

A metaphor is a tool in which you use a property of one thing to clarify another thing. So there are two things going on:
The topic: you don’t talk about it, but it is (actually) what it’s about.
The metaphor: You talk about this, but it’s not what it’s about.
A visual metaphor in an animation works the same as a textual one.

Nice, a familiar image

An animation without visual metaphors invites no one into its own incomprehensible world; an animation with visual metaphors crosses over into recognizability. If the visual metaphor is worked out into a stage, with props and actors you can use it endlessly.

What can be tackled with a visual metaphor

In the case of “case-oriented working,” the balloons flying around replace the invisible IT system. An abstraction you then thankfully don’t have to talk about. It is important that the balloons can perform the same tasks as the IT system, otherwise you cannot explain all aspects of the system with the balloons.
In my opinion, the important thing is that the balloons mimic the IT system in a seriously simplified way: they fly everywhere just like that, while real IT is hopelessly complicated. So the balloons need not explain what people do not need to know about the IT system.

How convenient.

The root cause of boring animations

Without a metaphor, the animation simply shows what you already know. Boring. What makes animations even more boring is that clients start with an A4 full of text. The videos are turned into an endless summing up of features. All the information is in text (logical, there are text people at the helm).

Start with the image.




Primal sketch of the organization as connected islands, with the customer at the counter on both sides, and the process in the middle. Hopefully the problem is solved by now.

… because quite a few problems come flying into the organization. Excuse me, cases.


Such a case begins with a citizen complaining, for example.


The complaint is processed by a staff member. She puts documents into the balloon.



Does the metaphor work? Yes, the “case” can also fly outside the organization, to a man in the field.

The metaphor also works when things break down: then an urgent, red, balloon is created.

The metaphor also works to emphasize the portability of things: you can change desks and take the balloon with you, or you can relieve someone, and take over her balloon.

animation metaphors

The joke, of course, is that there are also green balloons, they go automatically, no one has to be behind the desk for that and they can spend time on the red balloons.
Real IT systems are much more annoying to look at or hear about. Nice, a metaphor like that.

animation visual metaphor

Click on the image for the video. This plays in a new window (Vimeo would like to set a cookie, which you can reject).


animation metaphors

Primal sketch 2: calculating the position of warelhouses and devising routes between them is like playing with cars and boxes on a large checkered paper.


animation metaphors

You can also use this metaphor to explain all aspects of logistics.

… Until you’re at mega-scale.

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animation metaphors

Groundwater level management as a “game” with trays of water that can be full, empty or leaky. Here they have sensors to measure them. The mole has a laptop.

animation metaphors

If you have seen the trays, you still see them when a city is put on top.

animation metaphors

The mole has a miner’s helmet. Which shines on details that are too small to be clearly visible in the scene. If you don’t want to keep changing scenes, or zoom very nervously, then you need something like this.

Click on the image for the video. This plays in a new window (Vimeo would like to set a cookie, which you can reject).