Category Archives: visual

Visual metaphors and layouts for planning your life

Marty Pauschke was interested in sketchnoting/drawing as a way of planning your own life. I find drawing to be really useful in making sense of my life and planning ahead, because it allows me to see the bigger picture. Here are some types of diagrams and visual metaphors that I use. I’d love to see yours!

Life as a journey

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You can think of life as a journey. Imagine what the destination looks like, and think about the milestones you’d like to see along the way. You can draw obstacles and think about ways around them. This is great for celebrating your progress so far and seeing what’s next.

Example: 2012 as a sketch

Arrows

Here’s another way to look at it: as a target that you’re reaching with an arrow. Sometimes it helps to think about the goal first, then work backwards: what needs to happen in order for you to reach your goal? What needs to happen for that to happen? Continue until you get to actions you can take today.

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Crossroads

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Of course, life isn’t a simple journey – it’s full of decisions. Sometimes it helps to think about what some different possible outcomes are, and what you like or dislike about each one. Then you can figure out what you’re leaning towards.

If you’re looking at multiple decisions, a simple diagram might be easier to make and read.image You can see the branching-off points and think about what information you need in order to make the best decisions at each stage.

Mindmaps and other diagrams

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Great for branching out into detail. Example: Imagining the next five years and planning 2013. You don’t have to stick with having one central idea. Play around.

Charts are handy, too – make up your own labels and chart types! Example: Mapping my work happiness

Timelinesimage

Timelines are good for remembering because you end up filling in the blanks.

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I like making spiral timelines because they give me different amounts of space for things that are more important to me (ex: more recent memories). Spirals can go the other way, too – zeroing in on a goal.

 

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats

imageThe SWOT analysis is used a lot in management schools and in consulting, and it’s useful for personal growth as well. I like focusing on my strengths and finding workarounds for my weaknesses.

 

Pre-mortem and post-mortem analyses

imageSpeaking of weaknesses, I like doing pre-mortems – anticipating ways something could go wrong. Gravestones are a nice touch. Example: Experiment pre-mortem

These are just some of the ways I use drawing to help me remember and plan. How do you draw your life?

Sometimes you don’t know what you know until someone asks; why I like preparing talking points for podcasts and chats

Update 2013-07-31: You can find a table of contents and associated links at http://sach.ac/accel. Here’s the video!

Quick link to talking points as a Mural.ly map

From time to time, I say interesting-enough things that make people want to pick my brain further. When people do, this is excellent! Sometimes I don’t know what people will find useful or interesting until they ask. When the opportunity comes up, I try to wring out as much as I can. In the podcast interviews I’ve done so far, I’ve always been delighted by what we learn from the conversation.

An interview is entirely different from a presentation, and it would be a waste to treat it as one. I love where other people’s questions, interests, and experiences can lead me. So I don’t want to structure it too much – but I also want to give people the benefit of clear thoughts and useful replies. Having struggled with making good conversation myself, I also want to help people find things that they or other people will like instead of wandering until they bump into something good.

It’s a little like the media training I got when I was at IBM. One of the tips I remember is to think about your story before you talk to people. You don’t have to stick to the script, but you should know the key points you want to get across, and try some ways of expressing it so that you can be clear and concise.

So here’s what I e-mailed to Timothy Kenny in preparation for our chat about accelerated learning (which will be this afternoon):

I thought about what I do the most differently and what your subscribers will probably benefit from. Here are some topic ideas. How about picking whichever one you think will resonate the most? =) I’m sure there’ll be future conversations, so we don’t have to get everything covered in one chat.

  • Sketchnotes
    • Ideal outcome: People are inspired to take visual notes for their own use
    • Learning and reviewing presentations and books; Connecting with people; Understanding your thoughts; Sharing what you know
  • Making the most of your blog through the years
    • Ideal outcome: People are encouraged to blog for the long term; people who have been blogging a while are inspired to organize their work
    • Weekly, monthly, yearly reviews; Indexes; Other people as part of your memory; Collections; Backups
  • Tracking and experiments
    • Ideal outcome: People are inspired to make better decisions by tracking
    • Time; Money and an opportunity fund; Clothes, decisions, etc.; 5-year experiment with retirement
  • How it all fits together
    • Ideal outcome: People see how the different techniques can support each other, and they are motivated to take the next step
    • The flow of learning; How different techniques work together; Getting started; Getting better; Going from strength to strength
  • Continuous improvement in everyday life
    • Ideal outcome: People examine their processes
    • Understanding your processes; Handling weaknesses; Building on strengths; Learning from experiments

He wrote back to say that he was curious about sketchnotes, blogging, connecting, learning flow, and what I considered my strengths and weaknesses in terms of learning.

