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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Leading design with intent: Design Thinking meetup, Sydney

It’s one of us design professionals’ great ironies in our working lives that we spend so much attention on the design of whatever it is we’re designing, but little on our own working habits.

That was the big take-away I got from a great talk by Anthony Quinn (of Value Machine) called the Design Leader’s Playbook. There were two other talks (Conversion Design by Ben Marr and Designing Solutions Using Gam—–tion* by Lie Ming Tang), but Anthony’s really resonated with me the most.

Anthony packed in some nice meaty insights and tips about design leadership, including:

Make sure we design leaders/managers turn insights that we communicate into real action. Unless we make this clear and obvious to stakeholders/clients/etc, we’re short-changing the value of the insights and therefore our own work.

Give our sponsors ways to sell our solution. This is a huge one that keeps coming back to me time and time again. Making something clear and relevant to a sponsor is only the first step (that’s exhausting just thinking about it… by anyway!); the real effect is helping that sponsor take the message, the story, the direction, and actions to the people for whom the direction and actions are really intended for. No mean feat, whether you’re in-house or external. Which leads to…

Inspire others to re-tell your stories. Wrapping insights and actions in stories is what it’s all about. We can ‘design’ what we say so that each story takes on a life of its own that others will want to tell to others. Anthony shared a neat little tip: that first 5 minutes of a meeting when everyone’s waiting for that late guy to turn up before starting? That’s when you can share a story or two, to embed those ideas in people’s heads.

Do design thinking on your own reactions and behaviours, to get better consequences. Anthony shared some great (and disarming) stories about what it’s like to be intimidated by CEOs, left feeling like you’re an impostor, and getting into less-than-ideal behaviours as a result of those sorts of reactions…

As design(ers/leaders/managers) we can control this! He laid out a nifty Trigger > Behaviour > Consequence model as a way to do metacognition on your own thinking and working practices. Great stuff.

All of these for me pointed to how we can work smarter at designing the way we think and work. I used to think that design was 50% craft and 50% communication. I’ll have to re-work that equation to fit in cognition now!

My sketchnotes:

Sketchnote - Design leadership, Sydney Design Thinking meetup

Sketchnote 2 - Design leadership, Sydney Design Thinking meetup

* Call me a pedant, but I have a real aversion to that word starting with “Gami…” and ending in “ation”. It just shouldn’t be a word. It’s down there with that other word that starts with “Monet” and ends with “ise”, and rhymes with – well – no other word.

Sketchnote - Trade Me & How Not To Be Dicks to Each Other
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How not to be dicks to each other

Mark Johnson of Shine Technologies is such a gent. He was nice enough to use one of my sketchnotes in his latest post: Agile UX Conference Report. I think he’s captured the essence of the day really well, and, like Mark, the talk by Ruth Brown and Simon Young of Trade Me was easily my favourite. Which you can sort of tell from the energy I’ve put into some of the lettering in the sketchnote above.

And he even asked permission, too, which is pretty ace. :)

143 Visuals to Inspire You to Take Action
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I’ve been included in a sketchnotes e-book

The very generous Scott Torrance of Flux Insights has gone and included me in a new sketchnotes e-book. Isn’t that nice of him?

Scott has scoured the sketchnoteverse and curated a fine selection of sketchnotes and other visualisations and doodles, and published it as: 143 Visuals to Inspire You to Take Action. If you’re like me, and love sketchnotes (or anything involving visualising ideas and concepts), and take inspiration from others who do the same, you’ll get a kick out of this. And at time of writing, it’s still free.

As Scott said in an interview on “I hope it will inspire people if only in a small way. To inspire those who haven’t doodled since childhood to pick up a pen and paper and have some fun or give someone who is doodling in private the confidence to share their work in public“. As a massive fan of anyone stretching themselves creatively, I too hope this will be a catalyst for many people to explore this creative avenue. Thanks again Scott!

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Sketchnoting the brand experience

Portion of the sketchnote for TheConnectedBrand

Well wouldn’t you know it: it turns out sketchnoting isn’t just something to do at conferences, but works just as well at communicating a company’s proposition on its own website.

Stand around me long enough and you’ll know I’m a big fan of sketching in general, and sketchnoting in particular. I’ve taken to sketchnoting more at work these days, graphically facilitating on behalf of a speaker, or even just as a way of scribing a workshop discussion. It’s fun, and it generates something that people find useful to read afterwards, rather than stodgy old workshop notes.

I was approached recently by the lovely folks at The Connected Brand, to turn their proposition deck explaining the value of their brand consultancy, into a sketchnote. And it worked really well. Which should come as no surprise; they had already done a great job crafting a set of messages about how they help their clients and their brands, so it made my job all the more easy and fun to convert this into pictures (and a few words).

