Visual literacy and visual fluency – a short interview at UX Australia

Last week I had the joy and honour to give a talk at UX Australia, speaking to over 800 people about the importance and power of expressing ourselves visually.
After the talk, I spoke with the lovely people from Pop-up Radio who recorded podcasts, soundbites and interviews during the conference.

Below is my interview, covering the power of using words and images in combination, our natural ability to understand visual information and giving yourself permission to draw.
(Excuse the slightly rambly start... it's getting better a few minutes in)

You should also check out all the interviews with the other speakers. Lots of great thoughts in there: https://soundcloud.com/uxaustralia

Visualising inclusiveness and diversity

[[last updated on 12 Sept 2018 adding article by Sam Bradd]]
Recently the question about how to sketch diversity and people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds quite a few times during Q&A after my talks and in my workshops. It is a interesting and important question to raise and one with no quick and easy answer. Like diversity itself, how to represent it is a nuanced question with lots of subtle undertones and hidden assumptions being hidden in how we see and draw 'the other' (or in the worst case, ignore them altogether).

There are a few excellent pieces by fellow illustrators and sketchnoters that explore the topic from various angles showing examples from real projects and what they and their teams learned in the process. If you are interested in the topic, go read the following articles.

 Image: Alice Lee

Image: Alice Lee

Inclusiveness in illustration – Designing an inclusive illustration brand for Wordpress.com

In this article Illustrator Alice Lee describes her process of designing a diverse and inclusive set of characters for Wordpress.com that they use for marketing and explaining the sites functionalities. A lot of great considerations about how shapes, colours, lines and other visual elements can subtly shift the story and our perception.
Read Alice's article


You Can’t Just Draw Purple People and Call it Diversity

A very nuanced piece article by illustrator Meg Robichaud about all the challenges and resulting considerations she encountered when building out an illustration style for Shopify.  Showing people in your illustrations can bring so much richness to the story, but also adds the responsibility to be empathetic and thoughtful about how you tell this story and depict the people in it. Her thinking goes beyond just body shapes, skin colour and and other physical attributes and includes considerations about how the situations, actions and surroundings you choose convey as much or more about a person and how you view her.
Read Meg's article

 Image: Meg Robichaud

Image: Meg Robichaud


 Image: Ben Crothers

Image: Ben Crothers

Easy ways to show more diversity in your sketches

Ben Crothers, sketchnoter and author of Presto Sketching, makes the connection between diversity and level of detail in your sketches. He gives some practical tips how to add a diversity to your sketches by playing with simple hairstyles, accessories, body shape and posture. 
Read Ben's article


Diversity: Drawing people in Sketchnotes

Nadine Roßa, a fellow sketchnoter from Berlin and author of Sketchnotes (only in German), is picking up the idea of playing with different facial and physical attributes and sketching not only different (stereo-)types of people, but actually real people, in all their diversity in appearance, character and circumstances. She also raises the question if it is possible to draw a real 'neutral' person by leaving out as much detail as possible.
Read Nadine's article

 Image: Nadine Rossa

Image: Nadine Rossa


 Images by atlassian

Images by atlassian

Designing inclusive illustrations (or, a brief history of the meeple)

In this article, By Sara VanSlyke, Lead Designer at Atlassian, tells the story of how their illustrations of people and their roles in a team (they call them ‘Meeples’) evolved over the years to include more diversity. It is interesting to see the small steps between iterations and learn about the impact of this process not only on the final illustrations but also on the general conversation on what diversity means for the company and their clients. (Thank you, Molly for the hint to this article)


Illustrating inclusive communities

Damien Terwagne, Brand Design Manager at Airtasker, describes their approach for visualising inclusiveness through illustration in Airtasker’s product and marketing. Besides representing different ethnicities, cultures and genders, the team also considered aspects of inclusiveness like addressing stereotypical beauty standards and paying attention to how social interactions are shown.
(Thanks to Buzz Usborne for pointing me to this article)

 Image: Airtasker

Image: Airtasker


 Image by Sam Bradd

Image by Sam Bradd

How Visual Practitioners Listen for Diversity: tips from the field

This article goes a step further and not only looks at how to visualise diversity, but also how to listen for diversity when live recording and how to encourage and record the diversity of perspectives in the room. For this piece Sam Bradd collected diverse perspectives from many experts in the field and shares them nicely structured by topic.
(Thanks to Nancy for the hint and to Brad for sending me the link)

Going slideless – Speaking at Smashing Conference Toronto

I was invited to speak at Smashing Conference Toronto last week. 
The special thing about this conference was that none of the speakers at the conference was allowed to use slides, but instead was demoing their craft live to the audience.