I spent some time on Saturday night thinking about what I’ve learned and what I want to help other people learn. A podcast isn’t the place for technical instruction; blog posts are better for that because I can include step-by-step tips, links, and other resources. A podcast or videocast is great at communicating enthusiasm, helping other people see that they can get started. It’s also great for the back-and-forth, bringing two people’s ideas together.

So my goals for the chat are:

  • Inspire people to learn more about some learning techniques that they might find useful
  • Encourage people to get in touch with me
  • Explore follow-up questions that I may want to write about or draw
  • Learn interesting things about Timothy Kenny or share other tidbits that can lead to further conversations

In preparation, I drew this on Saturday. (Click on the image for a larger version!)20130727 Accelerated Learning

(Not only do I sketchnote events, but I can sketchnote the future!  Winking smile)

The idea is that these talking points can let Timothy pick whatever he wants to focus on, while giving him a peripheral awareness of related topics or other things we can talk about. They also give me visual aids that I can refer to (or draw on top of!) during the chat, which is probably more interesting than watching a bunch of talking heads. And if we run out of time or focus on some things instead of others, no worries – the blog post and the sketchnote will be there as a way to follow up. =)

I’ve done this before, like the digital sketchnoting workflow that I sketched in preparation for my podcast with Mike Rohde (episode, transcript). Our target time for that was 12 minutes, so it was great to be able to zoom in and talk about key parts knowing that other things could be left for the blog post or sketchnote.

I discovered the power of sharing my notes (showing my work!) when I was giving a lot of presentations. Knowing that my talking points were on the Net somewhere (ex: my Shy Connector presentation for Women in Technology International, or my talk on How to use Evernote to improve your visual thinking) meant that I didn’t have to worry about forgetting anything important, because people can always look up my notes. It gave me more freedom to ad-lib or go off-script, too, following whatever people were interested in.

So really, the main reason to come to one of my presentations or to interview me is to ask questions and figure out answers together, which is exactly the way I want it. If I can do the braindump outside the time we have, then we can use the time for interaction. In presentations and conversations, I want to give people just enough to get good questions. Questions are my pay-off for the preparation. Questions spark my curiosity and turn into follow-up conversations and blog posts and presentations.

Unrelated observation: making my own URL shortening thing was totally worth it, even if the domains are expensive. Much better than squeezing long domain names into my sketchnotes. Although I’m still flipflopping between sach.ac and liv.gd in sketchnotes because I think my nickname is hard to spell… Any opinions?

I’ll post the recording when it’s up, and I’ll probably work on transcribing it too. Fun!


Here’s the e-mail announcement that Timothy sent:

Hundreds of years ago during the Renaissance, creative geniuses like DaVinci revolutionized science by visualizing information for the first time. Huge leaps were made in engineering, math, architecture and physics because of this new focus on visualizing information.

A new visual Renaissance is coming…

Today at 1PM EDT (New York Time) I’m interviewing Sacha Chua on her accelerated learning techniques and especially how she visualizes information to learn faster and understand new concepts better.

Click Here to Join the Hangout:

https://plus.google.com/events/c1irfbcfio2q6qn20387trhdnjk

Sacha is also a programmer. Programmers have the ability to see and create systems because coding requires that you build a system to process information.

All businesses are systems. And the more you can systematize your business the more stress free it will be for you. The starting point for understanding systems is learning how to get them down on paper as visual diagrams (much the same way programmers sketch out their program on a white board before building it) and that is a big piece of what we will be discussing today.

We’re doing it live so you can chime in with questions or observations during the interview.

Why You Should Come

Many people know about learning and productivity hacks but I have never met someone who actually put so many of them together into such a coherant system.

Sacha is also a visual genius. She created both of the images below. You will learn how she does it and why it is so important to get comfortable drawing and visualizing for your business and your learning.

What We Will Talk About

20130727 Accelerated Learning

 

Example of Sacha’s 1 page visual book reviews

20130705 Visual Book Review - The First 20 Hours - How to Learn Anything... Fast - Josh Kaufman

 

See you at 1,
Timothy

 

PS

Sign up for the Hangout here, then check out the learning profile I did on Sacha here:

http://timothykenny.com/accelerated-learning/accelerated-learning-profile-sacha-chua

Mural.ly and Evernote: Redesigning my landing page

Hello, I’m Sacha Chua, and today I’m going to show you some of the ways I’ve been using Mural.ly‘s new Evernote integration as well as the Areas and Outline feature. (You can enable the Areas & Outline feature by clicking on your account picture, choosing Settings, and choosing Labs.)

