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How I designed the IFVP member badge

A little while back, the International Fellowship of Visual Practitioners (IFVP) ran a competition for their members to come up with a membership badge, and I’m absolutely chuffed to hear that I won!


IFVP is a worldwide organisation that promotes, teaches and supports visual professionals and practices, and works to advance community growth and development in this important area of visual thinking and visual communication. From the IFVP announcement: “Ben’s simple design was voted by 5 of the board members, making his design the most popular. We appreciate everyone who submitted designs and to all of our members who voted.  Many thanks all around!”

While it was fresh in my mind, I wanted to describe the creative process for coming up with my entries (including the one that was chosen).

Immersing in the brief

In any client-led creative exercise like this, I spend a long time immersing myself in the brief; in this case the strategic intent of the membership badge, the audience types and what they want out of it, as well as where the badge would be displayed, and how it might be received by those audiences’ audiences.

Designing for a community

I suspected that many people would submit hand-drawn badges — which would still be super nice — but I thought that I’d have to find a visual treatment that balanced ‘professionalism’ with ‘community’. It’d also have to work at small sizes (like email footers), and cope with being printed on various different surfaces (like cloth tote bags, t-shirts, and signage).

Of course it had to feature the IFVP logo, but I wanted it to really embrace the spirit of the community, which is enthusiastic about sharing information, supporting each other, and spreading the visual practitioner love into every area, market and domain. So each element within the design had to have significance, and I wanted it to be something that IFVP members would be proud to show.

My 5 entries

With these thoughts in mind, I ended up doing 5 different designs. Each one started as messy sketches, which I then imported into Adobe Illustrator and used as a ‘background’ on which to do digital designs in vector lines, shapes and text.

Design 1 – Banding together


Design 2 – Onward and upward


Design 3 – Ring of authority


Design 4 – Making our markBenCrothers4-usage-example-800

 Design 5 – All tied togetherBenCrothers5-usage-example-800

So there you go! Which design (if any) would you have chosen? What tips do you have about designing something like a community membership badge?

IFVP members! Grab the full set of membership badge image files from this page on the IFVP website (you’ll need to be logged in first).

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A behind-the-scenes look at the illustrations for Blueprint

Net neutrality! Countries spending millions on social media advertising to subvert elections in other countries! The intersection of society, technology, business and government is getting more and more complicated.

Blueprint is an annual industry forecast by Lucy Bernholz, that looks into these sorts of issues, and a whole lot more. Blueprint is published by the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University, about the ways we use private resources for public benefit. The Huffington Post calls Lucy a “philanthropy game changer” and Fast Company magazine named her blog Philanthropy2173 “Best in Class.”

You can download the 2018 edition of Blueprint here.

This year I was privileged enough to be asked by Lucy to do the illustrations for Blueprint. I thought it’d be helpful to show a step-by-step look at how I did them.

The all-important brief

The first thing I did was to take a brief from Lucy and the team, about the scope and nature of what they were after: who is the audience? What context do they bring to how they read Blueprint? What are the main messages to be communicated? What is the desired visual character and tone? And when does it all have to be done by?

Previous issues had used a mix of stock imagery, digital boxes and arrows and custom illustrations, so the set of each issue’s illustrations didn’t really have a visual coherence. I wanted to fix that.

Estimating for this sort of work is notoriously hard, mostly because I couldn’t know how many specific illustrations would be needed until I had read the draft of Blueprint and we had discussed a rough number and placement. To tackle this, we settled on a rough amount of time I would spend, where I would produce as many illustrations as I could within the directions of the brief and within that time.

Microsoft Word - Illustration styles.docx

I also provided a page of sample illustration styles I’ve done in the past; it’s much easier for clients to point to a visual style they like rather than describe it. The team preferred the sketchnote style.

