Category Archives: Tools

Why I Won’t Be Replaced by a Robot

Nowadays, everyone’s afraid of being replaced by a robot. But I figure as a graphic recorder my job is fairly safe, and here’s why: There’s no innovation without imagination. I participate in a lot of innovation processes, at companies like BMW, Bayer, and BASF, and what I’ve come to realize is that people need pictures to understand what the future might hold for them. Images spur the imagination, and make the road to the future seem more feasible.


The Grants4Apps program at Bayer is a case in point. From the start, they worked with graphic recorders, initially with my esteemed colleague and mentor Marie Jacobi, whom you can see above, working on a chart for Grants4Apps, and then, more recently, with me.

My job at the Grants4Apps launch event was to put into images the ideas that the five start-up teams had developed, and thus enable people to see the potential of their proposed products. At the same time, it was important to show how this would fit into Bayer’s corporate architecture, and into Berlin’s vibrant startup scene.

If you look closely, you might spot a robot in the picture below, but mostly it celebrates the deeply human ability to keep inventing and re-inventing ourselves. So as long as there is a need for innovation, there will be a need for imagination. Fortunately, that’s one thing robots are particularly bad at.

Bayer Grants4Apps

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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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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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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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Thinking on my feet

What I love about graphic recording is that it constantly challenges you to come up with visual metaphors for abstract concepts. Sometimes people give you really good images (such as the ‘grease’ example below), but mostly you’re on your own. Here is a selection of images from a recent gig which I am really happy with.

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A few years ago, I heard this great word: tentaclism, which describes the increasing tendency towards multi-tasking and dabbling in all kinds of professions, doing one thing, as it were, with one of your multiple arms. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a term which captures what I do so well. That’s what was at the back of my mind when I made this sketch of myself as part of a conversation with Berlin-based startup Somewhere.Tentaclism

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Putting it all together

While most of the images from the Media&Makers conference in South Sudan turned out so well they did not require photoshopping, I wanted to create composites of some of the small format images to create more cinematic landscapes. Compositing is actually an art form in itself, so it required quite a lot of trial and error, but I am quite happy with this one.

Media & Makers: Juba Composite

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