Working Visually Within the Government

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Written by Throughline CEO, Brandon Jones

One of my greatest mentors—John Galgano, who was CIO at NAVFAC when I joined the Federal Government—saved everything. For him this was a record of his 36 years of impact at the Department of the Navy. For me, each of these relics was a lesson, an opportunity to learn from his wisdom—a lifetime of experience that showed me the power of visualization, even in its crudest form. I would riffle through his old transparencies imagining the hum of the overhead projector as he unveiled to the Command that year’s IT budget, using simple lines and squiggles and dollar signs.  

Many people think that government business and good design are at odds with each other, but John’s transparencies taught me that regardless of what type of organization you’re in, if you want people to rally around an idea that they can grasp quickly, visuals are the most effective.

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I took this lesson with me throughout my career, making regular use of white boards to help explain concepts and emphasize key messages, but it wasn’t until I was introduced to Throughline that I realized we can actually make visuals go viral in an organization. One visual map can have more impact than thousands of pages of data and reports. It has the power to tell a story that people can experience collaboratively, find themselves in and discover themes that help them better understand strategy and how to execute. Moreover, I’ve found that when people connect to a visual, they revisit that visual and they share it with others.

But it’s not as simple as drawing a picture. You have to draw the right picture.

We like to emphasize that you can’t cut short the explore phase if you want results. This means you must spend time going levels deep to solve complex problems. Sometimes to find the right thing, you have to find the best through the worst. In other words, you must first eliminate the wrong things. It’s just as important to understand audiences, contexts and history as it is to understand your goals and intended outcomes. This is how you develop clear messages that resonate, which is in turn how you create visuals that move people to action.

At their core, government organizations aren’t particularly unique in that they are humans doing good work for the benefit of other humans, but they are often subject to a level of scrutiny that commercial organizations may not face. They must be good stewards of tax-payer money, maintain our complex infrastructure, and, in the case of Throughline’s many DoD clients, keep our nation and its service members protected.

Because of this added layer of scrutiny, some leaders are hesitant to veer too far away from the status quo. They find comfort in their standardized report templates and overly complicated slides. But when information is delivered in a templatized, and often dense, format that everyone sees all the time, the information no longer stands out; there’s nothing memorable for the audience to grasp onto. It takes a bold leader to disrupt the pattern and introduce visuals that are captivating and clear and different—that invite people to interact with them.

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With these types of visuals, conversations are more productive, decisions are made faster and people are able to follow the same story. Why does this matter? When everyone agrees on what is most important and what the path to mission success looks like, you save time and money, you prevent frustration and confusion, and you build trust through transparency with your leadership, your staff and your customers.

At Throughline, we go through our own process. We explore, envision and execute the same as we do with our clients and make good use of imagery—whether through sketches, graphic recordings or high-fidelity designs—because visuals add layers of meaning in a way that words alone can’t.

To learn more about our process and how we can clarify your complexity with visuals, reach out to our team at We’d be delighted to connect. If your brain is craving a creativity boost, check out the graphic recording of this newsletter below (created by the talented Sara Nuttle).

Until next time,

Brandon Jones, CEO

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