6 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Kick Start Your Visual Thinking (or how to talk to strangers on a plane)
On a flight last week, I was doing a graphic note for a presentation I am giving soon. The person sitting next to me took a side-ways glance (ok, a couple), over my shoulder at what I was doing.
After a minute or so, he asked – Excuse me, how are you drawing on that?
Well, a conversation followed that went something like…
[me] I use drawing apps – this one is “Brushes 3”- so I can create pictures and images that support the messages in this case, for a talk I’ve got on next month.
[my neighbour] So what do you do for a living?
[me] I run a consultancy called Curious Minds Co. and I teach professional people how to reconnect with their creative talents and draw out their ideas… (ok, it was my 30 second biz spiel, but I was testing his level of interest before putting my nose back into my screen).
[him] I bet you’d have no luck with ME!
I think that was supposed to be a big full-stop. BAM! No argument could follow that!
[me] ….Really? How much?
A startled pause.
He knew that even though I was smiling, I was serious. I don’t think my flying buddy in 11b had considered anyone would be up for that challenge. He obviously thought it was flat-out un-doable.
I gotta tell ya, I LOVE that response to the work I do (which is kinda lucky cos I get it A LOT in my business. See my ambit claim for a vintage Carmen Ghia -did I mention I’d like it in eggshell blue- in exchange for exclamations of disbelief in “…But I Can’t Draw“).
So here’s what I said in reply to his surprised expression…
[me] I’ll teach you how to take visual notes at your next meeting in 5 minutes but you have to promise me something. Deal?
Wary nod of the head. (Funny – I don’t think he asked what the promise was).
[me] Next time you are in a business meeting, take your note book, and turn it sideways (#1). Here’s my hot tip: get one with blank pages from the stationery shop next time. But if you have one with lines, that’s ok. Just ignore them.
Write a couple of keys words in the middle of the page that summarises the topic up for discussion or the name of the meeting (#2). Then put a big ol’ circle ’round it.
As you hear important things being said, write these in the space around this central heading (#3). Give each one its own bit of the paper. If you have an important point, make it stand out by WRITING IT IN CAPITALS… the more detailed points can be in a smaller font. Put a circle or cloud bubble around each separate point to frame it and link it via a line to the central one and any other sub-points it relates to.
Try adding some simple drawings (#4) – they are all just made up of a couple of basics shapes – which if you can hold a pen and write your name, you can do! For example, if you want to draw a face, start with a circle for the head, then add two dots for eyes and two lines – one for the nose and one for the mouth.
Have a look over the notes when you’re finished and add any words that you may have missed on the run that helps you remember the detail of what was said (#5). When that’s done, put a line border around the page (#6).
Taaadaaa! You’ve done your first visual notes! You are no longer a visual note-taking virgin!
– At this point, I still had my neighbour’s full attention –
Do you want a quick lesson in drawing for understanding and recall?
[glutton for more] Yeah, that would be great!
[me] Ok, all you need to know is everything you want to draw is made up of a few basic shapes. The five I use are: line, circle, square, triangle and blob. How easy is that!
Nods in response.
[one who loves an audience for drawing lessons] To draw a standard face, just do what I did before – draw a rough circle, add two smaller circles for eyes, a straight line for the nose and a curved one for the mouth. By playing with those basic elements you can draw any number of faces… If I want to make the face look more female, I draw a smaller nose and give the eyes some lashes and curvier lips… I draw a man’s nose larger. If you want to draw a child, make the forehead larger, so draw the eyes, nose and mouth at the bottom of the head…
Now to draw a figure… Here’s a really simple one – draw small circle for the head, a larger oval for the body and then some lines for arms and legs. You can add circles for hands and feet. Give your person some character – hair, tie, briefcase, clipboard – whatever you like.
Adding drawings to your repertoire is a process. My advice is always start with a couple of basic things – let’s say you pick three. Don’t try to get too fancy right at the beginning. Focus on those so that you can do them without thinking. Then add a couple more and repeat.
My new-found friend commented that I made it look easy. I acknowledged that I’d been doing it for a wee while but that making it look easy comes with practice. I also warned that people in my courses make huge improvements in just a couple of short hours. It’s very do-able!
I find that many people get stopped from drawing because
we don’t want to look like a ‘numpty’ (aka novice).
We are all serious professional people, I get that.
It can be very hard to look at your own work and not judge it harshly. But I let my friend in on a little secret – other people think what you’ve done is fantastic and so cool (even when you’ve rated it at a C- in your own head).