Initial sketches

I read the draft version of Blueprint, as well as several back issues, to get a feel for where illustrations would benefit the most. Lucy also had some specific illustrations and placements in mind, too, which helped tremendously. I then spent some time just doodling and sketching up lots of different ideas to help enhance the text using Procreate (an amazing work of genius software made in Australia) on my iPad Pro (set to ‘HB pencil’ / Black).

Microsoft Word - Illustration styles.docx

The sketches above use three different kinds of representation:

  • Literal representation – all three images display some concepts as real-world objects, e.g. security cameras, people, and a dustpan and brush. They’ve been abstracted, but nonetheless are depictions of real-world objects
  • Diagrammatic representation – the first image displays literally represented elements grouped as three entities (civil society, government, markets) by circles, separate from one another. The circles belong to Venn diagram visual language, which our brains recognise as meaning separate non-overlapping entities.
  • Metaphorical representation – the second and third images are using metaphors to communicate their meaning. The second image has a fence around the figures, meaning that they are bound by something and can’t escape. The third image equates the digital traces we leave from our digital activity as tiny pieces that are inspected (magnifying glass), collected (dustpan and broom), and stored (bin).

Some of the draft sketches were fine as-is; most needed refining (as far as clarity visual meaning went), and some were just downright off the mark! But some of the off-mark drafts still triggered new ideas in the team for other illustrations to try. I always enjoy this stage, for those moments of serendipitous creativity.

Refining and finessing

Often the biggest challenge I find with freelance work like this is not being able to be physically in the room with the team. Sure, there’s lots of great digital tools we could use, but ultimately the most effective efficient way of sharing my work and gauging steering and feedback was just to email them in batches, and either have a group discussion (through Google Hangout) where I would capture their feedback, or an email chain.

By reducing each ‘HB pencil sketch’ layer to 50% in Procreate, I’m able to sketch over the top in subsequent layers, using it as a guide. I used the ‘Studio Pen’/Black setting at about 30% width, to get close to the sketchnote style they had seen (which was actually done with a real marker and pen).


In the photo above, you can see the layers palette open, and the ‘pencil’ layer showing ‘underneath’ the black Studio Pen drawing.

Microsoft Word - Illustration styles.docx

At this point, I started to refine an overall visual style and character to apply to all of the illustrations. I parked the choice of colour initially, while exploring other elements to use. I ended up using a loose sketchy style overall, and a white grid in the background to be a uniting visual element.

Several of the sketches incorporated some text as well. I thought about just using my own handwriting, but in the end I opted for a font that was similar to my own handwriting (Draftsman), for consistency and ease of editing.

The final result

The colours in the style guide for the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society were basically black and red; I wanted the illustrations to have a complementary colour to the red titles and call-outs, so I showed the team a range of options. I also showed them what they would look like using a dummy in-situ sample, like this:


In the end, they settled on the gradation of a desaturated lilac to teal that you see here:

Microsoft Word - Illustration styles.docx

So there you have it! I hope it’s useful for you to see my process, and for how these sorts of illustrations come together. Do you do any digital sketching or illustration? What’s your process? I’m keen to find out how other people tackle illustrations like these.

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It’s #Inktober time again!

I had a lot of fun with the Inktober challenge last year, so it was brilliant to get stuck into this year’s Inktober challenge. And just like last year, it was a chance to get a bit more creative and use a few more materials than what I normally do.

Here are the 31 sketches I did. Enjoy!

