Generative Scribing

If you've ever seen Kelvy Bird's work, you know that she operates at a level very different than most other visual practitioners. I'm preparing to take a class with her, and I've recently read her book Generative Scribing. On the topic of presencing, she says,

"Today, scribing is an individual two-dimensional art form (technology will undoubtedly shift this in the coming decades), and scribes can access presencing in themselves, individually."

Challenge accepted.

A Playbook for Design Thinking - Volunteers of America's Innovation for Impact

How do you teach a nation-wide organization design thinking? As part of their Innovation for Impact program, Volunteers of America came up with a design thinking playbook... with a little help from Lizard Brain Solutions. 

From the beginning, we opted to see the program from the perspective of a newcomer to design thinking. In doing so, we found our first, biggest challenge: with so many design thinking methods out there, understanding them all can be overwhelming. Design thinking methods can be difficult to present concisely in a way that newcomers can quickly apply.

We chose to design a "playbook" of design thinking methods: a selection of certain methods presented in a prescribed sequence. Philosophically, design thinking eschews prescribed approaches in favor flexible frameworks. However, we wanted the Volunteers to see a start-to-finish approach to build a baseline for understanding. That baseline could then be augmented and iterated against as the Volunteers learned more and more methods. 

We used analogies to guide our thinking. One analogy was that all design thinking methods are like a library. Without purpose or guidance, someone walking into a library can easily become overwhelmed by the amount of information before them. 

We began our design by reviewing collections of proven methods from:

  • Design a Better Business, by Justin Lokitz, Lisa Kay Solomon, and Patrick Van Der Pijl,
  • IDEO's Method Cards,
  • The Lean Startup by Eric Reis, and
  • The LUMA Institute's Innovating for People.

We chose twenty or so methods and wrote them out as thumbnail sketches on index cards. We then sequenced them logically and created an MVP: a minimum viable product, or a working prototype that could do the job of conveying the design concepts we wanted to share. 

We tested our approach by sharing the MVP with people with no background in design thinking. They gave us feedback on the methods we chose, telling us what made sense and what didn't. From their feedback, we removed and added methods and changed the sequence.

The MVP lacked polish, but the low fidelity wasn't a barrier to others understanding what we were trying to convey. The quick and dirty approach saved us the time and effort of designing and refining methods that may not have made the final cut. 

After coming to what we felt was an 80% solution on the methods and sequence in the MVP, we scanned each card and dropped the images into a Google Drive folder. Each card image became a placeholder for a page in the playbook. We created a simple table to track progress against Text, Image, and Layout for each card. Six associates in the Lizard Brain Solutions network contributed their work. The Google Drive folder became our collaborative work space for the playbook as we passed the elements of each method back and forth to finalize. When someone began work on a particular method, they would add their name to the progress table. This let us work at our own pace and self-select the work that best suited our individual skill set. As each page was completed, it was loaded to the Google Drive, the placeholder image was removed, and the method was checked off from the progress table. 

By distributing the workload and agreeing on content up front with the MVP, we were able to go from concept to final playbook in less than two weeks. We opted to print the material in a 3-ring binder for cost savings and so that we could continue to iterate and add methods.

The playbook was central to the Innovation for Impact program and its keystone event, a three-day in-person workshop at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, IL.

TEDxLizardCreek 2017

Time lapsed video of graphic recording for TEDxLizardCreek 2017

We're very pleased to once again be a patron of TEDxLizardCreek! This will be the third time we'll be graphic recording the speakers. Check out the charts and event photos from 2014 and 2015. TEDxLizardCreek 2014 provided an opportunity to present "What's Wrong With This Picture," which makes the case for doodling in school, for the first time. Check out the action sketch version of "What's Wrong With This Picture" here


Preparing for a TEDx

TEDx events present their own unique challenges. The talks are very fast, usually capped at eighteen minutes. They happen back to back, leaving little time to reset. And as often as not, they're done on a shoestring budget, meaning that supporting them is a balance of spending adequate time to prepare in lieu of other work.

The solution to the speed and tempo of the talks is to front-load as much of the drawing as possible prior to the talk. That is, preparing each chart in advance with the speaker's name and talk title along with any other visual elements. Of course, preparation comes at the cost of other work. So, how do you prepare a dozen or more charts in advance, with out spending days doing it? 