Why? Because it’s different, interesting and novel.
And there are other BIG BONUSES.
Taking notes this way helps you concentrate on what’s being said
it helps you retain the information.
Up to six times more info retained a couple days later compared to writing text info alone!
If, like my flying buddy in 11b, you would like an easy way to get started, join the Curious Minds community by clicking on the red banner at the top of the page and you’ll also get a copy of my ebook, “Building Your Visual Language Library: 12 Great Icons” as a gift.
If you are interested in delving deeper, you can jump in on my public training courses where I show you how the pros do it!
Click here to find out more info on what’s happening and when. The “Essential of Visual Thinking & Graphics Practice” course is my premium program and a great introduction to the skills and techniques for you to apply immediately.
So… DON’T LET YOUR BELIEF YOU CAN’T DRAW STOP YOU!
NewYork in July and the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP) Conference was a fantastic experience.
I ran a workshop called ‘did we hit our target?‘. The topic was aimed at those who design and facilitate workshops and group events – many members of the IFVP have this role.
I believe this is an important topic. The need to measure our impact as facilitators and recorders grows increasingly critical in an environment where project dollars remain tight. We must be able to quantify and qualify our worth. And some of the best data we have can come from our own experiences and those reported by our clients.
We explored two areas of interest – 1) how we measure the success of our efforts + 2) how we visualise that evaluation information for harvesting and communicating. The pivotal question for our session was:
How do we know if our meeting or workshop
has been a success?
I had the opportunity to discuss what evaluation methods, if any, were used by other professionals in the visualisation business.
At the start I did a quick poll on what kind of evaluations visual practitioners do after an event. Scenario A: Exit stage left with materials under your arm, waving to the client. Scenario B: Informal Harvest: how do you think that went? C: Formal, structured harvest: against pre-agreed outcomes.
The general consensus in the conference group was about 10%:80%:10%. In summary, an informal question of ‘How did you think that went?’ with the client was most common.
The group agreed that thinking more about the options in Scenario C: Formal Structured Harvest would be useful for their practice.
I presented my take on the logic model which I’ve dubbed ‘logic model lite’. At its simplest form, it covers the INPUTS (ie. what resources we invest in the meeting), our ACTIVITIES (ie. what we do in the meeting) and the OUTCOMES – short, medium and long-term (ie what results we see).
Using the workshop we were in, we ran an example of what a logic model ‘lite’ would look like. That way, participants got a feel for what information was needed and what level it was aimed at. We built it systematically from identifying the inputs, the activities involved, and then the short-, medium- and long-term outcomes. Finally we identified the matters we could evaluate the results of the workshop.
We discussed how common practice was to check if the activities and short-term outcomes were achieved. However, back to our ‘workshop as an intervention’ paradigm, further investigations could be done into the results and longer term outcomes that flow.
I shared some of the visual methods I employ for checking end-of-workshop outcomes with my participants.
These include my tried-n-true target board. I like the idea of linking people’s responses to the concept of ‘hitting the mark’.
Brian Tarallo of Lizard Brain Solutions offered his use of faces and emotions to do a visual Likert scale for feedback.
At the finale of the workshop, we checked the short-term outcomes for a measure of success. Participants reported having more structure and concepts to approach evaluation of their own workshops for the future.
During this great discussion, Tracey Ezard of Jessup Ezard Consulting recorded our thoughts. Thank you, Tracey for capturing our points and to all the participants – Lynn K., Nora H., Brian T., MJ and Lisa.
Do you want to:
Expand your professional toolkit with visual thinking skills?
Boost your effectiveness in meetings?
Add impact to your presentations?
Gain confidence in drawing and applying graphics to your work?
Be seen as a creative thinker?
If you are yes to any of these, find out more about my premium program: Essentials of Visual Thinking & Graphics Practice here.
It’s been a while… Life has been tumultuous these past few months.
As a result, I have not had the ‘bandwidth’ to post any stories. Though there’s been plenty of good stuff in amongst all the other to share.
Expect to see a few new stories leaping off the production line over the next couple of weeks, as I find my energy returning for all things visual and graphic and my fingers get a tapping on the keyboard.
As promised back in February when I posted ‘I LOVE Venn diagrams‘ I have drawn a few more to add to the ‘work in progress’ gallery.
WARNING: Some of these deal with the grittier side of life.
Would love to hear your thoughts on these ideas. Send me a note!
Need help to get your CREATIVE switched on?
I can help YOU expand your professional backpack with the POWER of VISUAL THINKING so you can make your ideas and solutions clear and communicate these with greater impact and ease. I design and deliver premium training and coaching programs when you’re seeking a guide TO EXPLORE and DEVELOP your creativity.
We live daily in an info-blur world. Communicating the complexity of our ideas is often challenging to do well.
Organisations are looking for ways to cut through that blur. The requests to help distil wheelbarrow loads of information onto a single page is on the increase. The resulting graphics are dense with information yet easy to read and understand. Their sexy title of ‘INFOGRAPHICS’ has become common lingo. Whole books are now dedicated to them.
I am not attempting to do a deep dive here on this subject – others have done it better and with more authority – but a recent project has made me reflect on how I go about developing them. It would be fair to say, my ideas have evolved on a long-ish road… with small-ish number of lightbulbs!
The main challenge is often helping people convert their technical thinking and ideas into a clear picture. The complexity – and my clients’ intimate knowledge of it – can be a big stumbling block.
So, how to cut through?
I now use five design steps to guide the collaborative thinking I do with my clients to build their infographic:
1. Big picture outcomes:I start by asking: what are the overarching goals that you wish to hit with this infographic? If it did everything you could wish for, what would you have achieved? What would you have/not have?… feel/not feel?… think/not think? How will it be used by you and your organisation?
2. Synthesis and visual conversionof main points: After we have identified the big picture outcomes, I request material that will point me to the important concepts that are relevant to the graphic. I then convert these key points into visuals and summarise all the different elements into one graphic. This ‘one page summary’ chart is a starting point for our discussions at the first meeting. I also develop a visual style reference – where examples of style characteristics (e.g. hand-drawn Vs computer rendered, formal Vs relaxed, colourful Vs monochromatic) are represented in a second graphic.
3. Meeting 1: At the meeting I cover several critical things – 1) CONTENT: What must be included? what would you like to be included? 2) METAPHOR: is there any image or metaphor that works well with the message e.g. a road journey, a landscape or a tree form? and 3) STYLE: for each of the characteristics, where do you want this graphic to sit on the spectrum?
I make sure that by the end of this meeting there is some clarity about the image I am producing – I don’t end the meeting before that has been agreed.
4. Draft infographic: With the outcomes of the first meeting, I develop a draft (or drafts) of the graphic and send that with notes about the meaning of the elements that I have included as a ‘back story’ for the graphic. I want to check that the images and their meaning resonate with the client. I seek their ideas – this may mean a second meeting to ensure feedback is understood and possible solutions can be discussed and agreed together. Hopefully, if I’ve done a good job in steps 1), 2) and 3) this stage will be straight-forward.
5. Final graphic: With the refinements incorporated, I send a high resolution image/ set of images to the client.
One final hot tip from me – I often find individual graphic components in PowerPoint can allow the client to easily edit text boxes for specific contexts rather than rendering the entire graphic in a design software that can’t be manipulated by the client at their office.
So, there you go! I hope the above gives you some useful ideas about how you would go about distilling complex sets of information into a clear and engaging visual. While there are drawbacks and challenges lurking in every field – e.g. overuse – I think infographics have an important role to play in communicating our complex messages.
I have long been a huge fan of venn diagrams. I don’t know what it is about a couple of circles scratched out on a pad that has the potential to say it all. Maybe it comes from the reflection that my life is a series of experiences where I move towards the overlap of things I enjoyed…
Art–science, the environment–working with groups, people–creative activities…
About a year ago, in my journey into all things graphic, I found ‘Indexed’ by Jessica Hagy – http://thisisindexed.com/ – she has a great wit and decisive way of capturing ideas in a simple diagram.
Inspired by Jessica, I started cataloguing my own thoughts.
The Result – a ‘things I love’ series and a ‘things I’ve learnt’ series. Both are a ‘work in progress’. I will continue to add to as ideas arrive.
Gear freak – chart markers & great titles for your library
I’m often asked at my training days about my tools and my reference library. They are important parts of the whole graphics practice. I say that, having had some not-so-good experiences with markers that die on the first chart in the first session of an all-day event. So, if you are starting out or just curious about what others do in their practice, here’s my ideas…
Chart markers: A graphic facilitator’s and graphic recorder’s main tool for ‘working at the wall’. I love Neulands No. 1 Markers for all round chart work. I also have a range of their Big Ones which are large and fabulous for headings and big comment boards. They are refillable and have replaceable nibs, so I recommend these also. Their extended life means greater reliability and less hassle for you. But for the absolute mainstay of your kit – THE BLACK MARKER, I love Charters markers (available from The Grove International). Their black is rich and in my mind, the best on the market.
Great titles: There are so many categories that interest me, and I don’t want to overdo the list… So I’ve reduced it to six titles in two categories. They are… (this is just like the Golden Globes!)…
Visual language books – filled with pictures, images and concept icons – my favourite three are:
Visual Thinking: Tools for Mapping your Ideas by Nancy Margulies & ChristineValenza
Bikablo: Facilitators dictionary of visual language available through Neulands (and Bikablo 2.0: New Visuals for Meeting, Training & Learning). I know that’s technically two, but heck!
Pocket pics: Difficult Concepts available through The Grove International
Visual practitioner how-to books – filled with ideas of how to run and get the best possible outcomes from meetings and events using your visual thinking techniques – my three favourite are:
Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes & Idea Mapping can Transform Group Productivity by David Sibbet
The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide: How to use your listening, thinking & drawing skills to make meaning by Brandy Agerbeck
The Creativity Formula: 50 Scientifically Proven Creativity Boosters for Work and for Life by Dr Amantha Imber
I use the above six titles regularly – dipping in when I need to check an image or source an idea from the plethora these talented people have collated from their experience. I think all six are a great addition to any practising Graphic Facilitator or Recorder’s professional kit.
Happy gear freaking*!
* term used by uni friends when we were into all things outdoors and we would spend any spare moment at our favourite store seeing what great new stuff – like freeze-dried vegemite – was available for our through-walks!
Ever been a little bored and tried doodling with both hands? How about experiementing with your ‘other’ hand to write your name? When I’ve done this in the past, I find it feels pretty weird but also interesting – both the sensation and the result. Yesterday, Dave Lovegrove* – an artist and art teacher – and I decided to do a tandem two-handed drawing exercise.
Here’s what we did:
Duration: we allowed one to two hours
Material:large scale chart paper taped to a clean wall surface and a range of drawing implements (we ended up using marker pens, ink & calligraphy brushes)
we positioned ourselves in front of the wall, standing in a relaxed posture and allowed the sounds of my farm to penetrate our ears and be a sound track to our drawing
holding a pen in each hand, we drew using both hands at once
we drew without judging what we were producing (I found closing my eyes and focusing on my body’s movement helped here)
we also tried to avoid actively drawing any particular object or subject
we allowed each hand to act in symmetry of the other, sometimes one taking the lead then the other
as we drew, we allowed ourselves to take up the whole area of white paper.
After we laid down the first layer of colours, we paused, reflected on what was emerging then took up two different colours adding to the first layer of marks and patterns we had produced.
After about 30 mins, we each selected a black marker and started to emphasise certain marks or patterns that appealed. Then using black ink and calligraphy brushes we added another layer of marks to the drawing.
The result: A large-scale image that has two distinct sides – reflecting the two artists and our different physical approaches. Dave’s side is angular and edgey and mine is rounded and swirly. The layering of colours and use of different drawing implements makes an interesting final image – there is a lot going on and the more you look the more you see / discern from the marks and patterns within the layers.
As a process, the tandem approach was great. At times, we talked as we drew, putting into words what we were experiencing. I thoroughly enjoyed the first part where we were breaking ‘new ground’ on a clean white expanse. I also enjoyed the use of ink and brushes – the marks were very definite and that was extremely satisfying. I am aware that this style of making marks and working with the patterns that emerge is a preferred way of working for me. I felt a kind of freedom from the burden of reproducing something – a representation of an object or likeness of a person.
Drawing is part of my work as a graphic facilitator and recorder. As a result, I find the two-handed drawing very freeing as an exercise in drawing movement. I get a physical ‘release’ similar to experiences I have had in yoga and other physical exercise that is akin to an endorphin rush.
Our exploration in two-handed drawing is part of my 2013 approach to expanding my drawing skills and repertoire.
Stay tuned for the 10 pens for 10 fingers drawing adventure with Dave – currently a work on the ‘drawing’ board!
Have you tried two-handed drawing? What has been your experience?
The door to my studio is handpainted red. Affectionately known as the ‘hobbit’ door because unless you are 4ft tall, there’s a good chance you’ll bang your head as you enter. I thought the door was a good image to put alongside my first post. I’m entering a new place via a red door.
Like my studio, I hope that this place will be somewhere for others to find and share stuff.
Like what you read here? Want to know more about Curious Minds Co. and the work we do? Check us out at: www.curiousmindsco.com.au