Visual Thinker - head opt2
Advert for a workshop I gave last week in Galway, Ireland.


Usually, I’m tucked away in the shed at the bottom of my garden colouring in. At least that’s what my wife calls it. (She’s a primary teacher and she does know about these things.) All of a sudden, as if to suggest I have other strings to my bow, I’m on the international stage giving public talks and workshops on visual thinking.

I had agreed to give a public talk at Forum Wissen - the LifeSciences Museum at the University of Göttingen. Earlier that day I had run a workshop - Visual Communication in Science with a group of Masters students. I've found a Zine-making process is a great way of helping to organise a story. All the while we were surrounded by the Museum's inspirational artefacts including the skeleton of a humongous Sperm Whale suspended from the ceiling.

The Map

Keeping a workshop to time is a thing. I’d learnt a lot from presenting at Mozilla’s Mozfest: What does your workshop look like if 5 people turn up? What does look like if 100 people turn up? Run through the plan with someone else. Have options up your sleeve.

After mind-mapping through what I wanted our journey to be, I created a map to help me visualise the flow of the talk - and allow me to stand back and see how the parts knitted together. But I also wanted to provide myself with visual breadcrumbs of the whole talk to keep me on track.

I used the same process for a workshop I gave the following week in Galway, Ireland, as part of the CESI conference - Learning can be more visual.
A map of the workshop
The map of my workshop “Learning can be more visual” at the CESI conference.

A map of the workshop with timings
The map complete with timings.
Having sketched out the route-map for my own benefit, I realised that I had inadvertently created an asset. So I used it at the start of the workshop to give my participants a weather-forecast of what the next couple of hours was going to look like. My own story is one of going from no real drawing ability a decade ago to depending on it for a full time job (albeit a job I have invented!). So in my talks and workshops I’m always trying to encourage participants to step out of their various comfort zones. There’s the opportunity for them to change their working practice, with some newly acquired visual tools at their disposal.

Interestingly, the map allowed me to give a little advanced notice of some more hands-on elements. Creating anything new requires a little bravery - and everyone needs a little warming up!

Ideas vs Art

We explored listening and capturing ideas, whilst body-swerving any pressure to think of our creations as art. The gift of a cartoonist is this: just by creating a few lines on a page, we can communicate powerful ideas. Even better, you already know how this universal visual language works. So we thought about visual identity and visual language, and how to reach people using humour. We got out some pens and brought some unlikely characters to life. We thought about how to make our creations feel different, genuine and digestible and how to get our ideas to hang around. And before people knew what they were doing, they looked at their pages and saw ideas staring back at them - created by their own hand.

And I left them with this piece of advice I received from my cat: Practise Curiosity - for what looks like the inside of a bin, just may be the door to a whole new world…
Practise Curiosity
If you’re interested in a Visual Thinkery workshop for your team or community, let me know by hitting reply to this email.

Stay Curious,


bryan in the canon


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