Day 1: Swift


Day 2: Divided


Day 3: PosionInktober2017-3-Poison_sml

Day 4: UnderwaterInktober2017-4-Underwater_sml

Day 5: LongInktober2017-5-Long_sml

Day 6: SwordInktober2017-6-Sword_sml

Day 7: ShyInktober2017-7-Shy_sml

Day 8: CrookedInktober2017-8-Crooked_sml

Day 9: ScreechInktober2017-9-Screech_sml

Day 10: GiganticInktober2017-10-Gigantic_sml

Day 11: RunInktober2017-11-Run_sml

Day 12: ShatteredInktober2017-12-Shattered_sml

Day 13: TeemingInktober2017-13-Teeming_sml

Day 14: FierceInktober2017-14-Fierce_sml

Day 15: MysteriousInktober2017-15-Mysterious_sml

Day 16: FatInktober2017-16-Fat_sml

Day 17: GracefulInktober2017-17-Graceful_sml

Day 18: FilthyInktober2017-18-Filthy_sml

Day 19: CloudsInktober2017-19-Clouds_sml

Day 20: DeepInktober2017-20-Deep_sml

Day 21: FuriousInktober2017-21-Furious_sml

Day 22: TrailInktober2017-22-Trail_sml

Day 23: JuicyInktober2017-23-Juicy_sml

Day 24: BlindInktober2017-24-Blind_sml

Day 25: ShipInktober2017-25-Ship_sml

Day 26: SqueakInktober2017-26-Squeak_sml

Day 27: ClimbInktober2017-27-Climb_sml

Day 28: FallInktober2017-28-Fall_sml

Day 29: UnitedInktober2017-29-United_sml

Day 30: FoundInktober2017-30-Found_sml

Day 31: MaskInktober2017-31-Mask_smlDid you do Inktober too? Let me know if you have your sketches up online, I’d like to see them. :)


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Graphic recording at Design As Strategy conference 2017

Now that innovation is as much part of the furniture as whiteboards and stand-ups in just about every company I know of, what is to become of innovation, and the fruits that it’s meant to provide us? I went along to the Design As Strategy Forum with this in mind, to soak in as much contemporary thought and musings about the strategic design space as possible. And just like last year, I was also sketchnoting, except this time it was large-scale as a graphic recorder.


This year’s broad theme was Innovation as an Object of Design, hosted by The Customer Experience Company at their fantastic space overlooking the harbour and the Botanical Gardens. Among the speakers were Aurecon’s Global CEO Giam Swiegers, Australian Industry Group’s Chief Executive Innes Willox, Tharani Jegatheeswaran (leader of Deloitte Australia’s Social Impact Consulting practice), and Ben Hamley (Partner and Strategy Designer for Business Models Inc in Australia).

While each speaker was active at the front of the room, I was busy recording the essence of what they were saying (as well as a bit of the Q&A that followed) on floor-to-ceiling whiteboard wall panels up the back. It became a really effective post-talk piece for everyone to look at, to help them reflect and embed what they’d taken in a little deeper.


Thoughts on leading and encouraging innovation, by Giam Swiegers


Great reflections by Innes Willox on keeping a level perspective about innovation in large-scale companies, and the broader economy


Easily my favourite: Tharani’s talk on viewing society as an object of design, and the way that government, businesses and non-profits can work together


The theory and model of a business is also an object of design; well-told by Ben Hamley


Roberto Verganti’s talk was my second-favourite; we need to dig deep into our on emotions and motivations (and not be afraid of that) to make greater sense and meaning in design. Brilliant stuff. 

It had been a while since I’d done graphic recording at this scale, and I’d forgotten the toll it can take on my lower back! Still, I was really happy with the overall output, and very grateful to the organisers for having me there.

Other highlights:

highlight-community of practice-sml highlight-design direction-sml highlight-diversity of thought-sml

highlight-embrace uncertainty-sml highlight-innovation-sml highlight-meaning from inside-sml

highlight-serious playful-sml highlight-society object of design-sml

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Here’s to the weavers

Enough, I say! Enough with the hacking, already. Enough with being so enamoured with the term ‘hacking’. Let’s pause and remember that hacking is not the only successful mindset to have. Let’s take a moment to show gratitude to the way of the weaver.

Back in 2010, Sean Ellis, Hiten Shah and Patrick Vlaskovits coined the term growth hacker, which Mr Ellis then used in his piece Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup *. Back then, growth hacking was (and still is) an effective marketing strategy to iteratively build a customer base for a product or service, often in unconventional ways.

