A Brief History of Modern Scribing/Graphic Recording

Christopher Fuller

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Industry Insight / Story

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June 30, 2020

A brief history of one branch of modern scribing/graphic recording from 1995 to today, that focuses on how MG Taylor helped turn a democratized facilitation technique into a more personalized practice.

Graphic recording in its origins, was almost exclusively a tool for facilitators and design thinkers to help guide meetings by adding visual documentation and synthesis to strategy and visioning sessions.  Its modern roots can be traced back to the early 1970s in San Francisco, California, with the way ahead of its time consulting firm, Interaction Associates, led by two former architects, David Straus and Michael Doyle. It cannot be stressed enough how important architects are to the history and development of graphic recording and graphic facilitation, as you will soon discover.

In its early days the roles of graphic recorder and facilitator were often combined, one of the consequences of that combination (graphic recorder + facilitator = graphic facilitator) necessitated the drawings to be simple, fast, and easy to produce — therefore, a democratized approach to drawing was necessary, one that anyone could learn and do with a little practice. Because if you are an upfront facilitator interacting with a group in real-time, the graphics by definition should be very efficient.  There simply isn’t a lot of time to concentrate on how well a likeness of a character or object is when you are trying to stay two or three moves ahead of a conversation.

In its early days the roles of graphic recorder and facilitator were often combined, one of the consequences of that combination (graphic recorder + facilitator = graphic facilitator) necessitated the drawings to be simple, fast, and easy to produce — therefore, a democratized approach to drawing was necessary

This was the graphic facilitation methodology practiced by David Sibbet and the Grove starting in the mid 1970s in San Francisco, (the Bay Area has always been a hotbed of innovation on both the societal and technological fronts). Mr Sibbet is considered the godfather of graphic facilitation, having codified, universalized, and popularized most of what we conceive our its foundational principles today. He writes that he first encountered graphic recording in 1972 when the training firm he was working for moved next door to Interaction Associates and he became influenced by this emerging powerful visual facilitation tool. One of the key lasting aspects of its power is partly due to the fact that the graphics are simple enough that anyone with a little practice can learn to depict them and use them in conjunction with facilitated experiences.  When you combine the need for restraint and efficiency with the fact that most early practitioners did not have cartooning, illustration, or art backgrounds, it only strengthened the desire for a democratized approach to creating the real-time graphics.

How being of service evolves from “democratized” graphic facilitation to very “personalized” graphic recording

While David Sibbet and his fellow early practitioners on the West Coast during the late 70s-80s were developing their democratized approach to graphic facilitation that any individual could learn; MG Taylor Corp, founded by Matt Taylor (a former architect) and Gail Taylor (a former educator) was developing their own unique brand of group facilitation, first in Boulder, Colorado and eventually in Orlando, Florida in the early 90s. Their facilitation process called “DesignShop” utilized a whole team of multi-skilled and interdisciplinary people to deliver an experience designed to help organizations unleash their “group genius”.  MG Taylor made sure that their knowledge workers had experience supporting all the roles in a DesignShop (environment, process facilitation, documentation, scribe, music, production lead, etc.) and staff were encouraged to lead on many duties.  Only there was one duty that largely remained exclusive to two people, and that was the role of lead facilitator, which were the domain of founders Matt and Gail.  Although, there were opportunities to facilitate groups in smaller breakout sessions for knowledge workers, the primary in-front-of-the-room facilitation was largely handled by either Matt or Gail, or both simultaneously, by their early 90s period. Though MG Taylor did not invent the notion of separate facilitator and scribing duties (IA had sometimes used that method), they worked almost exclusively in that manner for large facilitated discussions.

With the scribing duty separated from the facilitator role the person in charge of the marker could take a few more artistic chances, really concentrating on the artwork if they chose to and inject their own personal flair into a graphic record, more so than could previously be done in the democratized method described earlier. The only thing missing was someone with illustration training, a love of art, history, trivia, all things pop culture (including, movies, TV, music, cartooning, comics, graffiti, etc.), plus “10,000 hours” of doodling practice, and the rapid ability to call up that knowledge if needed during a conversation to visually “wow” the participants in real-time.

Though MG Taylor did not invent the notion of separate facilitator and scribing duties... they did work almost exclusively in that manner for large facilitated discussions... With the scribing duty separated from the facilitator role the person in charge of the marker could take a few more artistic chances... and inject their own personal flair into a graphic record

Oh, and one more ingredient this new kind of “personality injected” scribe needed, they had to be just ignorant enough to not realize that they were “doing it wrong” by adding so many sketches, colors, mix of lettering styles, and occasionally even elaborate illustrations.

Oh, and one more ingredient this new kind of “personality injected” scribe needed, they had to be just ignorant enough to not realize that they were “doing it wrong” by adding so many sketches, colors, mix of lettering styles, and occasionally even elaborate illustrations.

