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Sketchnotes from Sydney Writers Festival 2010

Yesterday evening I went along to ‘We need to talk about America’, a panel discussion event as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2010. It’s not every day you get to hear prominent authors voice ideas and experiences so openly and frankly about the state of that nation, and it was also a chance for me to try some sketchnoting.

May of the topics about America that came up were the sort that a lot dinner party conversations eventually get around to: the disparity between its ideological view of freedom and democracy against the reality of corporatised government and the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina victims; comparing the Bush and Obama administration; is Obama doing enough; and so on.

Diverse backgrounds, common issues

What saved it from being any other dinner party conversation, though, was some brilliant and insightful one-liners and the mix of backgrounds and latest literary efforts of the speakers. Lionel Shriver (author of So Much for That, about America’s health care system) is born-and-bred American yet no longer lives in America, nor identifies herself as American. Raj Patel (author of The Value of Nothing) is Pakistani/Iranian and a citizen of America. Together with Josh Neufeld (A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge), Michael Otterman (American Torture), Reza Aslan (No god but God) and Anne Summers, the same searing consensus on the same issues was articulated from such disparate backgrounds.


Fresh from watching Visual Note-taking 101 from SXSW 2010 over on Slideshare, and inspired by Matt Balara, I thought I’d try some sketchnoting about what I was hearing. I knew if I just wrote notes, I’d never read them again. But capturing what was discussed as simple pictures and typographical vignettes was not only fun, but made the key quotes and themes more memorable to me.

I’ve included a few below (click for a larger size), and they’re all at Flickr. I could get used to this sketchnoting thing.

Sketchnote page - We Need to Talk About America Sketchnote page - Obama serving up fresh steaming HOPE Sketchnote page - comparing where Bush and Obama have been to Sketchnote page - The rise of drones, and Americans too fat to fight

Meeting Josh Neufeld

It has to be said that Josh Neufeld is kind of a big deal. He’s not only a brilliant artist and publishing award-winning graphic novels, but he has stepped up to publish a non-fiction work A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge following the experiences of several Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans. Gutsy stuff.

I asked him about his process of drawing and illustration. I’m happy to say he’s definitely old skool, drawing manually (that’s, like, without a Wacom), scanning, then tidying up and adding colour in PhotoShop. Anyhoo, it was just inspiring talking to someone who draws so skillfully and compellingly as a full-time profession. Something I’d like to do one day.

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Mobile website concept for Tourism Australia

This is a mobile/handset interface design concept I created for Tourism Australia.

The brief was to reach potential tourists, mainly in the UK, and lead them on a three-step journey: inspiration, exploration, then conviction to book a holiday… all through the vehicle of shared photos.

The concept trades off the power of shared experiences, and the more luscious the photos — and the more they’re shared — the better.

Single photo, with links for photo information The same single photo, but 'turned around' to display details and calls to action A location screen, with links relating to the location for planning a visit

Single photo, with links for photo information, and forward/next icons

The same single photo, but ‘turned around’ to display details, and calls to action

A location screen, with links relating the location to planning a visit

Photos can be uploaded, downloaded, tagged, and shared. Each photo, as well having social tagging, is tagged with one or more evocative ‘experience’ categories, such as plunge, savour, indulge, and so on. The interface design rationalises away many of the elements that can occupy the space in a regular browser window, yet retains all the elements needed for people to save photos, destinations and itineraries online, moving them towards the point of booking a holiday.

I also packaged these designs into a presentation board, with a storyboard-style sketch to show context, and the progression from a typical rainy London working day to what a sun-soaked holiday in Australia could be like (click for larger version):

Small view - storyboard of iPhone app concept

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Love Food Hate Waste website design

Love Food Hate Waste website

Love Food Hate Waste website

Food waste is the largest single component of our garbage, and reducing food waste is good for the environment and good for the wallet. These were some of the key facts that the interface design process kept returning to as drivers for the Love Food Hate Waste website. It was also driven by weighty business goals: the program is to help NSW meet its municipal waste reduction target of 66% and commercial and industrial waste reduction target of 63% by 2014.

The website is to contribute to that by highlighting the issue to online visitors, educating them about food waste, the benefits of reducing food waste, and how to do it.

This project included hefty amounts of digital strategy, to conceive the best user experience features to have on a government website within very tight time constraints, NSW GCIO guidelines, accessibility standards, and limited content resources. It also involved the information architecture, user interface design (but not visual design), as well as end-to-end project management, and contractor management with the visual design and development teams.

During the interface design process, I got to trial some new ideas and approaches to prototyping the interfaces. Some of the features — especially the asynchronous recipe search results returns and portion calculator — came alive as clickable demonstrations, rather than being limited to static designs.

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