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Notes from Visual Thinkers Toronto: Sketchnoting with others

Posted: - Modified: | drawing, meetup, sketchnotes

In March's meetup for Visual Thinkers Toronto, we listened to TED talks, practised sketchnoting/graphic recording, and compared our notes. Here's how I drew the talks:

2014-03-25 TED - Bran Ferren - To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering #visualtoronto

2014-03-25 TED – Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering #visualtoronto

From Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering

2014-03-25 TED - Jamie Oliver - Teach every child about food #visualtoronto

2014-03-25 TED – Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food #visualtoronto

From Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food

I liked how one of the participants added extra pizzazz to the visual metaphors from the talks, exaggerating the words to make them even more memorable. For example, with Jamie Oliver's talk, he turned the part about labels into a quick sketch of a Can of Death. Other people drew with more colours

It was interesting to see different levels of abstraction for the same topic. Someone made a poster that focused on the key message of the talk. Most people captured 5-10 points or so. I drew with the most detail in our group, I think. I like it; that lets me retrieve more of the talk from memory. I liked how other people switched between different colours of markers. Someday I'll get the hang of doing that. In the meantime, highlighting seems to be fine.

Try sketchnoting those talks or other presentations you find online. I'd love to compare notes!

Redesigning the Visual Thinkers Toronto Show & Tell

Posted: - Modified: | meetup, visual

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 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!)

    Less Wrong meetup notes: Goal factoring, fight-or-flight, and comfort zones

    Posted: - Modified: | meetup, reflection

    This week, I attended my first Less Wrong meetup in Toronto – a meandering conversation about applied rationality over coffee in a Tim Hortons café tucked into Dundas Square just east of Yonge. Here are my rough notes:


    Goal factoring is a process of mapping your goals and the underlying needs that they address so that you can identify complementary or conflicting goals and alternative approaches that will also address your needs. Start by listing your goals, then organize them in relation to each other, and examine them to see which needs they meet. You can learn more about your implicit needs by looking at your evaluations of alternatives.

    Fight, flight, or freeze: We talked about the fight-flight-or-freeze reaction, or the body’s response to stress. We also talked about the sympathetic nervous system (which stresses out when f/f/f kicks in), and the parasympathetic nervous system, which deals with non-urgent things. One of the effects of stress is that the blood flow to some parts of your brain is restricted in favour of the blood flow to other parts of your brain, which is why it’s easy to make stupid decisions when you’re stressed out.

    Comfort zone expansion: We also discussed the process of growing your comfort zone gradually by imagining scenarios, using de-stressing techniques, and working with a safe space.

    In order to practise applying rationality techniques to real life, we agreed to spend the next week studying our fight/flight/freeze reactions and to share our observations with the group next week. I’ll reflect on this a little more later – I want to post these brief notes first before I forget! =)

    Sketchnotes: Girl Geeks Toronto – Adventures in Arduino

    Posted: - Modified: | meetup, sketchnotes


    Wearable computing artist Erin Lewis, SenseBridge entrepreneur Eric Boyd, and Site 3 co-founder Alex Leitch shared their Arduino-based projects with a crowd of around thirty women at the Girl Geeks Toronto event on August 13, 2012.

    Erin started by introducing the different kinds of Arduino boards that are out there. She brought a few different boards, extensions, and wearable computing materials, passing them around for us to take a look. Erin also described the art projects she built using the Arduino, data sets from nature (windspeed, the northern lights), and various crafts (knitting fiber optics! felting conductive wool!). The video she’d made of her Kegel Organ was one of the oddest applications I’ve seen for electronics. Mind-boggling, but it’s good that people think of doing things like that!

    Eric talked about open hardware and the Really Bare Bones Board, an Arduino clone. He shared some of the projects he’d built with the RBBB and later with his own circuit designs. He built the North Paw, an anklet that lets you constantly sense where north is, to explore the possibilities of extending human senses. Because he was curious about how people would react to normally invisible information, he built the Heart Spark, a pendant that flashes in time with your heartbeat.

    Alex started her talk with the story of why and how she co-founded Site 3, a coworking space with plenty of tools and a passionate art- and engineering-focused community. She shared the lessons she learned while building an Arduino-based device for making coloured flames safely – well, relatively safely compared to the existing way to do it. There were lots of great pictures, amusing anecdotes, and practical tips for surviving dangerously fun projects.

    The three talks focused on interesting applications of the Arduino. If you’d like to get started with the Arduino, check out Getting Started with Arduino. You can get the Arduino from Sparkfun, or head over to Creatron (College and Spadina) to check out their boards and accessories. People have made many interesting and useful things with the Arduino board, and there are many more projects on the Web. Have fun!

    Sketchnotes: Custom Post Types & Custom Fields (Wes Bos, #wpto)

    Posted: - Modified: | blogging, meetup, sketchnotes, wordpress


    Click on the image for a larger version.

    Wes Bos talked about custom post types and custom fields, sharing plenty of tips on how to use Advanced Custom Fields to make the user interface much simpler. You can find his slides at .

    Like this? You might also be interested in another WPTO sketchnote (The Publishing Side of WordPress – Andy McIlwain). Check out my other sketchnotes for more. Enjoy!

    Quantified Self Toronto: July 11, 2012

    Posted: - Modified: | meetup, quantified, sketchnotes


    Sketchnotes: Christine Steiger, Christine’s Fitness and Personal Training @ Small Business Network, Toronto Public Library

    Posted: - Modified: | business, meetup, sketchnotes

    20120710 small business network christine steiger

    Click on the image for a larger version. Feel free to reshare it under the Creative Commons Attribution License. =)

    Christine Steiger shared how she had risen through the ranks in a large fitness company, teaching herself a lot about sales. She then started her own company so that she could provide more personalized service in a woman-friendly environment. She emphasized the need for marketing and creative promotions, including building relationships with other business owners. I liked her focus and her drive, and I’m looking forward to applying what I learned in my own business.

    Thanks to Christine for sharing, and thanks to Margaret Wigglesworth and the Toronto Reference Library for hosting!

    Previous Small Business Network meetups at the Toronto Reference Library:

    See my other sketchnotes of tech and business meetups, books, and other thoughts, or subscribe to my blog. (It can be quite a lot of information, though, so if you prefer, you can subscribe to just the sketchnotes instead.) Share your thoughts through Twitter (@sachac), blog comments, or e-mail. Enjoy! =)