For instance, did the facilitator just tell a story to the participants relating creativity to Michelangelo carving David out of a single block of stone? Then a semi-gifted illustrator and “Michelangelo nerd” who was graphic recording could make that story come to life right in front of the very eyes of the audience. By sketching not just a “bean person” (a scribe drawing tool that is a step up from a child’s stick man) but a pretty decent cartoon representation of David drawn from memory — something with a “lil’ personality” added to it.

Michelangelo's David done in stick-man and "bean-person" style.

If you have read these insights or have known about me professionally over these last 28 years acting as a graphic recorder, first with MG Taylor and later with my company, Griot’s Eye Inc., you probably know I was that person who injected their personality into their work by shoving all their myriad of influences into their scribing.  Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I do not think the personality infused scribing method to be better or more effective. The democratized approach grew out of graphic facilitation and is a tried and true method to this day for collaborative design wherein the facilitator and graphic recorder role are melded together. If you’re interested in graphic facilitation I highly recommend the Grove course.  The personality infused approach is simply a different way of working, primarily meant to allow graphic recorders to be a bit more expressive if they feel it is helpful to the participants and have the time and skills to do so. It can be highly effective due to the visual impact it can have when used with traditional graphic recording techniques.

I want to be clear that I do not think the personality infused scribing method to be better or more effective. The democratized approach grew out of graphic facilitation and is a tried and true method to this day... The personality infused approach is simply a different way of working

I likewise want to clarify that I do not consider myself the first scribe to pick up a marker and add “personality” to graphic recording.  There were a lot of people who have practiced this with real visual flair before me — some of whom I worked with, and some who I admired from afar (even emailing to one once back in the day at their cool Hawaii digs just to fan over. RIP Mr. Channon).

The advantage I had that really aided in putting more eyeballs on this craft and helped shepherd in a wave of “personality” scribing (part of the “third wave” of visual facilitation as my former colleague at MG Taylor, Kelvy Bird identified it in her excellent book, Generative Scribing), was the power of a gigantic consulting firm who had just been introduced to graphic recording as part of the new consultation process that they had licensed from my employer MG Taylor Corporation — suddenly, there was a call to “get more people like that!!”

Philadelphia 1995: The Wharton DesignShop — MG Taylor introduces big consulting to its one-of-a-kind collaborative meeting process — and graphic recording

MG Taylor introduced Ernst & Young LLP to its DesignShop process in 1995 when five partners from EY accepted an invitation to attend MG Taylor’s Wharton DesignShop at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Graduate School of Business.  The aim of this DesignShop was to gather a bunch of companies and organizations to explore, “What is the structure of the 21st Century Organization?” and to try to come up with strategies and ideas for their businesses. There were various others also in attendance at the Wharton DesignShop, such as, Carl’s Jr Restaurants and the US Air Force, but as a crew member I can tell you that most of us were a little nervous by EY’s presence and were eager to make a positive impression on them.  I remember being told more than a few times by Matt and Gail that this particular DesignShop could be really important for us as a small consulting company.

The Wharton DesignShop was hugely influential in the advancement of graphic recording because this was one of the first times that a major mainstream consulting firm was seeing live illustration and notation as part of a strategy and visioning workshop. Up until then it had mostly been utilized by forward thinking and ahead of the curve organizational development strategists working on the west coast of America. It was still very niche, even much more so than today, where it is now being practiced globally in lots of different forms.  But before I get ahead of myself thinking globally, let’s stick around in Philly where the Wharton DesignShop was being held.

The Wharton DesignShop was hugely influential in the advancement of graphic recording because this was one of the first times that a major mainstream consulting firm was seeing live illustration and notation as part of a strategy and visioning workshop.

At Wharton, I scribed that initial EY meeting alongside my mentor, Bryan Coffman.  I remember spending a good deal of the time in awe of his ability to get all the relevant content of the dialogues and in real-time connects the dots to previous ideas — while also generating visual models that helped make complex ideas much easier to understand.  I loved scribing alongside Bryan because it was always a chance to learn how to best serve the dialogue and share your unique visual interpretation in a memorable fashion.  When you’re a relatively new scribe working with someone more experienced, it’s always comforting to know that you can lean on them to do the “heavy lifting” content-wise if you ever become lost in the details. And I know I felt that way back then.  

c. 2010. Working with the maestro, systems-thinker, designer, engineer, and fellow MG Taylor alum, Bryan Coffman in Italy for UniCredit Bank

But I also recognized that I was going to have to raise my listening game significantly if I were going to continue scribing on my own. And that was the case indeed, because the Wharton DesignShop turned out to be just as successful as we had hoped at MG Taylor, and the partners at EY were impressed with the DesignShop process as a whole — specifically noting not just Matt and Gail’s facilitation technique, but also our distinctive mobile work environment system, and the live graphics.  I recall after the session shaking hands with EY’s senior partner, Lee Sage (who seemed to be the alpha among alphas in that group), and he congratulated me with, “nice job Mr. Picasso.” Even though I was wearing a nametag, and we all introduced ourselves to the attendees at the end of the meeting, I was pretty sure he had no clue of my real name. Welcome to the big leagues kid!

 I recall after the session shaking hands with EY’s senior partner, Lee Sage (who seemed to be the alpha among alphas in that group), and he congratulated me with, “nice job Mr. Picasso.” Even though I was wearing a nametag, and we all introduced ourselves to the attendees at the end of the meeting, I was pretty sure he had no clue of my real name. Welcome to the big leagues kid!

Denver 1995: The 2nd Ernst & Young, MG Taylor DesignShop — a partnership is born, and big consulting begins to take graphic recording mainstream

After Wharton the partners at EY had a pivotal decision to make, and that was whether or not to do their own MG Taylor DesignShop to work not only on internal issues, but to ascertain if the DesignShop process was something they wanted to invest millions of dollars in so they could employ it with their own clients.  If you read the above subheader, then you already know the answer to that question. D’OH! Why did I write that subheader? I hate spoilers! Ever since I watched the Usual Suspects by myself on TV, and my mom walks into the living room and says: “Have I seen this before?  Oh wait, I have seen this before” pointing to Kevin Spacey’s character, “he turns out to be the bad guy!” — little did we know

As fate would have it, the partners at EY were interested enough in our DesignShop that they wanted to do another one, this time of their own. For me, this next event was even more intense than the first because unlike at Wharton, I would be scribing on my own, without the comfort of Bryan scribing beside me because he could not attend this event.  Even so, I did my best to hide my nervousness from the rest of the team and laughed off any thoughts of anxiety.  For instance, prior to that DesignShop we were sent a group email (to my first email address “twitaman” @aol dot com — very professional) stating once again how important this event was going to be, and at the end of the message the team was asked to respond with what we planned to take away from the experience in Denver.  I responded that I planned to take away, “the hotel towels.” Thankfully, one of the axioms of MG Taylor’s DesignShop process is, “If you can't have fun with the problem, you will never solve it”, which is probably why Matt and Gail did not decide to bench me off the team for flippancy.

Prior to that DesignShop we were sent a group email... stating once again how important this event was going to be, and at the end of the message the team was asked to respond with what we planned to take away from the experience in Denver.  I responded that I planned to take away, “the hotel towels.”

Personalized graphic recording helps to make an impact on big consulting

Remember the story I wrote about earlier stating the difference between democratized graphic facilitation and personalized graphic recording, wherein I pointed to the example of scribing Michelangelo’s apocryphal David story during a facilitated discussion?  Gosh, I wish someone was scribing this to help with the group memory.  Well in any case, here’s a visual recreation.

1995 — An inspirational metaphor is brought to life. Matt and Gail leading a discussion, while I scribe, what turned out to be a very momentous dialogue with the partners of Ernst & Young

I believe it was on day 2 of the event where Matt and Gail were facilitating a morning dialogue gathering insights and feedback from the first day with the partners and directors at EY, when Matt used the analogous story of Michelangelo creating the sculpture of David by simply chipping away everything that was not David.  In the MG Taylor axiom parlance, this is described as, “Creativity is the process of eliminating options.” I did my best cartoon representation of David being carved from a block of stone at that moment, complete with blue Expo marker stippling for the shadowing.  I did the initial sketch in under a minute and then kept coming back to it throughout the dialogue to add related comments and also more artistic flourishes.  Because I was working on our new “radiant wall” a curved dry erase writing surface I could keep adjusting and tweaking the drawing (this was before smartphones and hence I couldn’t just Google the image for reference so I had to sketch it from memory).

This was an example of the sort of detail that most normal graphic facilitators before would not have had the time or training to add.  But since Matt and Gail were handling the facilitation duties I could continue to finesse my graphics in a manner that I knew would be engaging for the participants.  After that morning dialogue and before Matt sent the participants off to their next activity, something unexpected occurred — there was a smattering of applause for us.  I remember it because, though the team had gotten applause before (we even sometimes had DesignShops that would end in standing ovations), it felt unusual to hear a few people clapping half-way through the event on the morning of day 2.  Particularly because it was coming from a group of partners and managers at one of the biggest consulting firms in the world; who I assumed were all jaded business people who had seen and done it all in the consulting space. At that time Ernst & Young LLP had global revenues of about $6 billion.

After that morning dialogue... something unexpected occurred — there was a smattering of applause for us. Matt, walked up to me and gave me a compliment... I tried to shrug it off.  But Kelvy, always much more thoughtful and caring than I, said (I’m paraphrasing as it's been a quarter century) that I shouldn’t take it lightly and...to take this scribe role seriously.

After the EY participants dispersed from the discussion to work in their breakout groups I started straightening up the chairs and addressing the general room environment with my friend and fellow “youngest member of the MGT team”, Kelvy Bird (a pristine environment was one of the defining attributes of MG Taylor DesignShops because, “everything speaks”).  As we were carefully putting each chair in place, and probably arguing about how nice the other’s row was (an argument I always lost) Matt, walked up to me and gave me a compliment that was equally profound as it was rare. After he walked away, I tried to shrug it off.  But Kelvy, always much more thoughtful and caring than I said (I’m paraphrasing as it's been a quarter century) that I shouldn’t take it lightly and that I should likewise remember to take this scribe role seriously.  She stated he had given me something to strive for.  I believe it was because of that compliment from Matt, and Kelvy’s advice that I really started thinking about the inspirational effect a scribe could have on a group. It is what I later formulated as a graphic reporter’s fourth responsibility and role and why one should even do this in the first place, and that is: to be an inspirer.

4 key roles & responsibilities of real-time visual storytelling

That whole DesignShop turned out to be very inspiring for the partners at Ernst & Young because it was at that event when they decided to bring Matt and Gail’s facilitation process in-house.  On day 3 of the demanding session, at the end (after we eventually were given that standing ovation by the participants), Lee Sage, the alpha's alpha, senior partner at EY stood up and hoisted his champagne glass in the air announcing that EY would form an alliance with MG Taylor.  He declared they would learn how to offer the DesignShop process to their worldwide clients and use it to attract new business.  Lee also stated that they would educate and train their staff and contractors in everything MG Taylor did to deliver a DesignShop.  I remember him distinctly making a quick listing of everything they planned to duplicate, “the facilitators, the moveable walls, the kit and caboodle, and” gesturing to me he pronounced in a loud voice (I think that was the only volume he operated at), “we’re gonna make a bunch of our own Mr. Picassos!”

It was at that moment, that I was 100 percent sure, he had no damn clue or care as to what my name actually was. Welcome to the big leagues kid!

Lee Sage, the alpha's alpha, senior partner at EY stood up and... declared they would learn how to offer the DesignShop process... and... they planned to duplicate, “the facilitators, the moveable walls, the kit and caboodle, and” gesturing to me he pronounced... “we’re gonna make a bunch of our own Mr. Picassos!” It was at that moment, that I was 100 percent sure, he had no damn clue or care as to what my name actually was. Welcome to the big leagues kid!

Graphic recording enters the mainstream — and a whole lot of “personality” gets injected into the craft

And from that instant on, everything was different in that section of the world of graphic recording and graphic facilitation. How do I know?  Because I know what it was like before that moment, and I was there to witness everything that occurred after that moment.  After that moment EY really did make good on its promise to replicate the MG Taylor experience (in my youthful hubris and naiveté, I actually was a little skeptical that it would happen) and they quickly began using MGT to help educate and train new facilitators and introduce staff and contractors to all the roles (none of us  got a good night’s sleep for at least 2 years).  And more importantly from my standpoint, they were going to look for a whole lot of new graphic recorders.

A good deal of the great graphic recorders (reporters) and graphic facilitators that I admire today got their start either directly or tangentially from MG Taylor’s DesignShop process being adopted by Ernst & Young as the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE), and then later CapGemini Consulting

A good deal of the great graphic recorders (reporters) and graphic facilitators that I admire today got their start either directly or tangentially from MG Taylor’s DesignShop process being adopted by Ernst & Young as the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE), and then later CapGemini Consulting when EY sold its practice to Cap. Then from there, all the other various consulting practices big and small that were influenced by MG Taylor processes. Scribes like my friends and supremely talented colleagues Peter Durand of Alphachimp and Brandy Agerbeck of LooseTooth were two of the first artists to be brought in to work with the brand new ASE.  The most excellent Liisa Sorsa and Disa Kauk of ThinkLink Graphics (the "Queens of the North") were introduced to graphic recording by my former mentor at MGT, Bryan Coffman when he met them working on a project as a facilitator for their employer at the time, Bell Canada, in the early 2000s.

MG Taylor came to England to do the inaugural DesignShop event for Ernst & Young, which I scribed in August of ‘97 (I will always remember the date because the night we landed, Princess Diana died in that horrible accident)

And after MG Taylor came to England to do the inaugural DesignShop event for Ernst & Young, which I scribed in August of ‘97 (I will always remember the date because the night we landed, Princess Diana died in that horrible accident) a seed was planted in Europe that spread from country to country as the graphic recording practice branched off into different places — ushering in a whole lot of distinct styles.

In all likelihood the next most influential moment after scribing was initiated into big consulting in ‘95 happened due to that seed MG Taylor planted in England.  That was years later when the genius graphic artist, Andrew Park, founding father of Cognitive Media, produced the first whiteboard RSA Animate explanation video around 2009 that launched a whole other branch of scribing by incorporating video. Andrew was introduced to the craft when he was recommended by a staffing agency looking for an artist to work in the new ASE in Luton, England. Andrew believed at the time he was going to be working for some guy named, “Ernest Young”. “Ernest Young” turned out to be “Ernst & Young” and Andrew began his career as a visual facilitator at that ASE we kicked off in 1997. With Andrew, the world of graphic facilitation gained one of its brightest, most innovative, visual thinkers.

And there are other MG Taylor descendants by way of the ASE that came along and are having an unbelievable impact on the craft. Like the amazingly talented Fern Lecuna in Australia who first became involved in this work through the Sydney ASE.  The incredible, Alfredo Carlo of Housatonic in Bologna, Italy got his start in graphic facilitation working in Cap Gemini’s ASE system.  There’s Drew Dernavich, a renowned illustrator and cartoonist for the New Yorker and other publications who is also an amazing scribe (one of the most talented people ever to perform this as a “side hustle"). Drew got his start in the Cambridge ASE which MG Taylor once owned. Another immensely creative scribe to emerge from the Cambridge ASE, that I worked with during their beginning years is Tara DuLaurence. I will always remember scribing a dialogue with her when she was still learning (but already impressive in my opinion) and she muttered to me that she was "so nervous" to be working alongside me. I told her she was doing fine and then asked if she had ever done dual scribing before. She whispered, "yeah, but they were hacks." Tara, you my friend are no hack. I hope you continue to share your talents with the visual facilitation community —  I look forward to collaborating with you again someday.

Matt Sullivan is a wonderful artist, creative thinker, visual problem solver and also a world class scribe — Matt came out of the Chicago ASE. Speaking of the Chicago ASE, Nate Daily and Monica Eager both came from that center and are accomplished scribes among their many other facilitation talents.  Bruce Van Patter, a master illustrator and graphic designer who creates terrific infographics and is also a dynamite scribe (and an old school film fan to match me) was recruited by Bryan Coffman to learn the craft.  Lucia Fabiani in Milan, Italy, whose work never ceases to astound me, started with the ASE — bravissima! Diane Bleck of The Doodle Institute is a very polished graphic facilitator who began work in the ASE, and she is helping to train a whole new generation on basic scribing skills. Sue Shea, Heather Klar, Nora Herting, and Heather Willems  were all gifted scribes in the New York ASE network, before beginning their entrepreneurial ventures. Alicia Bramlett is one of the most creative minds and nicest people I have had the joy of working with — and in addition to being a world class scribe, she has elevated the MG Taylor “knowledge wall” to an art form (during a DesignShop the knowledge wall acts as a continually evolving gallery, and visual information hub for the participants).

Sita Magnuson of dpict, who in her formative years worked a lot with Kelvy Bird, is now an incredible graphic facilitator and systems thinker — I can recall years ago when her father, Axel, part of the MG Taylor “knetwork” of knowledge workers told me about his adolescent daughter who was “really smart” and he thought would make a “good scribe” — an understatement if there ever was one.  And it has been terrific to see the growth of Leah Silverman (currently the IFVP treasurer)  who got her start working as an assistant for former ASE network member, Peter Durand, because she has become a terrific graphic facilitator. Equally as impressive is the growth of Sunshine Benbelkacem, whom I worked with early in her career in the Cap Gemini system — Sunny is now not just a world class graphic facilitator but also president of the IFVP board. The nextgen team at Ink Factory Studio based in Chicago are doing incredible work in the graphic recording and sketch-noting space. Ink Factory is led by three former CapGemini ASE scribes, the very talented, Lindsay Wilson, Ryan Robinson, and Dusty Folwarczny. I see y’all out there, doin’ big things. Much respect.

And I would be remiss to forget my fellow West Coast ASE trained scribes, Amy Ho, Wyn Wilson, Julie Gieseke, and Judy Chang, who are all skillful graphic recorders and visual facilitators in their own unique right. Sonia Sawhney Puri is a gifted scribe working in the Bay Area. Sonia started her career working with 8Works under the tutelage of former ASE scribe and dynamic visual facilitator and designer, Phil Ritchie. 8Works was started by some former ASE facilitators who learned MG Taylor methodology in the original Ernst & Young Luton, England center. 8Works has since become a division of Oliver Wyman (I think "Oliver" and "Ernest Young" are in the same line of work).

Today, I am witnessing another huge expansion of the craft. This time in Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Today, I am witnessing another huge expansion of the craft. This time in Asia and the Pacific Rim. Tikka Hun of TakTik Visual Solutions in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is a phenomenal talent (I had the pleasure of working with her in Europe on a project back in 2013 for Maurizio Travaglini’s company, Architects of Group Genius — their work keeps the MGT torch burning).  Tikka began her career as a scribe working for the Cap Gemini Paris ASE, but then travelled back to Asia to build up her own network. I also met a few extremely talented scribes based in Asia and the Pacific Rim at a gathering of MG Taylor influenced facilitators and designers: Jihyun Lee, is a phenomenal talent based in Seoul, South Korea; Rachel Dight and Kathryn Baulch, are both based in Australia and I was blown away by their digital scribing; Agalya Ooviya, lives in India and is a talented scribe in the Cap Gemini ASE network; and terrific visual facilitator, Tim Hamons of Art of Awakening, who is based in Singapore informed me that one of his earliest introductions to the craft was an assignment with Cap Gemini ASE alum, Fern Lecuna of Sydney, Australia.

