On Visual Documentation…


by Tim Bishop

During the first week of class this semester, a fellow student showed us a project she had been working on. For the past few years, she had taken at least one photo per day, and she shared with us a month in her life. I was immediately struck by the effect of this project, how a single image could transport one back to a time and place. I had always taken photos while traveling, but here was a visual journal of the everyday and potentially mundane. Here, a trip to the park or the movies was now an event stamped with a date, and even though I wasn’t there, I could see how the people and places could immediately spark the memory to recollect all kinds of other details about the day.

Since that moment, this semester has been a series of revelations about the importance of visual documentation. One of my favorite lessons from LiveE came from guest speaker Adam Mentor on Visual Recording 101. Visual recording is a technique for documenting meetings and discussions, but quite different from stenography. With visual recording, one combines text and illustration to re-tell a story and document what was said, and the effect on the memory can be profound; it’s that photo effect, but applied to meetings and discussions.
What we’ve learned in LiveE has become pervasive in our lives and other coursework. One instance when visual documentation came in particularly handy for me came late in the semester when my project partner and I had to revisit an idea we had abandoned a couple months prior. For a project titled Teach Us Something in 7 Minutes, we explored in some depth the concept of How Not to Give a Presentation, basically consolidating all the pitfalls of bad presenting into one 7-minute sketch. We created a mind map around the idea, bouncing ideas off each other and documenting them on the white board. Fortunately, we also did a secondary form of documentation, taking a photograph of the white board before closing the discussion.

When we were later encouraged to revisit the idea, we had everything we needed to pick up where we left off. Revisiting the photographed mind map, I was surprised how I was immediately reminded of ideas that weren’t even captured on the white board. When we recruited a friend to help us with our script, the photo helped bring him up to speed quickly and allowed us to move forward without starting from scratch. Even the emotions of the day were revisited. Nicole, my partner on the assignment, was reminded of the apprehension she felt about doing a comedic sketch, and for me, the excitement of getting on stage and doing something potentially embarrassing.

In many ways, visual documentation is an underdog form of communication in the business setting. When we fail to capture moments, whether they be meetings, discussions, mistakes, or paths abandoned, we’re doing ourselves a disservice; memory is fleeting. Capturing what works, and even what doesn’t, will not only help avoid repeating mistakes, it will help you develop a process for success. I’m stoked to be a part of a program that is blending the working styles and techniques of creatives with those of the business world. I suspect it won’t be long before these principles are more widely taught and practiced in the business community.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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