A time of change is upon us, like none we have seen for generations. A time of vulnerability, but also opportunity too. In this episode of Visual Friends Radio, we’re joined by Marcel van Hove and Danny Low of the Visual Friends team to talk about how they’re focusing on adaptability, innovation and channelling their creative power during the current pandemic.
Over a decade ago Charity watched a team of consultants at an offsite event create awe-inspiring visual content. She dreamed that one day she too could communicate with simple visuals from words but had no idea how to get there. Flash forward 10 years to discovering Visual Friends, bikablo and her journey has begun.
Content Designer Manager | Writer | Technical Communicator at an Australian Global Organisation, Leader in IT Service Desk and Project Management Software
I’m so thankful I have come along to the Visual Friends course, it has really shifted and changed things for me.
A hug was not something Linette would have expected going into that meeting. After all, all she did was draw.
But that’s exactly what happened. The team manager was so thrilled at the breakthrough Linette created through her visuals, that she leaped across the room and gave her a big hug.
The product development team of 25 had been working on the project for nine months. There was a lot of conceptual and abstract data that was difficult to wrap up into a neat, mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive process they were trying to create. The team was stuck. Linette visualised all the elements on paper and immediately everything became clear. Her visuals became the key that unlocked the project puzzle.
by Cal Newport
Funnily enough, Linette never considered herself visual. “I was interested in art and did a bit at school as an elective. But I was discouraged from pursuing it. There was very much a feeling that anything visual was only for people who couldn’t do science. Science was more important.”
After school Linette completed a degree in Industrial Design which further cemented her belief that drawing was not her strength. “Other students were doing these brilliant sketches and my little stick figure next to their 3D rendering would look awful. That confirmed in my mind that I didn’t have great visual skills.”
So for years the only drawing Linette did was doodling while talking on the phone. Until she heard a colleague, Ben Crothers, the author of “Presto Sketching”, give a talk about sketchnoting.
“Wow! I wish I could learn that skill, “ thought Linette. She had seen visual facilitators doing this work and thought it was amazing. A colleague mentioned bikablo. “And I thought, what on Earth does bikablo mean? What is this?”.
A few people recommended the course as a great starting point in the area of visualisation, something really useful, and Linette was in. She persuaded her manager to send her on a course, “but I was wondering, actually, how and if I’d be able to apply it in my day to day life and work.”
with Sarah Richard
“I found the experience excellent. It was reassuring to see other people in the room saying, “Well, I’m not good at drawing, I find stick figures challenging. It made me feel very safe.”
The step-by-step process allowed Linette to tackle one mini skill at a time without sliding into the familiar mindset of “I can’t draw.”“Going through the steps, each time I thought, yes, I can do this and yes, I can do that too.It was challenging to put up our creations on the walls and, at first, I was scared that my work would be the worst. But I was delighted to see that we all did different things, we interpreted things differently and absolutely everyone had something really impressive. It was amazing to see the skill developing around the room.”
Back at work, initially Linette was apprehensive to use the skills she’d just learnt. She began practising by taking visual notes during meetings without showing it to anyone. Once, at a strategy meeting, she decided to share her visuals with the team, quite pleased with what she had sketched.
“The manager looked and said, “Wow! They are fantastic”, shared them with the product leadership team, got the same excited response and my drawings were published on the strategy internal webpage, for everyone in my area to see. I did have to run away and tidy it up a bit, because it was sketched on lined paper without proper markers.”
From then on, Linette became known as the visual person at work. “People would ask me, “Oh, we are trying to get this idea across, can you draw a thing?” She also began to regularly take visual notes during monthly strategy meetings and they were always very well received. “I feel it’s certainly because of these visuals that people higher up in the organisation knew a bit more about who I was, people who otherwise might have not met me or interacted with me.”
And that’s how Linette ended up in the meeting that we started our story with. “Essentially, all I did was listen to the team and sketched what they were saying. They had all the information but the challenge was communicating all that complex conceptual data visually.”
Unfortunately we can’t share the drawings or the details of the project here, but we can say that thanks to Linette’s drawings helped communicate the process to a lot of people. In addition, visualisation, as a part of the process, was recommended to the next team that was working on a similar project.
Since then Linette has done a few other things. Visual Friends training gave her the courage to enrol and complete a nature illustration course. Practising visualisation by creating visual summaries of non-fiction books led to her being approached by a publisher who saw one such drawing on instagram. It is now going to be used as an illustration in a future book. Linette is also mastering the Apple Pencil and virtual scribing. Her morning ritual during the covid-19 isolation is drawing virtual zoom backgrounds.
Unf*ck your boundaries
I found that training with Visual Friends helped me unlock my creativity. I genuinely think that I would not have had the confidence to do all that, had it not been for doing the bikablo course.” But the highlight so far is still that first strategy meeting, when Linette’s notes were used as a visual for the whole product strategy.
“Even now people refer back to that illustration to explain our focus and goals. That was the moment when I switched from feeling like my notes were a creative ‘indulgence’ to seeing how much they could help others.
I”m so thankful I have come along to the Visual Friends course, it has really shifted and changed things for me.”
The article was written by Natalia Tsygankova. Natalia has always loved words and talking to people. She has put that passion to good use and has been sharing people’s stories in the community radio, TV and print media for the last 10 years. Natalia is also a big fan of true storytelling events and regularly volunteers at the most famous one – The Moth, interviewing the winner. You can hear her own story of moving to Australia from Russia in 1999 here. Natalia believes that everyone has a story – So what’s yours? Contact her today to share your story.