And then there is the incredible work in Asia (among other places) being championed by my dear friend and old co-worker at MG Taylor the brilliant Kelvy Bird (the person that reminded me it was not just a job to scribe, but an important responsibility).  Kelvy, along with her equally brilliant frequent working partner, Jayce Pei Yu Lee, from Taiwan, are helping to foster what I believe is a new renaissance in graphic facilitation by emphasizing systems-learning to apply the power of scribing as a “social art” to help address societal dilemmas, like climate change, human rights, women’s issues, racial inequality, and much more.

That’s merely a few of the awesome talents that I have personally met and know somehow connect to the MG Taylor branch of scribing either directly, or through an entity that was influenced by MG Taylor, that is helping to take this craft to new heights and in new ways that I never dreamed of.  I know I likely left out some really great people, so please forgive me. It truly is mind blowing to consider how far this branch of the MG Taylor planted seed has grown when I step back and think about it. The democratized style that emphasized uniformity so that any facilitator could use “group graphics” to document learnings and share insights with a discussion team evolved into something different, but equally impactful.  Back in the day, if you looked at scribing, you might have a difficult time distinguishing different personalities involved in its creation — because it was meant by design to be very efficient, lest the graphic embellishments get in the way of capturing the dialogue, it was a democratized approach.  But now scribing styles and approaches are all vastly unique incorporating a great deal of visual panache that was not regularly evident in the democratized form.  Nowadays, the biz has a lot of personality. And I love it!

Personalized but still unified by undergirding principles

Even though the graphics involved with scribing have evolved from a democratized approach that emphasized efficiency and simple visual clarity to also include a more diverse group of personalized style choices, that were not a regular component of graphic recording prior to MG Taylor’s influence, I believe that the best scribing is still unified by foundational principles and commonalities.

The what, the why, and the how — 3 scribing models from Griot's Eye

The first principle domain of scribing is “the what” it is a scribe does. And that is: listen (without bias); synthesize (through creative exploration of convergent and divergent ideas); and share (being of service by sharing your unique talent). I refer to this as, "The Three Mindset Principles of Scribing."

The next model addresses “the why” there is a need for scribing. Note: this model pertains more specifically to graphic recording (“reporting”) than graphic facilitation because graphic facilitation includes the added responsibilities that come with being a lead facilitator. “The why” a scribe exists is: to be a reporter; to be a mutual educator; to be a visual modeler; and to be an inspirer. I refer to this as, "The Four Key Roles & Responsibilities of Real-time Visual Storytelling." To me, personally, this job feels like writing stories, more expressly, visual "songs" that tell a story in real-time.

Last, “the how” one scribes are the fundamentals that unite a lot of the disparate personal styles visually that you see today in graphic recording and even some graphic facilitation.  “The how” is demonstrated through the use of: annotation; actors; frames; relationships, titles & subheaders; and placement & flow. Most graphic records (the actual leave behind synthesis from the graphic reporter and graphic facilitator) usually comprise the majority of these elements. I refer to this as "The Six Storytelling Fundamentals of Graphic Reporting."

The What, The Why, & The How of Scribing — Graphic Recording's Wheel of Fortune!

Democratized + personalized = modern scribing

Thus, it seems today we live in the best of both worlds. One wherein scribes express their individual personalized styles, but also adhere to some unifying principles. And that adherence to basic principles is, in a way, very democratic.

The modern story of visual dialogue — a graphic history from ‘08 by visual facilitation pioneer, Christine Valenza

The graphic below is “The Modern Story of Visual Dialogue” a history of graphic facilitation, and it was created by one of the earliest practitioners in the field, the marvelous, Christine Valenza, a true innovator in the graphic community. Christine and Nancy Margulies', Visual Thinking: Tools for Mapping Your Ideas was one of the first books I bought off of a new internet site called Amazon back when I was still working with MGT.

This hand-drawn graphic (done with a big roll of white paper at least 20’ long) is a timeline history, marking milestones in the evolution of graphic facilitation that she has been updating for many years. This is the version she showed to me in 2008 at a conference of visual facilitators in San Francisco. She pointed out my name to me and I was shocked she was familiar with me (it’s next to the Malofiej Awards & Summit in the 90s) but honestly, I think, it could have been any of the people I mentioned here.  I would love to see an updated version of her timeline because I am certain she would have added a lot of the names I shouted out in this blog.  I trust too, that she would have added the MG Taylor process and the ASE to the timeline, because that really did plant a seed that is still continuing to grow and influence the community of visual facilitation.

Christine Valenza's 'The Modern Story of Visual Facilitation'. This version is from 2008.

I feel proud to be a member of this growing visual facilitation community.  And blessed to have been the person with the marker in hand working with Matt and Gail when big consulting decided to acquire their unique brand of facilitation and offer it to the masses, hence bringing personalized graphic recording along for the journey. Though I believe serendipity was involved and any of my talented artist colleagues could have been the ones wielding the marker at those critical events, because unlike the Highlander, I learned that there could be way more than just one. There were a bunch of potential Mr. and Ms. Picassos and Zir. Picassos who could have done the job.  I hope we all can continue to further this practice and cultivate more Picassos from a mixture of diverse backgrounds and cultures.