You can watch the screencast (< 2 minutes), or read the blog post below.

I was recently working on a small redesign of my blog’s landing page at LivingAnAwesomeLife.com. While giving people my card, I realized that my personal blog can be… a little overwhelming for people. Time to design a new page!

First, I started with some ideas for what I want this page to do. The text tool makes this easier, and I can draw connectors between items. Even if I move the items around, they stay connected.

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There’s a lot of great inspiration out there, so I use the Evernote Web Clipper to save images and webpages to my notebooks. I file the relevant notes in my project notebook and tag them with keywords.

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To import the notes into Mural.ly, I click on the Evernote icon. You can search across all of your notebooks, or you can pick a notebook to browse and search within it. Adding the note is as simple as clicking on the thumbnail.

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One of the things I really like about Mural.ly is the ability to see multiple Evernote items together, like clipping things to a virtual bulletin board.

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With the Areas and Outlines feature, it’s even easier to keep things organized. To define an area, click on the Spaces icon and fill in the name.

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If I want to get back to the original site that I clipped, I can right-click on the item and open the note in Evernote, then follow the source URL.

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I drew some ideas for my landing page design on my tablet. Let me add them here as well.

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So then I drew the landing page design and implemented it on my site. Here’s a screenshot that I saved to Evernote… and now I can update the arrows to show what connects to where, doublechecking that I’ve covered everything.

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Now that Mural.ly makes it super-easy to grab my Evernote clippings, I can imagine using Mural.ly for sketching out user interface flows, data visualizations, and all sorts of other stuff. I hope you have fun with it too!

Other things you might be interested in:

For your convenience, this post is also available at sach.ac/murally . Enjoy!

Visual book review: The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast (Josh Kaufman)

The idea of learning a new skill can be overwhelming. If you break the skill down into specific things you can learn, it becomes much more manageable. Tim Ferris used this to hack cooking (video) by dissociating it from shopping for groceries or cleaning up. Josh Kaufman’s new book The First 20 Hours fleshes out how to rapidly learn, illustrating it with stories, examples, and practical tips for a wide range of skills. A key insight? You don’t have to be amazing, just good enough to enjoy the skill, and 20 hours is enough to get you there if you learn effectively. (Even if it turns out to be more complex than that, stick with it anyway, and then see where you are at 20 hours.) Click on the one-page summary below to view or download a larger version. 20130705 Visual Book Review - The First 20 Hours - How to Learn Anything... Fast - Josh Kaufman Feel free to share this visual book review! (Creative Commons Attribution – I’d love it if you link back to this site and tell me about it. =) ) It should print out fine on letter-sized paper, too. The book is both practical and entertaining, especially if you’ve been curious about some of the areas he covers in his chapters. =) While the advice is common sense, the application of the advice makes it interesting – and the stories might nudge you into taking similar steps towards the skill you’d like to develop the most. Besides, the book has stick figures in the chapter on yoga and shell commands and a Ruby tutorial in the chapter on programming. Not that many books can pull that off, although if you’re the type who reads things like travel books for just one chapter, you might grumble about paying for all the other chapters you’re not interested in. 20 hours isn’t going to make you an expert in something, but it might get you farther than you think. Intrigued by the ideas? You can check your local library to see if they have a copy, or buy your own: The First 20 Hours (affiliate link). What I’m going to do with this book One of the benefits of this experiment with semi-retirement is that I have the time and space to explore what I’d like to learn. Not all of it at once, but I can certainly make decent headway on a few skills I want to improve. I rarely start from scratch, so it’s not that I’m really spending my first 20 hours on something – new interests are usually offshoots of something that I already do well or enjoy, because unfair advantages lead to other unfair advantages. I like programming, writing, going through flashcards… I even get along with accounting.

    The biggest new thing that I don’t yet intrinsically enjoy is strength training, which (as the name indicates) is probably more about

training

    – my body has to adapt to it, and that takes time.

