Concept Clarity: A Quick Guide for High-Scoring Technical Illustrations
Technical illustrations help us understand complex ideas more easily and are potent tools for creating winning pursuits. Concept sketches, 2D views, or full 3D photorealistic renderings simplify details, help readers remember information, and enable reviewers to quickly grasp concepts, spatial interfaces, or approaches.
"2D? 3D? Notes, dimensions, callouts? How do we know what information to add in a limited space... especially when reviewers have less and less time to do a deep dive into our ideas?"
Clients often ask the Mission Critical Team to review ongoing work, and we typically encounter one of four common challenges:
Graphics built in PowerPoint are used to convey complex concepts and lead to general inaccuracy in illustrating the concept space.
Spatial concepts are presented in 2D when a 3D model could more concisely capture the idea for a reviewer.
Visually-cluttered 3D models are pulled from Google Earth or other online sources.
2D and 3D illustrations and graphics are created to "cover every angle" of an idea, concept, or solution.
While these conditions are not "fatal flaws," each represents a missed opportunity to establish concept clarity and trigger a strong scoring response from your reviewer.
Determining the level of complexity needed for a 2D or 3D technical illustration requires several considerations. Here are some critical steps:
Define the Goal: Understanding the goal of the illustration is crucial. Is the staging concept emphasizing traffic patterns or focusing on means and construction methods? Visuals can represent "1,000 words" or make a reviewer work to understand the important message. Like any successful communication, good illustrations start by defining goals, then continuously monitoring these goals during development.
Understand the Audience: Knowledge of the audience is vital. Reviewers may be Agency staff with intense knowledge of the technical aspects of the project, discipline leads (e.g., environmental or structural specialists), or stakeholders (e.g., a representative from a funding or partner agency). Assume your reviewers have differing levels of project knowledge and build with this parameter in mind.
Vet for Key Information: Limiting the key information within your visual promotes clarity, facilitates comprehension, and bolsters impact. For example, in 2D sections and 3D models, marketing teams often add multi-layered dimension strings copied from area to area or graphic to graphic. Review each series. Does a repeated dimension help build on your approach, or can it be deleted for clarity? The goal is to avoid cognitive overload, enabling the reviewer to grasp the essence swiftly.
Plan for Adequate Review Time: Incorporating review time into visual development ensures accuracy, allows for course corrections, and facilitates iterative improvement. Review of complex 2D and 3D graphics and models should include both internal and external reviewers.
Use a Multidisciplinary Team for Feedback: Gaining a wide range of perspectives in your review cycles is critical. Pursuit team members (both technical and non-technical), external reviewers, and 1-2 individuals unfamiliar with the project should be part of your feedback team.
Iterate and Refine: Based on the feedback, revise with a focus on clarity and conciseness rather than "adding more." Simplifying details, removing unnecessary elements, or finding new ways to clarify your concept may feel counterproductive. Still, the goal is to convey your purpose rather than impress (or likely lose a reviewer with visual complexity).
Pro Tip: Be sure to de-clutter those baseline images!
Yes, that Google Earth image may be tempting (and easy) to use, but the image comes with lots of extra visual clutter that takes time for a reviewer to process (even before your team starts adding modifications and notes).
Mission Critical typically re-constructs images in SketchUp and imports AutoCAD Civil3D + Revit files as needed. This approach helped our team highlight the structure alternatives while preserving the sense of space at the proposed project site.
Clear, concise technical illustrations make complex subjects easy to understand, drive reviewer engagement, and trigger higher-scoring responses from time-pressed reviewers.
During pursuit development, focus on simplifying complex concepts by defining a limited number of goals, then shaping your illustration to deliver 2-3 key messages. Be sure to gain feedback from multidisciplinary team members and reviewers outside of your pursuit effort. And always be willing to simplify, re-compose, and edit to achieve the best impact and effectiveness.