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[Reflections] Process versus Output: Which matters more when you’re graphic recording?

Every graphic recorder knows that moment of epiphany. It’s when you realised that you’ve helped draw together not just plans, but people. However, you don’t just get to this outcome without giving thought to the process of graphic recording.

Take this project for example.

We recently had the privilege to work with Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities on the finale to the  SGUNHiLUGP 2018. SGUNHiLUGP is the Singapore UN-Habitat International Leaders in Urban Governance Programme for Africa.

This was a programme that brought together a distinguished group of leaders from not one but 15 African cities, in the company of thought leaders in creating liveable and sustainable cities who themselves have walked the talk.

There was a fascinating array of insights traded over the five days culminating in a two-hour finale of presentations. For me, this was a welcome challenge to draw together the diverse threads in the room.

I took this idea of threads quite literally, using yarns to connect the cities to one another. One participant remarked while I was setting up, “You really like pink, huh?”

Even over the casual banter preceding the session, participants were treasure-hunting and finding their place in the bigger picture. Then there was the anticipation over how the bigger picture would be drawn together, what it would look like.

We couldn’t place the board in the front of the room because of the room configurations. So, we consciously chose a spot where participants would notice the board being setup and built up as they entered the room post-lunch.

With their curiosity piqued, participants would take a glance every so often at the board while the conversations flowed.

The excitement continued as the session came to a close. With the big picture completed, we saw participants lingering around it for a long while to have their photographs taken. By the time I had my chance to take photographs of the chart for digitising, it was nearly dinner. Yet, this fed me well.

Indeed, the process of drawing together is just as, if not more important, than its output.

I used to think rather naively, as a facilitator rather than artist coming into this field, that the value of our work was in creating the best-looking visual output possible. After all, isn’t that what will be shared finally?

Not that aesthetics aren’t important, but merely focussing on the output deprives the group of its best opportunities for connecting over and beyond the content. Years ago, I have made such mistakes. Even when the group may be enamoured with the output, they would have missed the many opportunities for connecting during the conversation.

There are good reasons why graphic recorders do not set out to call themselves illustrators, designers or visual artists. We do not work with a pre-determined or self-determined brief. Instead, we are working with real people, live dynamics, conversations to be continued.

Graphic recording work does not take place in the confines of a studio, nor is the final big reveal the only desired outcome.

And the best among us go beyond the superficial capture, to make sense of the emerging themes of the conversation.

The SGUNHiLUGP has been one of my favourite projects to date, for the significance and breadth of the future impact, and also experimentation with the process of drawing these plans and precious people together. More important, it has been a time where everyone experienced the value of drawING together the big picture and people.

Here’s a peek at the final output (click to view details):

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