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Process versus Output: Which matters more when you are graphic recording?

Every (genuine) graphic recorder knows that moment of epiphany.

For a graphic recorder, epiphany is when you realise that you’ve not merely drawn out ideas, but drawn together people.

However, you cannot get to this outcome without giving thought to the process of graphic recording.

To the uninitiated graphic recorder and graphic recording client, it may seem that the visual output is all that matters. They are content as long as something that commands visual attention gets produced by the end of the session.

If that is how you see graphic recording, you have no idea what you are missing out on.
Take this project for example, where process mattered.

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.

The Challenge

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.

Although I was present only for the two-hour finale presentations, it was clear that the group had traded a fascinating array of insights over the five days they spent together.

For me, this was a welcome challenge to draw together the diverse threads in the room.

My approach and setup

I took this idea of threads quite literally, using yarns to connect printed maps of each city to one another.

One participant noticed the pink yarns and remarked while I was setting up, “You really like pink, huh?”

Over casual banter before the finale presentations started, participants were treasure-hunting and finding their place on the maps put up on the big board. That was literally and figuratively 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. For many of them, it was the first time they were encountering graphic recording in person.

Because of the room configurations, we couldn’t place the board (1.8m x 1.2m) in the front of the room. To compensate for this, I consciously chose a spot where participants would notice the board being setup and built up as they arrived after lunch.

With their curiosity piqued, participants would take a glance every so often at the board, while the presentations and discussions continued.

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 — of the output, with the output, and with one another. Some continued their treasure hunts.

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.

The graphic recorder is responsible for the process of drawing people together.

I used to think rather naively, as a facilitator rather than artist coming into graphic recording, 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? It seemed inevitable that the visual appeal of the visual output would determine the effectiveness of our calling card.

It’s not that aesthetics aren’t important. However, I have come to realise that 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. The graphic recorder is responsible if this happens, because he/she was not capable of thinking beyond marketing him/herself with snazzy insta-friendly visuals.

Graphic recorders are not just live-drawing artists.

There are good reasons why genuine 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.

We are not there with an ulterior motive to self-promote. We are there to break through hidden agendas and facilitate shared outcomes.

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.

p.s. Here’s how the final output looked like! Pink yarns, maps and lots of love and connections included!