 Live sketching at Smashing Conference Toronto. Photos by Marc Thiele: flickr.com/photos/marcthiele/albums/72157670813337918

Live sketching at Smashing Conference Toronto. Photos by Marc Thiele: flickr.com/photos/marcthiele/albums/72157670813337918

Vitaly from Smashing Magazine always has new (and sometimes slightly crazy) ideas, but when he asked me a few months ago if I wanted to take part in a 'slide-less conference' I was immediately up for it. Many of my talks include some part where I either invite the audience to sketch along while I draw or where I use 'sketching and talking' as a format to explain concepts. Usually I have some slides to give context and frame the whole talk, but this time, everything was supposed to be live and generated in the moment.

Here’s the recording of my talk:

 

How I think when I think visually

In my talk I explored 'How I think when I think visually', breaking down my process for developing the types of visualisations and diagrams I use to understand complex problems and that can help as frameworks for problem solving with others.
In preparation for the talk I sketched a lot, visually thinking through different examples and tried to distill my process into a set of structured (and repeatable) steps. Thinking is a messy process and thinking visually is not necessarily happening in a straight orderly line either, but there are certain principles and 'modes of thinking' that I apply at different stages in the process.

 Some of the 'non-slides' that I drew live for the audience

Some of the 'non-slides' that I drew live for the audience

The talk (as the whole conference) was a bit of an experiment. Although I had practiced and made myself a nice time-boxed plan for getting through all the new material I had prepared, 40 minutes were not quite enough to get through everything. I actually think that the material will be best packaged into a full day workshop with demos and hands-on exercises for each step in the process, which I'll try to build out in the coming months.

 

A refreshing risk to take

I really enjoyed the conference. Seeing other designers and developers demo the way they work was very insightful and a refreshing change from the usual slide-packaged content. I have a lot of respect for all the speakers who took on the (slightly nerve-wrecking) challenge of demoing live (with all the things that might possibly go wrong) and for the Smashing team for taking the risk of trying out this new format. I heard from several attendees that they were slightly sceptical about what to expect before they arrived, but that they thoroughly enjoyed the different approach and the more direct and authentic glimpse into how other people in the industry practice their craft.

Thanks Vitaly and team for a smashing time in Canada!
A a special Thank You to Kristin Bolton-Keys for capturing this lovely sketchnote of my talk:

 instagram.com/p/BknsAyKDNXk

instagram.com/p/BknsAyKDNXk

My 'slides'

Here is my initial plan and the diagrams I drew live during my talk. As words and images are best friends, the sketches alone only tell half of the story and are not meant to be self-explanatory. I think the video of the talk will eventually be released.

 Timing for the talk

Timing for the talk

 Intro – When I think visually

Intro – When I think visually

 Three layers of communicating

Three layers of communicating

 Words and images are best friends with different strengths. Combined, these become super-powers.

Words and images are best friends with different strengths. Combined, these become super-powers.

 Different aspects of clarity that come with different challenges

Different aspects of clarity that come with different challenges

 The design process diamond: Diverging and converging – Exploring and shaping.

The design process diamond:
Diverging and converging – Exploring and shaping.

 My process for thinking things through visually.

My process for thinking things through visually.

If you have thoughts or questions about the material below, please leave a comment. I am interested to hear your thoughts and to develop the material further. 

On Clarity in Sketching – My Contribution to 'Pencil Me In'

Last year, Christina Wodkte asked me if I wanted to contribute a piece to her book Pencil Me In, a 'business  drawing book for people who can't draw'. The little book is out now, including lots of contributions from great minds in the design community sharing their thoughts on expressing thoughts and ideas visually with pen and paper. You can get the book on Amazon.

Here is my contribution, a visual essay on clarity and some suggestions how to practice formal clarity.

FormalClarity_01s.jpg
FormalClarity_02s.jpg
FormalClarity_03s.jpg

Happy practicing!