For TEDxLizardCreek, I scaled up a method that I use in training: designing charts in Adobe Illustrator against a single template and printing them at a local FedEx. That way, I was able to dedicate most of my prep time to design, testing out different combinations of layouts, fonts, and graphics, and not in production. I also opted to go with entirely black and white charts, partly because the cost of printing in black and white is a fraction of printing in color, and partly because eliminating the need to color while drawing took some pressure off the time constraint. Plus, I've been on a black and white kick lately: I just think it looks cool. 

For speed, foamcore is the way to go. I sized the charts to a standard foamcore size of 32"x40." That eliminated any need for cutting. If I'd had FedEx mount the paper charts on foamcore, it would of tripled the print cost, so I did it myself using foamcore that already had peel and stick adhesive. It turned out that the peel and stick wasn't necessary, and created bubbles and wrinkles in the paper that were invisible to the audience (see if you can spot them in the video above) but were an annoyance to me. After a couple of charts, I stopped using the prefab adhesive and instead used double-sided tape at each of the corners.

This approach presented a slight problem when a speaker revealed that he'd changed the title of his talk the day of the event. Of course, this didn't only affect me: programs had been printed, the website was live, and PR had already happened. So, the speaker was understanding when I couldn't change the chart the day of.

Another tactic to deal with the speed and tempo is to come up with an icon library in advance of the talk based on the speakers' abstracts. Even if you don't use them, this saves on time spent translating the spoken word into visuals.

 Preparing an icon library. Resources include the Bikablo books, Diane Bleck's Discovery Doodles, Mike Rohde's Sketchnote Handbook, and Ed Emberley.  Note the pandas. 

Preparing an icon library. Resources include the Bikablo books, Diane Bleck's Discovery Doodles, Mike Rohde's Sketchnote Handbook, and Ed Emberley.

Note the pandas. 

Visual Notetaking recognition

Our visual notetaking class got a mention in the Nysmith Newsletter:

Teachers left for summer last week after a wonderful seminar by one of our parents, Brian Tarallo.  His company, Lizard Brain Solutions, helps companies synthesize complex systems and problems with visual tools.  The Nysmith staff worked on various learning styles and explored ways to engage students in deeper experiences with their subject areas.  It is a pleasure to have so many talented teachers and parents in our community.  And, it is a real joy to be able to concentrate on building the best program possible for these young people who face an increasingly complicated world.  While none of us know exactly what their future holds, we do know that they will need the critical thinking skills to delve deeply into many subjects.  They will need to collaborate, so they need self-awareness and empathy.  They will need to be able to express their ideas in multiple formats, written, spoken, and visual.  These all require confidence and character. 


Kenneth Nysmith

Head of School

The Nysmith School

TEDxFoggyBottom April 2016

Click to enlarge.

Each of the graphic charts from TEDxFoggyBottom in April 2016 had abstract red lines on a black background. When laid out next to each other, the charts formed the red X of the event logo. 

Thanks to Heather Martinez for design inspiration, Ryan Fuhrman for prep work, Heather Lynn Osborn for digital clean up, and Claire Tarallo for sharing the stage and graphic recording with me in front of 1,300 people.

First VR Mindmap

Watch this version in your VR viewer!

Made using Google TiltBrush and the HTC Vive, this is a 3D mindmap of various learning styles and how they manifest.

IFVP 2015 Backdrop


Designed by Heather Martinez, the entire team had a hand in creating this mural for our presentation at the 2015 International Forum of Visual Practioners. The outer space visuals aligned with the theme of our presentation, which asked, "How Can We Orbit Each Other?"

Richard E. Merkling Visual Timeline

In 2015, my grandfather, Richard E. Merkling, turned ninety years old. For his birthday celebration, I compiled all of the stories that he had told me and I had written down over the years. The resulting book, Steady, also gave me fantastic content to do this visual timeline of his life.

Visual timeline of the life of Richard E. Merkling.

I only recently scanned the timeline, which at just over eighteen-and-a-half feet long, is the largest chart I've ever drawn. 

The full-resolution version of the timeline can be downloaded here

Here's a time lapse video of the timeline being drawn:

Time lapse of drawing a graphic of the life of Richard E. Merkling, my grandfather, who just celebrated his 90th birthday

Featured in Trajectory Magazine

 Screenshot from Trajectory magazine

Screenshot from Trajectory magazine

This studio piece captures the methods behind OGSystems' Immersive Engineering practice. It was featured in Trajectory Magazine, which is published by the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.

Here's a timelapse of the drawing: