Graphic Recording

A Beautiful Mix of Art and Commerce
I’m intrigued by graphic recording, a unique creative service that's going strong worldwide at meetings and conferences. It relieves PowerPoint boredom (hooray) by getting everyone more involved. During the conference, an artist works rapidly to create large drawings (typically 4'x 8') depicting the discussion between the participants. The work is then photographed and the digital images are disbursed to the participants.

Graphic Recording exampleGraphic recording is part of the bigger concept of meeting facilitation. It's the ultimate creative collaboration, with all participants actively contributing ideas to the image. And the result is far more memorable for everyone than a PowerPoint presentation. Studies show that, "You remember best what you've created yourself," according to Prof. Martin Eppler of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. It also demonstrates the connection between drawing and thinking.

A graphic recorder tells us about his experience
We talked to Jim Nuttle, who's a highly sought-after graphic recorder, based in the Washington, DC area. Jim's background is graphic design and illustration. Six years ago he was brought in as a “storyboard artist” as part of a team for a New York consulting group working with Verizon. There he met Peter Durand of Alphachimp Studio and experienced graphic recording for the first time.

Peter stood at the front of the room with markers and a large foamcore panel, and proceeded to capture – in real time – an entire presentation. Then he handed the pen to Jim, saying, “Now it’s your turn,” and launched him into a whole new career. Jim Nuttle Vimeo videoSince then, Jim has worked with a wide variety of corporate, non-profit, and government clients, traveling to Europe, Dubai and all over the U.S. as a graphic recorder. Take a look at Jim and Peter in action here.

What is so unique about graphic recording?
JN: "Live interaction with the audience is so different from working in a studio. You're creating something in the moment with the people in that room, which is energizing for everybody. The drawings create a memory for everyone. There's a mental connection between the memory of the drawing being made and the moment of conversation at the time.

“People come up afterwards to take photos or comment on the drawing. For me, it's a direct connection to the audience, which you don't normally get with regular illustration. I'm part of a group with the same experience, and there's a record of it."

How do you prepare, or can you prepare for something like this?
JN: "If you’re lucky, you’ll get some background information ahead of time, but there’s really no way to know what someone is going to say in the moment. A little adrenaline goes a long way. It was three years before I got fully comfortable working in front of a room full of people, but you try to never let them see you sweat.

"It helps if you can draw without thinking, which frees you up to listen to the conversation. I've got a lot of stock characters and images from my years as an illustrator, such as a guy shrugging, hands coming out of the computer screen, and so forth, which I've drawn hundreds of times before, and which I can use to emphasize or illustrate a point.”

Graphic recording sample Jim Nuttle

What's the reaction to your work at the conferences?
JN: "The reactions of the participants are the best part of the job. When was the last time you drew a guy climbing a mountain and an entire room of people applauded? I get a big kick out of it. The audience reaction is on a much different level of reaction than that of, say, my illustrator or designer peers."

What happens to the drawings?
JN: “I always finish my drawings before I leave an event; they’re photographed, rolled up, and left with the client. I’ll clean up the photographs in Photoshop, and provide digital images to the client. The originals usually don't see the light of day again. It’s the digital images that are distributed to all of the participants, and get the most use.

“However, sometimes the drawing is hung on a wall, and becomes a reference point for an ongoing strategy or campaign, and gains a second life. It becomes a collaboration tool and a point of focus for a concept to get everyone on board.

“Getting everyone on board is a big deal. People who aren’t able to attend the conference or meeting can view the shared document and see the thought processes that went into decision-making. It’s a truly collaborative effort.”

Wouldn't it be great if your next conference was actually memorable, with some lasting value? The next time you're planning a meeting, look into the real-time phenomenon of graphic recording. It'll make a memory.