It was (and still is) absolute catnip to any entrepreneur, intrapreneur, progressive manager or product manager; the very idea of attracting people through cheap guerrilla tactics is damn sexy. Thumb your nose at The Man, leap ahead of all those regular slobs who are waiting in line for a lucky break, grab someone else’s coding framework and get some hot salty goodness out into the world as fast as you can! Get rich quick, and let someone else worry about when it all falls apart.

Since then, usage of the term has ballooned to cover anything vaguely related to that sad old baggy cardigan of a word: improvementLifehacker is practically a religion. You can get a short-cut to success for anything: your brain, your company, your garden, and oh most definitely your cooking. There are even hacks for your cat (actually, don’t watch that video, it’s pretty underwhelming).

What’s the opposite of ‘hack’?

Am I a hacking hater? No, not at all; the business benefits of working that way are indisputable. But in amongst all that A/B testing and bell-ringing, let’s not forget that there are people (as the most excellent Dr Jason Fox says) willing to do the complex, paradoxical, non-linear, failure-rich, ambiguous, challenging and thorough work, that is the opposite of hack.

It’s the other way. The way of the weaver.

Take time to weave as well as hack

To weave is to interlace two or more strands of material together to make a fabric, or a basket, a fancy hairstyle, or any number of things that are certainly stronger, more attractive and more useful than single strands of the material could ever be. To me, ‘weave’ is a yummy parfait of layered meaning. Rather than slapping a patch on fraying fabric and calling it fashion, to weave is to think ahead about the final shape, the intended use, the long term.

Weaving takes time. Weaving can also blend different types of fabric (unless you follow the Old Testament of the Bible), which is a nice metaphor for combining different talents, cultures, times and perspectives. Weaving means working with others’ strengths, exercising patience and fortitude. It means weighing up a quick-win to make sure it’s not outsourcing debt to the teams that will have to tidy it up down the track.

Weaving doesn’t mean being slow, either. Part of the marvel and magic of weaving is the skill and grace which comes with dedicated practice. Weaving can be automated, like ye olde Jacquard loom right up to the Tsudakoma Airjet loom (it’s the Formula 1 of loomy things; this video is a thrill to watch). But the thing is: loads of thought, problem-solving and design has gone into that automation.

Are you a weaver?

Are you a weaver? Do you take time to think about the long-term? Do you practice your craft and create things with pixels, people, or whatever materials you work with, for lasting improvement? Do you bring different materials together, and different perspectives together in the way you work?

Then hats off to you. You rock. You have our admiration and gratitude.

Here’s to the weavers amongst us!


[Jeans image hacked with gratitude from ;) ]

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5 questions for making a better video

I’ve been helping a government department and a host of service NGOs with some service prototyping lately. There’s a veritable cafeteria worth of plates spinning in the air at the moment, and somewhere in there we suddenly needed to brief a video production freelancer to help us make an explainer video.

So how do you brief someone to make a video for you?

I knew a lengthy exhaustive (and exhausting) form wouldn’t be right for this small job. But at the same time, I didn’t want to fly by the seat of our collective pants either; I’ve been burnt by flimsy briefs before (pardon the pun). I treated this a design exercise in itself, and thought: what is the minimum number of questions I would ask to generate the maximum clarity and direction for a video?

Based on several other projects I’ve done, I wrote a list of 5 questions that would really help me if I were to make a video, and we ran with that. So I thought I’d leave them here in case it’s helpful for someone else.

Purpose of the video – Why do you want a video? What is it meant to achieve? How would you know it’s successful?

Audience of the video – Who is the video speaking to? What is their understanding of your video’s domain? What do you want them to think, feel, and do?

Voice of the video – What is the main message you want the video to say? What’s the story that you want to communicate? What’s the tone that you want to capture?

Location of the video – Where will the video be watched? Desktop/laptop screens, smartphone screens, noisy environments, high/low-bandwidth connections? How will people find it?

