Without Visual Expression, We Can't See the Future We Co-Create

May 7, 2024 by Mireille van Bremen

“We’re looking for a person who can help us turn our strategy document into engaging visuals that will help communicate our strategic directions clearly and in a visually appealing manner. Are you interested in and available for supporting us in this endeavor?” Up until the moment the CEF sent me this request, I had worked with clients from various fields and countries, and though I’d received similar requests before, I felt particularly excited about this one. Their focus on creating learning opportunities for people and organizations, to increase their ability to contribute to the establishment of a fair society, resonates deeply with my own values.

After emigrating from The Netherlands to Slovenia, I worked as a graphic designer and design department leader for nearly ten years. Working with clients all over Europe, I had ample opportunities to work in several languages with leaders from various cultures, backgrounds, and industries. Throughout both my professional and personal experiences (starting a bi-cultural family, followed by establishing a peaceful co-parenting relationship in a foreign country), I learned about how to co-create futures and collaborate to achieve specific common and individual goals that meet the needs of everyone involved. My experience taught me which aspects most degraded the quality of co-creation and collaboration, specifically those that trigger internal and/or external conflicts:

  • Not knowing what our (common) values are, and/or living by them.
  • Not being able to discern needs from the strategies we used to fulfill them.
  • Not spending enough of our time on what is important to us, or with the people who matter to us most.
  • Not verifying what someone meant by what they said, but rather responding to what we assumed they meant.
  • Not allowing ourselves and others to make mistakes, thus missing out on opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Not recognizing that every living being matters because we are autonomous beings in an interdependent world.
  • Not having a clear picture of the common future, we are working to create.

Because of the aspects that play into creating conflict, especially when we collaborate, work, and live with people from other countries with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, the chance for a situation to lead to and escalate into conflict increases.

Despite positive and well-meant intentions and a general aversion to conflict, many human beings are incredibly skilled at creating internal and external conflicts. While I find it extremely important to acquire conflict resolution skills, I also advocate for learning skills and implementing strategies that focus on creating peaceful and effective relationships and collaborations. The main factors that play an essential role in the contribution I make to the wellbeing of others are needs-based living, working, and collaborating, and empathic and visual communication skills.

Needs-based living

In search of strategies that could help me deal with my own challenges of intercultural life and work, I came across the book Speak Peace in a World of Conflict by Marshall B. Rosenberg, founder of The Center for Nonviolent Communication CNVC. Reading this book in 2012 was the start of a long journey dedicated to learning and teaching empathic listening and Nonviolent Communication. It initiated a shift in my mindset, compelling me to take responsibility for the future I create in every single moment of my day by being aware of what I observe, feel, need, and the requests I make to fulfill my needs. Additionally, I learned to create and maintain connections with others by seeking to understand what they need and find strategies that work for us both. Conversations I have with others offer opportunities to consciously choose what we need to learn and do to co-create a future we both want, and I have a deep desire to find balance in the exchange of energy between people, teams and organizations because every living being matters and we live in an interdependent world.

Visual communication

Growing up I attended a Rudolf Steiner School (Waldorf School), where the approach to learning was different from other schools in The Netherlands. There were no textbooks or homework. Instead, we copied texts and drawings from the blackboard into our notebooks every day. We also studied more subjects including various languages and forms of art. That approach to learning developed my visual thinking skills and ability to express myself visually. Later, at the public high school I attended as a teenager, I spent extra hours in the art department and was eventually accepted to the Willem de Kooning Academy of Art in Rotterdam, where I completed two degrees, one in illustration and one in visual communication. It’s always been obvious to me that visual expression helps us show others what we mean, what we want or need, and what we would like to create.


At my company, The Visual Mediator, the various titles that describe the work I do have become less relevant for me. Instead, I think of them as a toolkit comprised of the many skills I’ve learned throughout my life. As we all have an infinite ability to learn and grow, I enjoy reflecting on my life experience as an opportunity to harvest the lessons learned. Three questions I continuously reflect upon are:

  • What have I recently learned and have I become aware of, that I want to take in consideration in my decision making? This question helps me be authentic and integrate new skills. It improves the quality of my life, reduces external and internal conflicts, and encourages me to make conscious choices that align with my values, meet my current needs, and take responsibility for the future I create. This does not mean I believe I have some superpower to change matters outside my zone of influence. Rather, it means that I do not wait for others to take actions that improve the quality of my life. I have an incredible amount of influence on my day to-day experiences and the actions I choose to take. I also have influence on the relationships I maintain with family and friends, the communities I engage with and am part of, and the clients I choose to work with.

  • What mindset, attitude and skills do I need to have, and what do I need to do differently, to change my external reality? In my view, taking responsibility for my own life experience starts with acknowledging my autonomy and understanding that my autonomy is undeniably related to my need for interdependence. The way I view the world, what I think about myself, others and the society I live in, is within my own zone of influence, but even more so, impacts the way I experience the world. The skills I learn and develop empower me to respond to this experience and my interactions with others.

  • What is the highest impact of my contribution? Is the future my impact creates in alignment with my core values and a future I and others would love to live? What I love about these questions is that they help me imagine, dream, think forward, and shape various scenarios of the future with a fair society. I get in touch with my power to create, and I start to get a sense of if and how my contribution would matter in a way that I value. If it does not, it is easy to understand that if I were to proceed, my contribution would not lead to the creation of an eco-system that I view as serving life on this planet.


  • We have an infinite ability to learn and grow.
  • Every living being matters because we are autonomous beings in an interdependent world.
  • Our bright future is a co-creation and strategy for meeting needs.
  • Visual expression helps us show others what we mean, what we want or need, and what we would like to create.