Picture This

As Knowinnovation worked with the core team of NESCent funded project Phenoscape to organize a collaborative meeting last month, we stumbled upon what seems to be a growing challenge with the increase in the amount of data that is available to scientists: how to see and show that data so people can make better make sense of it.

We’d done some thinking in the area of visualization before; a few years ago we facilitated an Ideas Lab about biological imaging. One of the participants at that event was was Karl Gude, a teacher from Michigan State University who in a previous life was director of the infographics for Newsweek Magazine. He’s also a member of the team on one of the projects that was funded from that Ideas Lab, the Open Tree of Life.


Karl joined us at the Phenoscape workshop, in part to talk about the importance of visualization and to share a few tips about how to do it well. He also acted as a graphic facilitator of the meeting, documenting the conversations and presentations visually, as they were happening. Karl was taking a bit of a risk; he’d never done this before. (Remember risk often leads to innovation.) But he’d read about it in The Graphic Facilitor’s Guide, and stepped up to the flip-chart stand with markers in hand and created a remarkable set of visual minutes of the 3-day meeting.

Graphic recording (also called graphic facilitation) requires a number of talents: artistry, certainly. You have to be able to draw. You also have to be able to listen and synthesize. It’s not far from a simultaneous language translator or sign-language interpreter; you have to be able to listen and translate – in this case from words to images – at the same time.




Karl captured the key points of the meeting, and his drawings served to help those participants who might have a preference for visual information intake to stay tuned in to the content during the meeting. He certainly made the room more colorful, and hopefully, made the minutes of the meeting more memorable.


Know Further:

The essential eight tips of visual facilitation. Learn more about it at the Loosetooth lab. There’s a Center for Graphic Facilitation and an International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP). Learn more about Karl Gude and his expertise with infographics. Take a look at 9 Ted Talks about visualizing big data.