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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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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!


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Best client feedback ever

Client feedbackThis type of client feedback doesn’t come along very often!

Yesterday myself and a fellow Eskimo were conducting a concept testing session with various stakeholders on-site with a client. By concept testing, I mean running a set of activities geared to taking in structured, measurable feedback about interface sketches and other concepts that we’ve been working on.

All the stakeholders take to our sketches with green dots (for what is useful, and supports their jobs and expectations) and red dots (for what doesn’t). Further feedback and ideas are captured on post-its, for further discussion. This means that more accurate feedback is captured, and everyone gets a proper say.

We’re used to getting a range of feedback, but this post-it (above) is probably the best ever!

Sketching Service Design at Service Design Thinks and Drinks
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Sketching in service design

Anyone who stands next to me long enough knows that I really enjoy sketching. The other night I had a great opportunity to do just that: I spoke at a Service Design Thinks & Drinks event (big thanks to Damian Kernahan at Proto Partners for the invitation) on sketching techniques as part of service design thinking and practice.

I skimmed through various ways that sketching helps others to communicate to us (and each other) in workshops, and us communicate to others, through deliverables like journey maps, storyboards and domain models.

But the really fun part was demonstrating some simple techniques and shortcuts to sketch the sorts of things we often need to depict in service design: people and their expressions and moods, everyday objects, pathways and metaphors… even (gasp) drawing in 3D.

You can grab the Sketching in Service Design slides from Slideshare, which also include some ‘pre-fabbed’ sketches at the end.And thanks to Damian’s thinking and camera skills, there’s footage of the sketching here, via Vimeo:

Service Design Thinks & Drinks Sydney : Ben Crothers from damian kernahan on Vimeo.

The best part for me was being able to sketch in front of everyone, rather than just being another talking warm body in front of a slide deck. I’d rigged up an old webcam stuck to a small lamp, and it worked surprisingly well. The lamp illuminated the sketchbook where I was drawing, and the webcam fed the video through the laptop to the big screen behind me. I was also able to flick from the deck to the live capture, depending on what I was talking about.

Here’s hoping to do it again soon!

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Selling your UX approach with storyboarding

Example colour storyboard of someone wanting to book a holidayStoryboarding is one of those cross-disciplinary techniques that is catching on more and more in UX and service design.

I find storyboarding really effective, both as part of internal process and as a deliverable for clients. But the most potential I’ve seen it have is in winning clients and stakeholders over to a particular solution, idea or approach. People are naturally drawn to more visual means of communication, and there’s nothing like framing (pardon the pun) your UX or service design solution as – well – a comic.

I recently did some articles to show how this can be done, for Johnny Holland:

…and UXMatters:

Enjoy, and give it a go yourself!

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Sketchnotes from Oz-IA 2010

Last Friday I went along to Oz-IA, for the second year in a row, and even though I couldn’t go on the Saturday I got a lot out of one day. I thought I’d post some sketchnotes here that I did on the day. The rest are over on Flickr.

Update: I’ve written up a quick take on Friday’s presentations here.

Oz-IA has been running for years now, and manages to unearth and showcase great examples and thinking in the information architecture space specifically, while still keeping a healthy holistic experience design flavour in general. This year there were various aspects of service design and holistic contextual design coming to the fore, which is a welcome thing.

Here are some of the sketchnotes that I did on Friday. I’ve posted all of them on Flickr as a set.

Community Data Models for Humanitarian & Development Work, Shoaib Burq

From: Community Data Models for Humanitarian & Development Work, Shoaib Burq

From: Ubiquitous IA, Samantha Starmer

From: Ubiquitous IA, Samantha Starmer

From: The politics of information design, David Sless

From: The politics of information design, David Sless

From: The Social Psychology of IA, Matt Hodgson

From: The Social Psychology of IA, Matt Hodgson

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Website concept sketches: they’re worth more than you think

I’ve learned a great lesson from doing the Create Conference 2008: you never how how valuable the various design artefacts you come up with will be during the life of a website project. Your throw-away thumbnail-dipped-in-tar scrawls may well lead the way to other areas of creativity and visual assets for the website that you hadn’t anticipated.

When I was first thinking about the visual concept of the Create Conference 2008 website (read more in the work section if you like), I was combining their existing visual ideas of an airship and a clockworky steampunk theme into some pretty scratchy concept sketches, with notes and call-outs all over them.

I showed one of the pages to the client. She loved it. But the thing is, it wasn’t just the concept, it was the actual ‘look’ of the scratchy sketching as well that fired her imagination. And boom: thus was born the visual concept for the print brochure.

I didn’t know at the time that the client was working on the print brochure for the conference, but that one sketch launched a series of extra sketches I did, all around the same theme, and centered on the airship theme. The client ran with the sketch idea, and wanted to convey a ‘Leonardo da Vinci’-esque theme, which actually fit in very nicely with the creative spirit of the conference, and with the playful ‘bygone grandeur’ visual theme I was originally after.

What’s more, once I started thinking about what I could sketch of this thing, the whole contraption under the airship came alive in my mind; I could see it in 3 dimensions; I could see where people moved around on top, and the living quarters in the hull… everything. Now I’ve never been into model ships or anything like that… but suddenly i wanted to build this thing!

I’ve put a few of the sketches in this post. Looking carefully at the Create Conference website and the brochure, you’ll see how they’ve been knitted in.

Sketch of the front (bow?) of the contraption under the airship

A cut-away view of the contraption under the airship

The tail and rotor of the contraption under the airship