know that the language in which I work is the
way human beings encode thought. We don’t
imagine in words but in images; we can only
The imperfect nature of my strokes makes the
big paper human and touchable. In a lively meeting, the big paper demands collaboration, correction, and controversy. Its value is in the moment
it crystallizes, and in the passage of time and
thought it chronicles, and in the connections it
makes. It becomes a member of the meeting in
its own right.
With digital camera technology, I can record
and download the big paper on the wall almost
instantly, so that every meeting member takes
away a record, a map of the ideas traversed.
It’s worth noting that the big paper transmitted
digitally—though a duplication of what everyone
has seen—remains interpretable. It is a tool of
lateral thinking and new, better, wilder, more
focused, less rigid, or simply different thought.
Post-meeting ideas spring out of the big paper
when it’s exposed to a broader audience, and its
good effects continue, weeks after it was recorded.
More graphic facilitators with sophisticated
abilities distilled from new infographics and
graphic design are emerging from many disciplinary backgrounds—architecture, illustration, journalism, and business—so the field is in an undefined stage that is still fresh and flowing.
What are my medium’s shortcomings? Because
the paper records hand strokes, calligraphy,
icons, and purely graphic shapes and tones,
it doesn’t respond to a digital search. Ideas in
shape and color aren’t searchable until handwriting recognition reaches a much more advanced
level. It’s currently possible to notate the big
baper’s image after the fact with referencable
hypertext, though this requires an extra, time-consuming step. Though these hypertext interpretations are searchable, there is the danger of
fixing them too narrowly and losing the evocative nature of graphics that suggest nonlinear
associations. One of the “killer apps” of the
next decade may be a graphic recognition and
archiving program that can search both handwriting and drawings.
Big paper on the wall is artful, not art. It
doesn’t concretize ideas; rather, it exposes them.
One of the most important things big paper
records is the participation of the meeting atten-
dant who saw it being created. What is on the
big paper is what was discussed. Is there something that should have been said? Some connection that should have been made? Was there an
objection that some dissenting voice should have
registered? The big paper is a reminder to every
member of the meeting, evidence of the meeting’s success, and of any failure to change the big
paper. In this way the big paper’s image encourages continued interaction and follow-up.
Big paper on the wall gives the graphic facilitator scope—on that broad field a gifted recorder
can use the tools of iconography, calligraphy and
information architecture to map the flow of group
thought and decision.
Paper, invented in China in another millennium, became commonly available to working people only in the 18th century. I tape big sheets of
it to walls. My other tools—markers, chalk—are
old and simple. The only cutting-edge materials
I use are fresh visual language, a knowledge of
group dynamics, and contemporary business and
meeting process awareness. What I create is a sea
surge of words and colors and shapes. I believe
my medium is the most important tool of collective thought in the continuing Age of Innovation.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS Christine Valenza has
been a strong contributor to the growth of her pro-
fession. She was one of the earliest facilitators to
connect learning styles, meeting dynamics, and
visual thinking in graphic recording, and to trans-
late ideas into graphics as active catalysts for cre-
ative and strategic thinking in meetings. Her evocative art has
helped many corporations make fresh, innovative decisions.
Valenza is the co-author, with Nancy Margulies, of the award win-
ning book Visual Thinking; Tools for Mapping your Ideas. See more
of her work and understand more about the art of her communica-
tion at www.christinevalenza.com.
Jan Adkins is sometimes called the “Explainer
General.” He uses illustration and words to trace
the shortest, simplest, and often the most entertaining route to understanding. He’s written and
illustrated 40 books—most of them non-fiction—
and hundreds of articles for mainstream magazines. For nine years he was an art director at National Geographic
explaining everything from Soviet space shots to deep-diving submarines. In both text, image and graphic design he expresses simplicity with graceful style. Learn more at The Jan Adkins Studio;
July + August 2009
Valenza and Adkins are cofounders of Visual Thinking Labs.
© 2009 ACM 1072-5220/09/0700 $10.00