Interview: Women who visualise
A few weeks ago, fellow sketchnoter Katharina Bluhm asked me, if she could interview me for her series ‘Women who visualise’ (well, it’s actually called’ Frauen, die visualisieren’ because it is in German and you can find many interesting interviews over on her blog). It took me a while to carve out the time (sorry, Katharina…) but I finally got round to answer her questions.
Below is the English translation, but if you speak German, you should head over to Katharina’s blog and read the original.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Eva-Lotta Lamm. I’m a designer and I focus on making things visual. I help teams and companies to visualise complex systems or systems so that they can look at them with more clarity and structure and see problems from a new perspective. I also teach them being more visual themselves when thinking through problems and when communicating and collaborating. I teach workshops, give talks and write to share my passion for visual language with a larger audience.
Where can we see your work / follow you?
Which tips do you have for sketchnoting beginners?
A few! And you can have a look at them online: My talk ‘5 Steps to Change your Note Taking’ is a great starting point for everybody who wants to get into taking visual notes but doesn’t know how. The talk is practical and invites everybody to sketch along and practice while watching and listening.
And to go a step further, I made a ‘Mini Visual Starter Kit’ with icon-cheat-sheets to jump straight into taking meeting notes and do your project planning visually.
What was your biggest aha-moment when sketchnoting?
Almost every time I pick up a pen to sketch and think about a topic, I have a little aha-moment. Words are great, but unfortunately, when used in traditional text-form, they are not very useful to describe systems and networks of relationships. Once you start arranging them on a 2-dimensional space though, when you start grouping and connecting them in a visual way, you start seeing relationships that you couldn’t necessarily see before. This is always an exciting moment for me.
An even more exciting moment is when this aha-effect also spreads to other people. A few weeks ago I got a beautiful compliment from a client of mine, She beautifully described this effect with the following words:
“I love the work. It just opens up different pathways in my brain. The story was already there but I just couldn’t see it like that.”
I couldn’t have described the goal of my work in a better way.
What would you have liked to know from the beginning?
What is ‘the beginning’? And at the beginning of what? ;)
The topic of Visual Thinking is an endless journey of discovery for me. It’s hard to tell when and where it started exactly and I am not sure where it’ll take me next.
I love the serendipity of it though and I am happy every time when I discover a new aspect or find a new connection between things I already knew. This process of discovery is almost as important as the resulting knowledge. It gives a depth to the knowledge and the skills that is hard to reach through shortcuts and that changes the quality of the work.
Of course there are helpful tips and tricks to pick up on the way but if you are curious, keep your eyes open and practice, you will find everything you need at the right time.
What do you like most about sketchnoting?
I love that it’s a live activity and that it forces me to work and be ‘in the moment’. Not everything I produce is n perfect, but when the talk or the session is over, it is what it is. It’s a constant exercise in improvising on paper, in surprising myself and make friends with the imperfections.
What do you like the least?
Or maybe there’s one small thing that I don’t like that much. It’s that the first question most people ask about my work is: “Which pens do you use?”
It’s a pretty boring question. Of course, when you draw a lot, you’ll develop preferences for some pens (and sooner or later you’ll find you favourites), but the more interesting question is what happens in the head and the hand when you start drawing. That’s a much more exciting question that I’d like to hear more often and first ;)
What was your most interesting, exciting or unconventional sketchnoting gig ?
Let’s say the most demanding gig…
I got hired to take digital sketchnotes at a technical conference for developers. As I’ve been working in the technology sector for many years, I felt confident about being able to capture the talks.
On the day of the conference, shortly after the first talk had started, my confidence started to shrink when I didn’t understand most of the content and detailed code snippets the speaker was presenting and I wasn’t sure if I’d get any useful kind of summary down. Luckily I could trust my structural listening skills. Even when you don’t completely understand the details of each individual piece of content, there is usually enough structure in our language and the way a speaker presents a topic that allows you, to filter out the key words and to decipher how they structurally hand together. You can still visualise these relationships without diving too deep into the details.
At the end, several of the speakers even came up to me and thanked me for my notes, being happy about having a nice summary of their talk. This was an interesting reminder that you don’t have to be the absolute expert in the room to visualise and reflect a topic back to an audience in a way that adds value through its slightly less involved but more structured point of view.
Has it happened that something went wrong and how did you react?
When I visualise for a client I usually bring my own material to avoid mishaps. It makes me feel more in control and eliminates a few potential sources of stress. But even if something goes wrong, it’s usually possible to improvise.
The biggest thing that went wrong so far was at a conference where I was giving a talk to an audience of a bout 300 people. The AV-guys couldn’t get my slides to show when I got on stage (even though we did a tech check half an hour before where everything was fine). After 10 minutes of fruitless tinkering, I decided to just live-draw my talk. I was a little bit frazzled in the beginning, but then it went really well. Having conquered a challenging situation like this now makes me more calm and confident because I know that I can rely on my capabilities even with minimal equipment and when things go wrong.
Which materials do you like best?
I like to keep it simple. Usually I use simple A4 printer paper and a black fineliner when I think and sketch on my own; or a whiteboard, post-its and slightly thicker pens to work with a group.
If my sketches are supposed to be developed into more refined illustrations later, I like using the iPad, because it makes it easy to change, re-structure and refine a drawing without having to start from scratch again.
But I noticed that I can’t really ‘think’ on an iPad. If I have to first understand a topic and figure out its basic structure, I usually do the first rough sketches on a piece of paper. It just feels like it gives my thoughts more room to develop.
What’s your favourite icon and why?
People in all variations, situations, doing all kinds of things and feeling all kinds of emotions.
What’s up next for you?
I keep exploring the field of Sketching and Visual Thinking –both through client projects helping them to visualise a complex problem or situation to open up new perspectives with and for them, als well as through creating workshops, books and other formats that help people to be more visual in their thinking and expression.
In 2019, I want to focus even more on my own projects. At the moment I am working on a German translation of my ‘YogaNotes’ book that helps yoga teachers (and enthusiasts) to capture yoga sequences with simple stick figures (even when they think they can’t draw at all). And the list of ideas of things to make is never ending… ;)