Visually mapping the system

I was recently asked to coach a group of undergraduate students who are entering the “Map the System”  from Oxford University.

 A global competition to learn more about the issues you care about and present your findings to the world.

As part of the competition, each participant is asked to submit a “visual map” to accompany their report, but there is little criteria to describe how to create the map, nor its intended role in the presentation.  As far as I have been able to determine, it is a supplementary document, which allows the students to show their creativity. Looking at the finalists from 2017, it seems most of the students took an infographic approach, or went into a full scale interactive website production.

I wanted to share a few resources that I have seen that may show some alternatives.

Truth be told I am not a master at creating or using infographics, most of my recent work has been creating visual summaries of conversations and keynotes, in the realm of graphic facilitation and recording. My ‘go to’ if asked to create a visual map would likely be some kind of sequential art, combining narrative and data with some eye catching visuals.

I have dug up some research though to help explain visual mapping and its variety and power. The landscape for visual work is expanding, and more often the discrete disicplines tend towards overlapping.  It is a good idea to zoom out and get a high level look at the space before we begin.

Having recently taken a visual leader workshop from David Sibbet, I am aware one of the best summaries of visual work is the “Map to the world of visualization” (Lindquist/Sibbet)

The first image that strikes me when thinking about a visual maps, is this amazingly rich chart on the history of nordic languages from Minna Sundberg.

~© Minna Sundberg~ 2014





Decidedly an artistic rendition, this has inspired me for both its use of natural forms, as well as providing a detailed analysis of data.

I often use trees as metaphors, and for visual maps they seem like a wealth of visual material.  Allowing for branches and growth in almost any direction, but for the scientific presentation of data there are many more templates to choose from.

This post from adiomia breaks them down well in “How To Think Visually Using Visual Analogies – Infographic

How To Think Visually Using Visual Analogies – Infographic




Using the spectrum from”charts and diagrams” to “allegories” this chart probably captures every single way information can be represented visually, and is worth in depth exploration. The spectrum from representational to abstract reminds me of an important lesson from Scott Mccleod, in which I remember as “The audience meets you half way”.  That is, your audience is willing to play along with out you representing your subject with 100% realism.  In fact, the more abstract you make an image, the more the audience is willing to see themselves in it.







Graphic Design Resources

Going Visual – Activities to practice your visual skillz.

Graphic Design Workshop

Icons to image PDF (Visual Literacy)

Visual Communication basics PDF




Additional readings

Back of the Napkin – Dan Roam

Understanding Comics – Scott Mccloud




Drawing in Research

I’m giving a webinar for the PHC Knowledge Translation Community of Practice today and wanted to jot down a few notes as a companion. Many of the activities I have included were used in my Going Visual workshops at SFU. For the sake of this session, I am revising them below. The title of the webinar is…

“Drawn to Your Research: Using Visuals to Improve Academic and Non-Academic Presentations”, will guide participants through a series of fun drawing exercises designed to amplify your visual literacy. No previous drawing experience is required, only a willingness to make your marks!

Visual Practice

I must clarify first what I will mean by “presentations”.  It could in fact be a powerpoint presentation that you are working in which, many researches would be used to. But for the sake of this session I will widen the scope of presentation to anytime you are telling the story of your research, whether that be in the boardroom, the classroom or elevator. You may in fact find yourselves presenting your research on the back of the proverbial napkin, and if so, this workshop is intended directly for you.

Drawing, and more specifically drawing comics has been making headway in academia lately. In my world of teaching and learning, we use it to help synthesize ideas for the classroom, but in the research world the audience and the time you have with them can be much more diverse, and unpredictable. Regardless of audience, there is something much more approachable about a quick doodle or sketch compared to a graph, diagram or white paper. Case in point Jorge Cham (PHD comics) and Daniel Whiteson have teamed up to bring us  We Have No Idea a collection of comics dedicated to answering some of sciences toughest problems, in a comic book format.

So many ideas, a sketchnote

Continue reading “Drawing in Research”

Drawn to Comics: An instructional outline

I had the chance last week to work with one of the SFU Educational Consultants on presenting an introduction to pedagogy for a group of Communications grad students. We took the opportunity to get out of our comfort zone.  I was lucky to work with the talented Sarah Turner, from our Teaching centre and designed an educational development mashup of sorts, combining the best of pedagogical practice with drawing and comic book design.

I guess word has been getting our around on campus as I have been pushing my going visual workshops, and offering them “on demand” for grad students and various class drop in sessions. These are typically focussed on the particulars of drawing in an educational context, and there are many directions the conversations go. For this session I was approached to do the same, but our audience in this case a young group of emergent PHD students, all of which needed ideas on how to incorporate these activities into their teaching and learning, and use them in a pedagogically sound manner.

For this workshop we wanted to go a step further than the regular Going Visual syllabus and incorporate some actual technology into the mix, that being an ipad and Comic Book app.  We borrowed this idea from another great mentor of mine, Dr. Jessica Motherwell and colleague from the JIBC Krista Lambert in a presentation they did at the Sketching in Practice Symposium this year called “Using Comics to rehearse best practices“.  Jessicas resources are openly shared and she encourages this kind of appropriation. And I really wanted to make the outline of our session in a comic book form!

I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out, and will be looking to do similar projects using this technique. It gave a chance to build a story around our session as well as convey the basic topics we were planning to cover.