Timing of the video – When does it need to go live? What other factors need to be lined up to complete the video, e.g. talent, animation, locations, audio, music, products, screenshots

So there you go! Purpose. Audience. Voice. Location. Timing.

Have you ever had to take a brief for doing a video? What works for you?

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Inky fun with the #Inktober challenge

Setting yourself challenges — and sticking to them — is a sure-fire way to get better at something. And let’s face it: unless you have a personal trainer or you’re a student in something, it’s pretty rare that someone is going to set a challenge for you. I don’t know a single project manager who puts a few extra days in their Gantt chart for you to exercise some professional development time.

You have to set them yourself. But then, that’s more gratifying anyway, isn’t it? And so, when Inktober floated past in my river of social media stuff, I grabbed it with both hands. Inktober is simple: do an ink drawing every day for the month of October. People have been at this since 2009, and it’s growing every year.

A huge thanks to Jake Parker for starting it! I had loads of fun with this. Here are all mine for 2016:

Oct 1 – Fast

I was a day late when I started, so I didn’t end up following the theme of ‘Fast’ for this one:


Oct 2 – Noisy


Oct 3 – Collect


Oct 4 – Hungry

This was a quickie I did on a whiteboard at work:


Oct 5 – Sad


Oct 6 – Hidden

I’d been itching to a bit of fantasy sketching…


Oct 7 – Lost


Oct 8 – Rock


Oct 9 – Broken

Cats started to become a bit of a meta-theme in my sketches…


Oct 10 – Jump


Oct 11 – Transport


Oct 12 – Worried


Oct 13 – Scared


Oct 14 – Tree

I’d also been itching to try different sketching styles during Inktober, and using colour in a different way. This one was particularly fun to do.


Oct 15 – Relax


Oct 16 – Wet


Oct 17 – Battle


Oct 18 – Escape


Oct 19 – Flight


Oct 20 – Squeeze

For ages I couldn’t think what to do for this theme, and then this idea came to me first thing in the morning. It looks better with my hand over it (below) ;)



Oct 21 – Big

This was just a chance to play with Copic tint markers…


Oct 22 – Little


Oct 23 – Slow

All the hype about Agile and Lean has always bothered me a little bit, especially the promise of SPEED that seems to tag along with it. Neither mindsets/ways of working are actually about speed, but that’s what people seem to latch on to. Some things really do take time.


Oct 24 – One dozen


Oct 25 – Tired


Oct 26 – Box

This was actually drawn on a placemat from a hotel restaurant I was at for work.


Oct 27 – Creepy


Oct 28 – Burn


Oct 29 – Surprise


Oct 30 – Wreck

I guess something from Star Wars had to make an appearance somewhere ;)


Oct 31 – Friend

The final Inktober sketch coincided with more news about the cruel mistreatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention, so this seemed pretty fitting.


See you for Inktober next year!


sketchnote - Design as Strategy Forum 2016
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Design as Strategy Forum 2016 sketchnotes: stories and wisdom from the front line

Yesterday I stepped out of the trenches to go to the Design as Strategy Forum, hosted by Good Design Australia. There was a broad spectrum of views, stories and wisdom coming from the front, all fuelled with plenty of great food and drink, and great Q&A.

I sketchnoted most of the talks I heard (below). My main take-outs:

  • Many businesses have done the toe-in-the-water with design thinking, but struggle to roll it out across the organisation… which begs the question: is it actually OK for it not to be, yet it still be effective…?
  • Bottom-up intrapreneurship is looking relatively easy, but top-down management struggle to convert great design thinking messages into directives and KPIs for management to act on

On with the sketchnotery

Professor Ian Harper spoke with much energy and melodrama about how designers and economists past buddy up to bring more innovation to the business sector, because productivity. He seemed to put ‘creative people’ at the ‘design’ end of a scale, and economists at the ‘innovation’ end of the same scale… which didn’t make much sense to me… but his message about no longer chasing models of scale made a lot of sense.

