Drawing out insights… with visual scribing

Do you need to help people understand something complex in a short amount of time? Do you have a pen? Try visual scribing!
Three women in a class about how to do visual scribing.

Belle Hogg teaches a class on visual scribing.

Belle Hogg has been visual scribing for government for quite some time now.

What’s visual scribing? It’s the practice of transforming abstract content in to simple, easy-to-understand drawings.

Libby Heasman from BizLab and Nick Ellis from the Public Sector Innovation Network sat down to pick Belle’s brains. We learnt how she got into visual scribing, her top tips, and how she scribed the launch of Innovation Month 2020. Check out our chat with Belle on YouTube.

Key innovation principles

  • Simplicity is powerful - visual scribing turns complex concepts into simple images.
  • Everyone can draw, especially people who swear they can’t.

Top tips

You really should watch our chat with Belle for the whole chat (as well as some examples of Belle’s work), but we’ve pulled out her top tips and principles to get you started. (For extra credit, you could practice your visual scribing by visually scribing the visual scribe talk!)

Before the event

Don’t go in cold. Grab whatever information you can get about the event you’re going to scribe. If you’ve got an idea of the topic, let’s say it’s a talk on budgeting, do an image search for ‘budget icon’. See what is used to represent a budget.

More tips:

  • Research the speakers.
  • Ask for speaking notes.
  • Collect a bank of useful icons.
  • Decide on your structure.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

At the event

It’s go time. When you’re starting out visual scribing, try to do it at the back of the room, or on paper where people aren’t watching you directly. If you do find yourself on stage, think of it like a theatre performance. Belle has a history in theatre and dance, and says when she’s on stage she’s playing a character who’s here to get a job done.

More tips:

  • Leave unconscious bias at the door.
  • Draw event name and speaker profiles before introductions begin.
  • Theme information as you’re listening.
  • Use line drawings – don’t aim for perfection.
  • Use different lettering styles.
  • Emphasise key words.
  • Leave space to add bits later.
  • Write words and draw later, if necessary.

After the event

Depending on the purpose of the visual scribing, you might want to touch up a few things before you share it. Belle suggests that this is where digital tools really stand out, letting you colour and highlight things after the fact.

More tips:

  • Colour and highlight.
  • Stay true to the original meaning.
  • Change anything that doesn’t make sense.
  • Turn a mistake into a unicorn, if you can’t erase, (you’ll have to watch the video).

Read more

See also

The Public Sector Innovation Network (PSIN) was an Australian government network helping public servants understand and apply innovation in their daily work. PSIN ceased on 8 January 2021.

See more PSIN resources or read about PSIN on the National Library of Australia Trove archive.