Rich PicturesThis is a featured page

What's a Rich Picture?

Drawing a Rich Picture is a way to find out about the problem situation and express it through cartoon-like diagrams which are a preliminary mental model of the situation. The mnemonic “CATWOE” is used to help people remember the elements of the Rich Picture: customers, actors, transformation, worldview, owner, and environment. The Rich Picture is typically drawn before the analysis phase.

Below is an example of a hand-drawn Rich Picture, showing CATWOE elements for the process of making coffee!

Rich Picture - coffee making

Peter Checkland introduced the concept of the Rich Picture in 1981 in his book Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, the textbook on his soft systems approach to creating solutions to human problems. A rich picture doesn't have to be done electronically, like this one -- in fact, Checkland's examples are all hand-drawn. It's just that as information architects, the idea of using pencil and paper to draw something seems awkward. What if you want to revise your drawing? Share it with others? So we use Visio.

Below is an example of a pretty complex Rich Picture.

Example Rich Picture

Click to view full-size Example Rich Picture (the PDF can be downloaded from the link at the bottom of this page, under "Attachments".)

The development of a “Rich Picture” as shown in the example above is the second step in the CORE process (Cognitive Organization for Requirements Definition, Wiebe & Confer, 2006). This Visio sketch was produced by Joanna Wiebe, information architect at, working from raw notes of one-on-one interviews with each team member and representative site users. The project was an integration of a third party event and meeting registration site with the Orbitz site used by corporations for managed business travel, Travelport for Business.

Ideally, at the time the Rich Picture is developed, existing applications and business processes already have been captured in functional requirements documents and use cases. Or more realistically, as in this case, the information architect works from raw interview notes, whiteboard sketches and assumptions.

This sketch is a way to pinpoint key actors who are impacted by or involved in developing the new Travelport features.

The Rich Picture depicts:

  • the structure of actor interactions with the existing application and the new feature
  • the functions of the new feature and how they integrate with existing functions
  • basic elements of the process flow
  • environmental factors
  • “hard” or “soft” information relevant to the project
  • types of requirements that will have to be developed
  • primary tasks involved in understanding each requirement type.

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Latest page update: made by joannawiebe , Jun 2 2008, 7:48 AM EDT (about this update About This Update joannawiebe Improved Rich Picture section - joannawiebe

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Adobe Portable Document Format RichPicture_v0.03.pdf (Adobe Portable Document Format - 226k)
posted by joannawiebe   Mar 16 2007, 11:56 AM EDT
This is an example of a Rich Picture, drawn in Visio