bencrothers-DASF16-03 bencrothers-DASF16-04

Stuart Anderson’s talk about his Flow Hive was great, as always. I thought I’d go with the hexagon as a layout motif throughout these sketchnotes… not sure if it worked that well!

bencrothers-DASF16-05 bencrothers-DASF16-06

Dr. Jan Owens, CEO the Foundation for Young Australians, was brim-full of enthusiasm for the many many projects where young people have been involved. I was reminded of something that came out loud and clear for me from Link Festival 2016 conference: today, you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to create your life-changing commercially amazing idea.


Dr Sam Bucolo and Wing Commander Jerome Reid got very real with showing how design thinking was applied to strategic transformation in the Air Force – this was definitely a highlight! When not “doing bad things to bad people”, the Air Force has been busy devising and rolling out ways to iteratively prototype better ways of – well – doing bad things to bad people… but the key idea for me was that there is a space for design as community and organisational transformation, beyond business model design. And all of these orders create demand for the preceding orders.

bencrothers-DASF16-08 bencrothers-DASF16-09

Sue Kench (Chief Executive Partner at King and Wood Mallesons), Jacqui Jordan (Strategic options lead at Suncorp) and others held a great conversation about strategy as an object of design. One of the big messages here was the need to demonstrate the mindset and process in action, rather than treating it as a sell-job. Everyone is over hearing all the regular statements, and are hungry for tangible realised benefit.

bencrothers-DASF16-10 bencrothers-DASF16-11 bencrothers-DASF16-12

Nonexistent 4
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Nonexistent – a sculpture in protest against asylum seeker treatment

When all other channels for change had been exhausted, I turned to art to try to make a difference.

Like many Australians, I’ve been in constant shock, grief and angry bewilderment at the Australian government’s appalling treatment of asylum seekers, imprisoning them in off-shore death camps — specifically Nauru and Manus Island —  at a cost of $1.2 billion a year to the taxpayer, basically leaving them to rot at the hands of belligerent subcontractors and violent locals in failed states.

The atrocities and suicides have been mounting, the whole issue got ignored at the recent election, and now The Guardian has published a cache of documents — the Nauru files — that catalog an horrific string of assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm. Immigration minister Peter Dutton has basically blamed the asylum seekers for this.

There have been two reports by the AHRC, the second one prompting the government to launch a vicious hate campaign against its leader Gillian Triggs. There have been countless petitions, prayer vigils, letters, protest marches… everything a civil obedient society can do to try to stop this horror. But nothing has made any difference.

So I did what any self-respecting creative person would do (prompted by a friend of mine). I funnelled that pain into a sculpture to share with you, dear reader, and the world out there. Just to try to deal.


You see, Dutton’s detention centres have rendered these poor souls with no voice. They have no nation, no names, no rights, no future, and no hope. Dutton and whoever else agrees with him just want them to disappear. To die. To nonexist. Charity workers, medical staff, and others who have witnessed what the inmates are going through face charges if they tell. They have no voice. And we, the ones who cherish freedom, we who believe that everyone has the right to dignity, due process, and a fair go, we don’t have a voice either.

Nonexistent 1

I chose to do this with my 3D pen, since the blotchy black plastic filament has the feel and tone I was after. Two hands reach out, imploring desperately, giving us just a glimpse of the faceless victim, just enough to imagine the pain on the other side of that fence.

Nonexistent 2

I also chose the 3D pen because we live in an age of unprecedented technology and progress, and tech like this is already bringing new bursts of creativity, and disrupting traditional manufacturing business models. And yet we are still so backward and so poor when it comes to looking after other people.

Nonexistent 3

I don’t want to be nonexistent to the politicians in Canberra. I don’t want Reza Barati to be nonexistent. I don’t want Omid Masoumali to be nonextistent. I don’t want our nation’s values of equality and charity to be nonexistent.

And I don’t think you do either.

How you can help