Though I believe serendipity was involved and any of my talented artist colleagues could have been the ones wielding the marker at those critical events, because unlike the Highlander, I learned that there could be way more than just one.

One of the legacies of MG Taylor, its personalized approach to scribing

MG Taylor as an organization, at least as I remember it no longer exists.  Though the Taylors themselves, even in their senior years, are still active and brimming with new and creative ways focused on bringing different groups of people together to work on complex problems through collaboration, dialogue, and modeling ideas and scenarios. If you're interested in exploring ideas addressing our current and future challenges utilizing collaborative design methods with not just Matt and Gail, but also master facilitator, Rob Evans (former global head of the ASE), then their 7 Domains Workshop this July 19-23, 2020 in Victoria, Canada promises to be a singular and powerful group experience

Matt, Gail, Kelvy, and I (about half of MGT’s “core staff” from what I consider the "glory days" '95-'97) were reunited this past summer in Bali, Indonesia at “The Happening” — an annual gathering of people connected to or influenced by the work of MG Taylor that are interested in carrying forward and innovating on its original ideas. It was the first time in 21 years that the four of us had been together in the same room. Talking together and observing the participants, it was not lost on any of us that a good deal of the people in attendance were there because of their work as scribes and their passion for visual facilitation. The graphic facilitators and graphic recorders at “The Happening” came from all over the globe, and each had their own unique style. One of the most talented scribes I met there was Steve Keast.  Steve is a former sign painter and illustrator, and he is a wonderful scribe in my belief.  He was introduced to the community by fellow Aussie, Fern Lecuna through the Sydney ASE — yet another offshoot of the MG Taylor planted personality infused scribing seed.

"Hey man, let's get the band back together!" left to right: Me (Christopher), Matt Taylor, Kelvy Bird, and Gail Taylor in Bali at The Happening

I remember telling Gail in Bali how unlikely it all seemed to me 25 years ago that this thing we did would become a normal (ok, semi-normal) part of most major consulting practices.  And I thanked her for giving me an opportunity to work in a field that I had no clue existed when I was a struggling art major just out of college and shocked to learn that my lifelong childhood dream jobs (Disney, Marvel, DC Comics — even Hallmark friggin’ greeting cards) had rejected me.  Didin't they realize I was voted "Best Artist" at Scotch Plains, Fanwood High School in New Jersey? I recall the toughest rejection came from Marvel Comics, which told me that my work was “too esoteric” and they suggested that I should “get a look at what everyone else is doing and copy that”. In other words, remove my personality from my work. I’m thankful that MG Taylor let me and others inject our personality in our work as long as we always stayed true to their mantra of respecting the dialogue and remembering that “content is king.”

I was a struggling art major just out of college... I recall the toughest rejection came from Marvel Comics, which told me that my work was “too esoteric” and they suggested that I should “get a look at what everyone else is doing and copy that”. In other words, remove my personality from my work.

Since Ernst & Young first appropriated the DesignShop process with the ASE in 1995, graphic recording has spread to most of the other major consulting firms in the world, because consultants are a lot like rabbits — they hop quickly from place to place, and there is a ton of interbreeding.  

They do get around

Therefore, if you attend a strategy meeting today at EY and Cap Gemini or any of the other big firms that over the years have adopted MG Taylor-like facilitation techniques, such as, Accenture, Oliver Wyman, KPMG, McKinsey, Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, do not be surprised if you see a scribe working there (I have worked with all of those firms at one point in my career).  You’ll most likely see a scribe there practicing their personalized graphic reporting approach because a little company called MG Taylor planted a seed 25 years ago. Here’s to all you Picassos in your own right! Write on! Draw on!

Therefore, if you attend a strategy meeting today at EY and Cap Gemini or any of the other big firms... You’ll most likely see a scribe there practicing their personalized graphic reporting approach because a little company called MG Taylor planted a seed 25 years ago. Here’s to all you Picassos in your own right! Write on! Draw on!

Epilogue

Pandora’s box...full of markers — always remember, content is king

When Ernst & Young saw me in 1995 working for MG Taylor and put in the decree to discover their own “Mr Picassos” so they could recreate the MGT DesignShop experience all over the world, it was a wonderful thing for people like me with art degrees and/or a love of visual thinking — it helped employ a lot of creative people!  I then observed the role of scribe go from being just another one of the many duties a knowledge worker undertakes (one that was given no special importance over the others — people weren’t necessarily clamoring to do the job back then when we would sign up for roles at MG Taylor) to morph into the “rock star role”.  Some people eventually even started to think of it primarily as a “visual performance.”

