The Three Rules of Effective Visuals (Mieruka)

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 The use of visual control, or mieruka ( 見える化 ) , takes the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” to a whole new level. It is...

The use of visual control, or mieruka (見える化), takes the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” to a whole new level. It is an essential part of the kaizen strategy, providing those determined to introduce lean techniques with an easy way to instantly communicate quickly and clearly to all. Part one of a three part series on mieruka.

By Karn G. Bulsuk


Read more: The four different types of visuals/mieruka 
Examples of mieruka from Toyota: Identification ExamplesInformative Examples

Mieruka (見える化), or visual control, is one of the holiest words in the Toyota lexicon. Its purpose is to visualize and abbreviate information to such an extent that it is simple to understand, yet still provides everything you need at a glance.

In your average Toyota factory, you will find examples of Mieruka literally everywhere you turn. These range from the large whiteboards showing progress, to large signs classifying sections, to coloured lines on the floor indicating how a product is to be stacked. Metal clipboards are also a common sight, containing information that’s needed at your fingertips.

In essence, effective visuals follow these basic rules:
  1. Make it easy to understand
  2. Make it big and easily visible
  3. Make it interactive and easy to change
1) Make it easy to understand

An effective visual distills information to its essential core, so that people can immediately understand what the visual is trying to communicate.

A good visual allows all people, from management to employees, to immediately understand the current situation. The emphasis here is on speed and simplicity, as it will allow an issue to be understood, or a problem to be quickly spotted, analysed and tended to, as opposed to being hidden away in an obscure report.

2) Make it big and easily visible

A good visual is one placed in publically visible areas, such as walls at high traffic areas, so that people don’t need to go hunting for the information. Making the visual physically large is also important as it makes it easier to see, as you would want the message to be impossible to miss.

In Toyota, freestanding whiteboards or entire walls made of whiteboards are common a sight because of the ease of deployment and modification.

3) Make it interactive and easy to change

So that they visuals are effective, they must be kept up-to-date with the latest information and should be easy to update. A Toyota whiteboard will often contain magnetic stickers which can be shuffled around in order to provide simple updates, with hand-written notes using a whiteboard marker if more detailed information is needed.

Although it is tempting to use a computer to provide these visuals, Toyota tends to avoid them not because they are afraid of technology, but because a computer simply does not provide the same reliability and ease of modification than a white board.

A leading example from Toyota



This visual (click to enlarge) records the number and specifics of defective products and is an example of a good visual which follows the three rules. Fields are clearly marked to ensure that all necessary information is provided and easily understood, while the use of a whiteboard makes modification easy. The entire board is used for this purpose and it also stands on the way into the room, making it impossible to miss.

And finally…

When you put these three rules together, you will be able to create an effective visual in no time. To see samples of visuals used in Toyota and walkthroughs on the rationale and purpose of their design, check out the links below.

Read more: The four different types of visuals/mieruka 
Examples of mieruka from Toyota: Identification ExamplesInformative Examples

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Karn G. Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: The Three Rules of Effective Visuals (Mieruka)
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