So, let’s pick another skill. Something that I haven’t dived deeply into, but that I’m curious about. Some candidates:

  • Creating animated videos (and not cheesy fake-written ones, either)
  • Programming speech recognition macros (NatLink)
  • Visualizing data with D3.js or other visualization libraries

Of the three, I think visualizing data with D3.js will be the most fun for me. I can break that down this way:

  • Manipulate the data into a form that’s easy to work with in D3.js
  • Create typical graphs
  • Create custom graphs
  • Add interactivity
  • Use D3.js for non-graph applications
  • Integrate the visualizations into web apps or blog posts

In terms of barriers, it’s really just about sitting down with some data and the documentation. I’ve worked with D3 before. I just have to practise enough to grok it. The most important skill to master first, I think, is creating typical graphs. If I get that into my brain, I can imagine custom graphs and other applications from there. So learning this skill might involve doing “programming kata”: take an existing data set and visualize it in different ways using common chart types. It’s also useful to look at how other people are breaking down skills and learning them. Duncan Mortimer (who I think is the same as the Duncan Mortimer behind this WriteOrDie mode for Emacs?) wants to write blog posts better. He came up with this list of skills that he wants to work on in terms of blogging:

  • Choosing a topic
    • Brainstorming
    • Asking yourself questions
    • Topics that choose themselves — blogging what you’re learning or as you’re learning
  • Drafting the post
    • Structure
    • Avoiding editing while writing
    • Writing quickly
  • Editing the post
    • Textual tics
    • Restructuring
  • Publishing the post
    • Scheduling posts for future publication
    • Uploading to the hosting service
    • Adding categories and tags; making it ‘discoverable’

I’m also interested in writing more effectively. For me, the key things I’m working on are:

  • Outlining: Planning the structure before I start writing. Doesn’t work for all the posts, but I might be able to use it to speed things up. Practice: Flesh out my sharing outline (hah, you can even send patches or make suggestions through the issues queue) as a separate activity from writing. (See how I’m doing so far in terms of time.)
  • Illustration: Coming up with a hand-drawn image to illustrate my blog posts nudges me to think about the key point or idea in the post, and it’s good practice for sketchnoting too. Practice: It’s like adding an item to my blogging checklist to quickly sketch an image if I can.

Anyway, here’s the book again if you’re curious. Disclosure: I’ll get a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon using the links in this post, but you could also see if your local library has the book. (I got this one from the Toronto Public Library!) Check out first20hours.com for more info. Like this? Check out my other visual book reviews!

For another visual take on this (pretty colours!), check out Cynthia Morris’ summary. Enjoy!

Sketchnote Lessons: Drawing Emotions

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Sketchnote Lessons

Want to make your drawings more interesting? Add emotions! Drawings of emotions can communicate so much more than words describing emotions, and they do so in an immediate, visceral way. For example, consider the list of words below, and the faces beneath them.

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Even if you don’t think you’re an artist, you can draw basic emotions easily. Simple combinations of eyebrows and mouths say a lot. You can show different degrees of emotions by emphasizing parts.

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You can combine emotions, too. For example, angry eyebrows + happy smile = evil overlord plotting to conquer the world. >=)

Play around, and you’ll find even more emotions that you can express with small changes to the face. For inspiration, you can look at smileys and emoticons.

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Icons and symbols let you be even more expressive. You can pick these up from comics and smileys.

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Emotions aren’t just expressed with the face. Posture can communicate emotions powerfully too. Explore the physicality of emotions by looking at how actors show feelings, or by imagining yourself feeling those emotions.

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You can also show emotions in how people relate to each other.

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Metaphors are fun to play with, too.

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Learning how to draw emotions isn’t just useful for sketchnoting. You can draw emotions in order to understand other people better. Mindmaps or empathy maps can help. You can draw your own emotions, too. When I’m faced with a difficult situation or a confusing tangle of emotions, I try to break down the different emotions I feel and the reasons why I feel that way. When you understand why you’re happy and sad and worried and excited all at the same time, it’s easier to move forward.

Want to learn more about drawing emotions? The best resource I’ve found so far is the Bikablo Emotions book, which has a lot of full-body emotions. Here’s a sample of the drawings I made based on part of the Bikablo Emotions book. (There are even more emotions in the book – check it out!)

emotions

Children’s books are a good source of emotions. I remember loving the Mr. Men and Little Miss series when I was growing up, and I look forward to discovering other wonderful illustrations as I go through the library’s collections. =)

Comics are another great way to learn more about expressing emotions, from the concise forms of newspaper strips to more elaborate drawings in comic books.

And then there’s learning about all these emotions in the first place, because it helps to be able to recognize the emotion and give it a name. Wikipedia has a few good pages: Contrasting and categorization of emotions, Emotion classification. HUMAINE proposes a classification of 48 emotions (see Wikipedia for an easier-to-read list) The Center for Nonviolent Communication lists 259 emotions in their feelings inventory.

I’m thinking of going through those lists and practising drawing all these different emotions. Want to join me? I’ll post stuff here once in a while, and I’d love it if you sent me links to your drawings!