When Ernst & Young saw me in 1995 working for MG Taylor and put in the decree to discover their own “Mr Picassos”... it helped employ a lot of creative people!  I then observed the role of scribe go from being just another one of the many duties a knowledge worker undertakes... to morph into the “rock star role”.

And I get it. It is a visual job in front of an “audience” (participants). I realize there is definitely some pressure to make your scribing look “good”.  After all, it’s why I created this little tongue-in-cheek video featuring one of the greatest fears of a budding scribe — drawing animals for metaphors that look like what they represent. And I would be lying if I stated I was not looking to make a memorable visual impact on the partners at EY by continually iterating that cartoon of Michelangelo’s David at Ernst & Young’s first full MG Taylor DesignShop experience.  As I wrote before, everyone at MGT then knew that all of our domains of facilitation had to be at their peak if we were going to seal the deal with E&Y. But my concern today is that as scribing branches, and spins, and grows in new directions the call for “Picassos” has only heightened.  So much so, that the most vital aspect of the role gets pushed to the side.  The requirements for the role when I started were simple: Can you collaborate with others? Can you listen? Can you draw a circle? Do you look good in Birkenstocks? (De rigueur for any aspiring knowledge worker in those days.)

The requirements for the role when I started were simple: Can you collaborate with others? Can you listen? Can you draw a circle? Do you look good in Birkenstocks?

Because today, when most firms go looking for new scribes the first thing they tend to want to know is whether the person can draw.  Thankfully, all the people I listed above who I admire have backgrounds somehow connected to MG Taylor through the ASE or through members of the MG Taylor diaspora like Bryan Coffman and Kelvy Bird, and therefore know to stress content and listening above merely making a visually pleasing composition.  Though they all produce beautiful creations in their own personalized ways, they all make sure to tell dynamic visual stories that report the content well.

If you consider yourself a graphic “performer” first and foremost, then you may be missing the collaboration background (like in an MG Taylor inspired network such as the ASE).  So I urge you to always remember to look first to honor and serve the dialogue or presentation by creating a clean and concise report based on unbiased listening. As Kelvy once told me years ago, this job is important, you should take it seriously.

If you consider yourself a graphic “performer” first and foremost, then you may be missing the collaboration background

Now, I do want to be clear that I am not discounting the importance of the visual "performance" and the want of stylistic flair and a look of professionalism in your work. I currently am enjoying Heather Leavitt Martinez's book on lettering (Lettering Journey) because I realize I want to "tighten up my sh*t". But form really does follow function in graphic facilitation and graphic reporting.  So always recognize that the real function of this is not to create performances, but to report stories — visual stories, mostly in real-time. You can add to your graphic documentation after the content if you must, but you want to strive to get the content as-it-happens.  Then, if you need to add any extra graphics and personal stylistic choices, such as icons and color, that can be added right after the session has ceased.

But form really does follow function in graphic facilitation and graphic reporting.  So always recognize that the real function of this is not to create performances, but to report stories — visual stories

If you want to learn more about scribing and would like a chance to do some in-depth study of this craft with not one, but two master graphic facilitators, then you should sign up for a Learn2Scribe workshop.

If you want to learn more about scribing and would like a chance to do some in-depth study of this craft with not one, but two master graphic facilitators, then you should sign up for a Learn2Scribe workshop

The Learn2Scribe workshop is an interactive exploration of foundational theory and hands-on, practical skills-building for graphic recording and visual communication taught by me and my long-time colleague and friend, Peter Durand. Peter as I wrote was one of the very first knowledge workers that sprouted from the MG Taylor planted ASE seed. I was immediately impressed when I met him in 1996 and continue to marvel at his innovations and genius approach to the craft.

Some attendees from a Learn2Scribe workshop taught by Peter Durand and Christopher Fuller doing warmup exercises with Peter

The skills we teach are essential for people of all skill levels and backgrounds (business, education, students, government, not-for-profit, etc.) who want to have an impact on collaborative design and group decision making. I hope you can attend our next workshop!

If you want to learn more about my approach to scribing and collective visual storytelling, then be sure to bookmark my insights page and look for new posts.

If you are an event coordinator, meeting facilitator, or executive that is interested in harnessing the power of live visual storytelling at your next meeting, conference, or strategy and visioning workshop, then please contact Griot’s Eye! Let us show you how we can elevate your next event and make it a truly memorable and engaging experience that can illuminate your story to help you win over the hearts and minds of your attendees and stakeholders!

Be sure to follow Griot's Eye on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube for more information, inspiration, and examples utilizing the power of graphic reporting (recording), graphic facilitation, and visual storytelling techniques.

If you enjoyed this insight, and any of the other insights on Griot's Eye, be sure to share them with others.

If you would like to connect with graphic recorders, graphic facilitators, visual note-takers, scribers, sketch-notes, etc., working in the field to find out more about this growing community then be sure to check out the IFVP (International Forum of Visual Practitioners). This year commemorates the 25th anniversary of the organization! Join me in attending their 25th anniversary celebration conference this August 2-5, 2020 in Berkeley, California!

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