Every semester I facilitate a short workshop in the basics of visual communication. The goal of the workshop is to get some practice in visualizing ideas and discussions in real-time. This has proven to be a very useful skill in interdisciplinary team work because it forces at least one person in the team to listen, synthesize and visualize the research and design process in a meaningful way.
Visualizing as embodied understanding: a making practice
This post is under making because I consider visual facilitating a form of understanding that is not merely text-based, it’s the kind of shared understanding that emerges through the making of artefacts that are visible, tangible. What happens in these workshops is that understanding of concepts and interpretations of ideas are ‘kneaded’ through by transforming them into drawings, rather than developing them through -only- verbal expression or text.
What this workshop is all about
What I cover in this workshop is which basic elements can help you organize the information visually, and to get in some practice on how to translate concepts to images quickly, to build a personal visual vocabulary. From there the participants can pick it up in their day to day work, and refine their drawing skills as well as their speed in visualizing ideas and concepts in real-time, but also as reflection afterwards. I often have only 2 hours to do this, barely enough to scratch the surface, but the bit of extra confidence it generates in the participants’ is enough to explore and practice it further on their own account. I am recently also developed a workbook and workshop format to extend the reach of the workshop beyond the 2 hours, to 4, 8 or 16 hours.
Sources and resources
The work of Bigger Picture has been really helpful. Their video describing the 7 elements of graphic facilitation has helped to structure the topics covered in the workshop. I followed a masterclass with Martine Vanremoortele from Visual Harvesting and what I try to bring to the workshops I teach is her philosophy of listening, and being ‘neutral’ and aware of interpretations. And secondly her exercises in building visual vocabularies have been a great influence.
Tinkering with techies
I made an excursion to another HvA location to give a workshop tinkering to students of the minor Intelligent Environments. These students, mostly from rather techy backgrounds like Software Engineering, Game Development etc are quite a different target group from the design & humanities students I’m normally used to at the MediaLAB.
Objects as interface
For this workshop we took the better part of a whole day, and worked in multiple iterations to let students think about alternative interfaces, playful interactions and how you can work with objects as interface. To understand the important role the design of an interface plays in an any interaction. The students were asked to find an interesting – or boring – object and take it as a starting point to come up with a playful installation. To let the meanings, connotations and affordances the object embodies be leading in the kind of installation you will build. I found it very useful to have a number of show and tell rounds – with a gaming expert even! – to help the students improve their ideas and ways of executing them. Although the creative process was somewhat out of the comfort zone of some students, they all made tremendous efforts and progress in the course of the day.
My absolute favourite is this weirrrrd granny interface for a classic racing game using a walker (NL:rollator) :D
Frustration! A classic….
Tinkering alternative Olympic Games
Each semester I run tinkering workshops at MediaLAB, where we play a morning with Scratch and Makey Makey. In this pressure cooker style workshop, the students were asked to create playful interactive installations inspired (more or less) by the winter Olympics. This workshop is all make and very little pre-loading of information or ‘me-explain-you-listen’. The group was awesome and went nuts programming their own audio feedback, or even visual interfaces with customised avatars. Costumes were designed and tributes were paid to the olympic rings. Real nice. I was very surprised how the loose theme of Olympics resulted in all kinds of fresh playful games and exercises. In previous tinkering workshops, I’d used prompts to create games too, but somehow the results were not so defined and coherent then. Interesting. Some favourites:
Make-do robots: what you can do with stuff
I developed this bug version of the well-known vibrobot for a street event in Zoetermeer. The starting point was to create a little electronic object made of readily available materials, preferably recycled, that is easy to put together for kids so they can teach it to others and make it themselves (from stuff they can actually get their hands on).
Making vibrobots is perfect for this! Many people around the globe make tons of similar bots, and they’re great and all very different. This one looks like a bug and I called him Bert, he even sounds like a bug.
Making as a street activity
Bert is made of paperclips, clothes pegs, AA batteries, a miniature motor, a screw (or preferably a wire connector, turned out to be safer), two wires and electrical tape. It was tested in Zoetermeer as one of three street workshops before it was presented ISEA (International Symposium for Electronic Arts) in Istanbul this fall. Emöke Bada, Inge Ploum, Berit Janssen, Kristina Andersen and I worked on various make & play events for the workshop we ran in Istanbul. Download the manual here (Dutch for now). Here’s an impression of this and other street workshops.
Vibrobert was shown at ISEA Istanbul 2011 as part of the workshop Weird/Wonderful Street Fair and was nominated for Bacarobo 2011. Zoetermeer (NL), May 2011