Redesigning the Visual Thinkers Toronto Show & Tell

Along with Patricia Kambitsch and Alex M. Chong, I co-organize the Visual Thinkers Toronto Show & Tell. It’s a small gathering of graphic recorders, sketchnoters, mindmappers, doodlers, illustrators, artists, students, and so on, and we meet on the last Tuesday evening of every month at OCAD University (100 McCaul Street). We’ve had six meetups so far, and we’ve been thinking about how to make the meetups even better.

The goals for the meetup redesign are:

  • Encourage people to share their work so that others can learn from them and give feedback (if desired)
  • Line up different speakers who can share techniques and approaches
  • Help people improve their visual thinking skills through challenges
  • Here’s the agenda from a past meetup:

    7:00pm Welcome and brief introductions. There’s usually a visual question posted on a nearby wall or bulletin board. For example, one time, participants were asked to map where they were on a “visual thinking” map. Another time, people drew things related to weather.
      Overview of the Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup
    7:10 Presentation and Q&A
    7:30 Open space show&tell: people volunteer topics they would like to discuss, and then the group splits up into smaller groups. People have paper and markers so that they can take notes. People are free to shift from group to group. For example, someone once brought three editions of a cookbook spanning different decades in design. Other people have brought delightfully-illustrated shopping bags, inspiring books, and so on.
    8:10 Open space round 2
    8:45 Report back from open space, final remarks
    9:00 Pub night (often at Sin and Redemption)

    The current approach is good. The open space is great for a multiplicity of topics. Still, there are a few challenges we’d like to address. It can be difficult to find a speaker – sometimes there’s a last-minute scramble. It would be great to get participants to be more actively involved both during and after the meetup, too.

    This is what we’d like to try as the new agenda structure:

    7:00pm Welcome, brief introductions, plus “Share Your Work”. Before the meetup, people can upload things they’d like to share to the Flickr pool or e-mail it to me at [email protected]. I’ll compile the images into a presentation that will loop as people come in and settle down. As before, there’ll be a visual question posted on a nearby wall or bulletin board too.
      Overview of the Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup
    7:10 Technique presentation and Q&A: In addition to accepting volunteers, we might also brainstorm some topics of general interest and then ask people to present on them (or present them ourselves).

    imageGroup doodle: There’ll be a wide roll of paper and markers or pastels so that people can doodle during the presentation. This has actually been part of all the meetups, but it might be good to explicitly encourage people to get down there and draw things. (And it helps people remember!)

    7:40 imageIn focus: Brave souls share something they’ve worked on, optionally for feedback and suggestions.
    8:00 Open space
    8:30 Recap of the open space
    8:40 Harvest: We review the group doodle and the open space, and people talk about what they’re planning to take away from the meetup.
    8:55 imageVisual Thinking Exercise: We set a group exercise that people can do at home. For example, for emotions, it could be “Draw different emotions and share them with the group in the ‘Share Your Work’ section. For example, you can start with joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, anticipation. Play with more!”
    9:00 Pub night

    Meetup communication plan example:

    July 16 (-2 weeks): Meetup announcement, call for speakers and in-focus, and submission instructions for “Share Your Work”

    • July 23 (-1 week): Meetup reminder, announcement of speaker, soft deadline for Share Your Work (unless I can find something that makes this easier to do)
    • July 31 (+1 day): Notes, challenge reminder, and instructions
    • August 6 (+1 week): Follow-up e-mail with notes and the challenge
    • August 13 (+2 weeks, –2 weeks): Follow up e-mail with challenge results so far, meetup announcement, call for speakers and in-focus, submission reminder
    • August 20 (-1 week): Meetup reminder, announcement of speaker
    • August 28 (+ 1 day): Notes, challenge reminder, and instructions

    Here are some theme ideas:

    • Emotions (this is the next one we’re doing)
    • Visual biographies
    • Quick lettering
    • Visual ways to plan your life
    • What makes drawings funny?
    • Working with colour
    • Choosing the right visualization for your data
    • Drawing abstract concepts
    • Beyond the built-in charts
    • Tool talk
    • Fun with words

    It would be interesting to do a survey so that we can learn more about people’s interests, prioritize topics, and see what other ideas we can draw out from people. =) Maybe after a couple of months with the new meetup structure, or if I have the mental bandwidth to do a survey?

    I’ll keep you posted on how this meetup redesign works out!

    (Curious about Visual Thinkers Toronto and want to join us at one of these meetups? Sign up at VisualThink.org!)