The illustration sprint

You may be familiar with the design sprint, or the book sprint, or the software development sprint, but have you heard of the illustration sprint? I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t, because I just made it up.

The reason for this neologism is that I was recently contacted by the author of a book about startups in Germany, and he wanted a lot of illustrations done quickly. His idea was to sit down for a day and create as many illustrations for the book as possible.

I immediately liked the idea, but realized that the sprint required careful planning. For one thing, the style of the illustrations had to be determined beforehand. Fortunately, my collaborator really liked my sketchnotes about a talk by Mercedes Bunz.

Mercedes Bunz: Copy & Paste (3)


After we had established a date, we sat down together at my kitchen table, and started drawing. Surprisingly, only a few images went into the bin, while 36 drawings were considered good enough to be reproduced in the book. Considering that we worked for eight hours straight, that is an average of 13 minutes per drawing!

Here are some of the results:
Illustration sprint


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The visionary kiosk

Recently, I was asked to harvest some ideas for the future of a cultural centre in Berlin, Acud. While planning the event with the organizers, we came up with the idea of setting up a ‘visionary kiosk’ (Visionenkiosk). It consisted of four wooden panels connected by hinges, which roughly resembles the shape of the building in which Acud is situated. I immediately liked the idea very much.

Acud macht neu

A few weeks later, the kiosk was set up in Acud’s courtyard, and despite intermittent rain, a few dozen people came to talk to me, and I painted their ideas on the kiosk’s walls. It was especially popular with the kids who requested things like “a lion”, “an elephant” and “a ninja with flaming swords. Here’s a shot taken by one of the organizers, which shows me surrounded by a bunch of children:

VisionenkioskNeedless to say, I had a great time!

Flickr set

More images from the event


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0.5 seconds of fame

In June I did an amazing graphic recording gig for Oracle in Madrid. It was my biggest graphic recording gig yet, with a crowd of 800 people watching what I did on stage. Fortunately, I was supported by a fantastic live band,
Rockaoke (aka The Applications), who kept everyone happy with their musical interludes.

I also had a videographer who kept his camera on what I was drawing. However, only 0.5 seconds of this material made it into the final two-and-a-half minute clip about the event. Here’s my half second of fame in an animated gif …

Graphic Recording for Oracle in Madrid

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Coding da Vinci

Coding da Vinci was a 10-week long hackathon organized by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Wikimedia Germany, Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek and Servicestelle Digitalisierung. I was present for the opening on April 26 / 27 as well as for the presentation of the final results and award ceremony in the Jewish Museum Berlin on July 6.

Coding da Vinci Graphic Recording 26 / 27 April

(click to see the image in original size)

While I wasn’t able to record all projects (28 were submitted to the project page), I could at least capture all 17 finalists, and the award winners. Congratulations to everyone who made it to the end, especially to Kati and Tomi and their Cyber Beetle (my favorite project).


At the end of the day, it was a very challenging but also very rewarding experience. Everyone I met was friendly and genuinely appreciative of what I did. And I think the results speak for themselves!

The entire set of images can be found here.

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Cleaning Up

My work doesn’t end when I drop my pen at the end of a day of graphic recording, as I did recently at the Groundbreaking Journalism conference. After I’m done, I take high-resolution photographs of the drawings, which is not always easy, considering that many conference rooms have bad lighting, walls aren’t always plane surfaces, and holding a camera still is difficult with GR adrenaline pumping in your veins. However, even under perfect circumstances, images need post-production. So after getting a good night’s sleep, I fire up photoshop and start the tedious, yet rewarding task of stitching the photos together, straightening the edges, removing stray pieces of masking tape and smudges, fixing errors, increasing the contrast, and most importantly, getting a nice, clean background. Here’s a time-lapse video I made, which shows some of the work required (although the result is still far from perfect): Thankfully, there are some really good tutorials for cleaning graphic recordings, such as this one by Rachel S. Smith (The Grove Consultants). If you don’t have Photoshop or don’t want to pay for it, there’s also a tutorial for doing the same thing with some free apps on an iPad. Of course, you could also use the open-source graphics suite GIMP. And if you don’t like Rachel’s method of adjusting levels incrementally, you could also try experimenting with the High Pass filter, and the dodge and burn tools (as I did in the video above). Eventually, your cleaning process will end up being as idiosyncratic as your drawings, and you will probably add methods of your own. For example, in processing the image below, I used Rachel’s tutorial as a starting point, but I copied and pasted some of the blue elements from the original image to preserve the color. I also used Hue/Saturation on the yellows, because it gives me more fine grained control than Levels. The important thing is to keep experimenting and don’t forget to have fun!


In case you are looking for the full set of graphic recordings from Groundbreaking Journalism, they’re on my flickr page.

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Visual product development

Lately, I’ve been involved in a product design process with MICT, IXDS, and now Sourcefabric. While I can’t say much about the product itself and its specifications, while it’s still under development, I’d like to share some insights about the use of sketchnotes in the process.

Visual Product development 2

Apart from the obvious advantages of having a visual record you can refer back to while in a meeting as well as after the meeting, I also find the visuals useful as a focusing device, and as an indicator of progress.

Visual Medi

Once people get used to the fact that I happily doodle along  while they’re talking, and only occasionally add one of my own observations or ask a question, it’s quickly established that a lull in a meeting either stops my pen entirely, or sends me into a crosshatching trance on some minor detail.

Visual Product Development 1

On the other hand, progress makes my pen fly, and spurs my imagination, so I will quickly add lots of new associations to an idea when the conversation is focused on results. So I find people generally more focused when I take visual notes.

You can find the full set of visual product development sketchnotes here.

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Thinking visually

Last month I had the pleasure to attend the inaugural meeting of vizthink Berlin, a spin-off of the Hamburg-based group of visual thinkers, graphic recorders and graphic facilitators. The meetup was organized by social entrepreneur Wiebke Koch, and moderated by Zackes Brustik and graphic artist Naho Iguchi. Naho also provided a brief overview of the history of graphic recording, which I captured in the image below …Graphic Recording: A Brief History

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Teaching with images

In January, I was asked to give a 4-day seminar on the history of videogames at SAE Stuttgart (on account of my former life as a videogame researcher). I decided to use ask the students to use the flipchart in the classroom to record the class, and because there were only 4 pages left, the record needed to be very tightly condensed. However, I think this constraint made the result even better, as it nicely captures 50+ years of videogame history. You can find the Flickr set hereVideo Game History

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Earlier this week, I was at the WAN-IFRA Youth Engagement Summit in Warsaw. I had a lot of fun doing the graphic recording at the conference and at the award ceremony for the World Young Reader Prize (Flickr set). There was a lot of interest in my drawings, and pictures immediately started going up on Twitter,  so I decided to share some of those tweets with you.


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