What is a visual framework?

Visual frameworks are pictorial mental models that can help you clarify your thoughts. Each visual framework is like a building block. You can combine and configure them in different ways to think and build shared understanding about situations, challenges, strategies and plans.

A visual framework is:

  1. A simple sketch that represents a recognizable and meaningful pattern.
  2. Simple enough that a quick scan is sufficient to see which ones might match your situation in the current moment.
  3. Sketchy and unfinished enough that it invites you to enter its world and complete the story.
  4. Ambiguous enough to suggest permutations, combinations, variations, and adjacent possibilities.
  5. Simple enough that it fits on an index card.
  6. Coherent enough that it’s easy to imagine it being “scaled up” into a full-blown visual explanation.

This site is a library of visual frameworks, a pattern language to help you clarify your thinking, discover new ideas, develop strategies, make plans, and build shared understanding and common ground with others.

Browse the pattern library.

Submit a pattern idea.

Permissions and use

Feel free to use visual frameworks in your blog or email newsletter so long as you link back to visualframeworks.com. Here’s an example. You can also print them out or use them on virtual whiteboards such as Miro or Mural. If you want to use visual frameworks across your business or enterprise, or incorporate visual frameworks into a paid product, such as software or a book, please contact us to arrange for a license.

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Dave Gray
Dave Gray

Hi, I’m Dave Gray. I started my career in the 1980s making visual explanations for metro newspapers in Los Angeles, Seattle, and St. Louis. In 1993 I started a company, XPLANE, to offer visual explanations to companies. XPLANE was successful beyond my wildest dreams, growing into a full-blown design consultancy focused on organizational change. This made me happy of course, but my true passion has always been and continues to be creating visual explanations that make complex or potentially confusing situations easier to understand. You can learn more about me and my journey at xplaner.com.

I’ve spent 30-plus years working with organizations off all kinds. I’ve worked with startups, global enterprises, non-profits, government, and I’ve worked in just about every industry: insurance, real estate, finance, pharma, health care, energy, big tech and more. My work has been focused on using visual thinking to help people explore complex and challenging situations, make sense of them, develop strategies and plans, and explain them clearly with pictures.

During that time I have noticed that many of these issues, strategies, and approaches exhibit similar patterns. The great polymath Gregory Bateson called this phenomenon “the pattern that connects” — the idea that patterns repeat themselves at all scales of magnitude. At the tiniest scale, electrons orbit the nucleus of an atom. At the largest scale, the planets in our solar system orbit the sun. But a common pattern connects the twoVisual frameworks are a language of patterns that connect. They are simple diagrams of recognizable, meaningful patterns that you may encounter in life and work. I am collecting these patterns here, and I hope you will enjoy poking around in them. They have helped me make sense of complex situations and find clarity of purpose in my work and life. I hope they can do the same for you.

If you want to go deeper, I also offer 1-1 visual coaching where we use visual thinking together to help you lead a life of clarity, creativity, and purpose. Learn more about me and my work.