You can see the final result on their home page.


Close-up picture of one of my sketchnotes from UX Australia

Sketchnoting at UX Australia 2013

I’m just back from this year’s UX Australia, with that post-conference fatigue-y headbuzz. There were tonnes of insights and trends to grab hold of, as usual, plus I’ve got a load of sketchnotes to share (below).

We’re all learning UX from each other

First and foremost, I’m noticing that not only is lean UX and agile/UX pairing becoming well-embedded techniques in both agency- and client-side, there no longer seems to be a traditional know-how flow from thinker/author > agency side > client side. Great thinkers and doers are everywhere now, and the flow is multi-directional. We’re all learning from each other.

Practices are great, but we can’t forget the principles and theory

This year there seemed to be much more attention on the techniques and practice of UX, whereas previous years it seemed to be more about mobile/contextual UX. I’d be concerned if conferences only focused on processes and practices, because we can’t short-change ourselves on UX thinking and design thinking. Techniques – and terminology of techniques – will come and go, but it’s essential that we keep sharpening our thinking about the principles of the experiences we create. In short: we still need to stimulate each other with more concepts and more theory, not just the doing stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, the balance was still there, especially with blending strategies with results and outcomes of UX practice (especially Katja ForbesUniversal design for touch, and Gabriel White’s Design at the edges (plus here on slideshare)), but my stand-out fave talk by Andrea Resmini really blew my mind: Navigation as cross-channel sense making (sketchnote below).

A sketchnote of Andrea Resmini's talk: Navigation as cross-channel sense making

In future…?

In future years of UX Australia – in response to my low-level concern and anxiety above – I’d like to hear more about how UX thinking and customer experience (CX) thinking are becoming paired disciplines. There is also quiet rumbling out there about architecture rediscovering itself and its purpose: designing places and spaces for people and not just for architecture magazine covers. We’ve been standing on the shoulders of architects since Day 1 of UX, and we have much to share with each other. Let’s hear more of that exciting stuff.


And ah yes, sketchnoting! I’m a big fan of sketching to explain, to think and to reflect, and it was great to meet and see Rebecca Jackson talk about her sketchnoting experiences. Below is my sketchnote of her sketchnoting talk… a bit weird really… but hey. And as an aside, Rebecca has posted some really great and useful summaries of the conference’s talks; here’s part 1 and part 2.

Sketchnote of Rebecca Jackson talking... about sketchnotes


It was also bloody excellent to meet Matthew Magain. I’ve found his drawing-to-explain mastery pretty inspiring in the past, and not only did he and Luke Chambers bring UX to life through the brilliance of The Blues Brothers, but he’s also done a great wrap-up of UX Australia 2013 in his own sketchnotes over on their service to the UX community: UX Mastery.

I’ve put all my UX Australia 2013 sketchnotes together on Flickr, here. I set myself a challenge of pumping out sketchnotes from every session I attended. It was pretty gruelling, both mentally and physically*, but highly worth it. I also tried out some other ideas I’ve had: rather than just spraying drawings all over the page, I tried conforming them to letter-shapes. I even tried doing one as a comic strip…but… let’s just say that one needs more prep and practice!


*OK, not really physically. Knowing loads of people who enter marathons, pull all-nighters at hospitals saving lives, etc, I can’t EVER use the word ‘gruelling’ when it comes to sketching. ;)

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Using sketchnotes to sell design thinking

Screenshot of the UTS home page showing my sketchnotesYou never know where your sketchnotes will end up. I recently went to a great UTS event, and they’ve used my sketchnotes from that event on the cover of their latest magazine.

Sketchnotes have great visual appeal, and it’s really nice to see sketchnoting as a form of visual communication get more traction and attention. The event itself focused on innovation, collaboration and design, so sketchnoting is a really natural fit for those topics.

Be sure to read the online version of the magazine, the article about cross-discipline design thinking strategy with Hael Kobayashi is well worth the read.

Big thanks to the great folks at UTS! :)

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I’m in the (sketchnote) army

Big big thanks to Mike Rohde over at Sketchnote Army for showing my Oz-IA 2010 sketchnotes on his website! I’m big on sketchnoting, and I often find myself going to his website, just to see the different directions that loads of people out there are taking ‘the medium’.

Sketchnoting is getting more and more airplay, and being seen in more and more ways, from personal note-taking to being an integral part of a presentation, such as RSA Animate’s amazing sketchnotes of talks, to Bill Verplank’s concepts of interaction design.

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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