The history of Graphic Recording
The first complete account of the history of popular visual methods!
Graphic recording has gained a lot of importance in events, conferences and meetings, and stands for innovative events and change design. However, not everyone seems to understand what this method really is, nor where it actually comes from.
So you hear again and again things like "drawing lectures". Or "this new discipline" (quote Illustratoren Organisation). It is certainly the case that some people have only recently started to perceive graphic recording as new.
Which doesn't make it a new discipline.
- Is it known that Graphic Recording came into being from 1972 onwards?
- That the first Graphic Recording learning workshop took place in 1980?
- That the international professional association for graphic recorders will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2020?
To understand Graphic Recording in its many forms today, it is worth taking a look at its history. To visit as Executor (i.e. as a provider of Graphic Recorder) or as a client (i.e. as a graphic recording buyer) to properly assess and understand the methods, this history is important. That is the intention for this article.
Due to the length of this article, a brief summary: Graphic recording is an interactive practice for working with groups. It usually involves visualizing on large-format paper walls. The method grew out of Graphic Facilitation in the 1970s on the US West Coast. A network of consultants and process facilitators had been inspired there by designers and architects. They used active questioning and large paper walls in problem solving and project work. Since the 1970s, Graphic Recording and Visual Facilitation have developed into a broad spectrum of principles and creative practices and spread around the world. It has evolved in several waves, beginning with learning directly from the pioneers and continuing with newcomers without auditing. The last decade in particular has seen a massive increase in the use of graphic recording.
This paper traces some of the early influences and strategies, how influences from psychologically influenced facilitation, storytelling, collaborative practice and other approaches to managing group processes were integrated. Visualization is now a professional field in its own right, the field of work of "visual practitioners" - stemming from the roots described above in facilitation, process facilitation, and organizational development. As this paper shows, therefore, visualization does not historically stem from illustration or the creative field. It is a consultation and interaction tool for groups and meetings, although today conferences are often accompanied by graphic recording. However, the professional field has changed due to the influx of illustrators, especially in Germany. There is currently a great opportunity here to learn from each other.
The wild '70s...
David Sibbet is one of the founders of graphic recording and is still active in the scene today. In his readable book he describes Review his look at the historical development. But this is by far not the only source of historical information on the development of graphic recording. This article is the first German-language contribution that evaluates numerous accessible sources and therefore shows where graphic recording exactly comes from, what has been done with it since the 1970s and who were formative pioneers on the way.
The San Francisco Bay Area was (as it is today) an intellectually rich, innovative, and creative environment in the mid-1960s and '70s, with people from numerous fields advancing to new levels of thinking and understanding. Whether in architecture, film, social change, the beginnings of computer science and artificial intelligence, many people in these fields were working on ways to help others collaborate and learn more effectively.
Facilitation began to emerge in the 1970s and is best translated as 'process facilitation', as the often used term 'facilitation' does not fully describe the activity. facilitation emerged as a separate field of work from arbitration, mediation and negotiation as the need for impartial leaders of group processes became increasingly clear.
At that time Peter Strauss and Michael Doyle, two former architects, founded the consulting firm 'Interaction Associates' (IA). They published a work entitled "How To Make Meetings Work" - at the time the seminal "yellow bible" for the emerging field of facilitation work. They were inspired by research in education and social change. In particular, they were inspired by a project then funded by the Carnegie Foundation called "Tools for Change" and the creativity work of the Stanford Research Institute (SRI).
Then there was Geoff Ball and Doug Englebart of Standford's SRI at the time. They had been working on a project called "Augmented Human Intellect" for years. Geoff wrote a paper called "Explicit Group Memory." In it he proved that of all the interventions you can do with a group, hanging a large picture works best. This is because it is visible, clear and visual to all.
This is what led Peter and Michael from IA to call their method of creating visual documentation in meetings and groups "Group Memory". They changed their method from doing it only via flipcharts, but started to build teams of "Recorder" and Facilitator - two roles for one activity. So that's exactly what is still the core of Graphic Recording today. That became their preferred way of working with groups at the time.
What the two of them were interested in was working with group dynamics and group thinking. So they formed facilitator and "recorder" teams at that time. They found that people learned best when they could focus on one thing at a time; that is, when they could work in a logical sequence. Today, in the 21st century, we know (hopefully) very well that multitasking doesn't work. This was also Peter & Michael's insight back in the wild 70s. The following quote describes their visual approach to supporting learning and group interactions:
"The human brain is essentially a massive parallel processor. But for a group to work together, the group brain needs to be a serial processor. The group memory is the consciousness thread that is used to keep the group focused on working on one thing, and working on it in a logical sequence. Group memory is the stuff you post on the walls or otherwise collect where everyone can see it. It is where you keep all comments, ideas, discussion, agreements, thoughts, votes and decisions, so each person can see what we're talking about now."
[Group Memory: How to Make Meetings Work, Doyle & Strauss]
Back when Peter Strauss and Michael Doyle had settled in San Francisco with IA, there were other people experimenting with the merits of visual approaches.
Also from Stanford, Fred Larkin, an art and philosophy major, began developing tools to support the new visual experiments. He fashioned a fixture out of pegboards and a wall scroll that held block paper up to 16 feet long (the kind butchers used at the time). Later, Larkin actually made a career out of moderation technologies. Another former architect, Joe Brunon, created an approach called "Generative Graphics." In this, he used the quick drawing stroke that architects have, far from design. After his architecture career, Joe's work focus was social change and he combined that with the large image formats of architect plans.
These were the first early pioneers. Note both the roots and the achievements of this time: process facilitators met architects - met education and change workers - met research from psychology, brain research. They recognized that a group "has a collective memory", this can work best sequentially, and ideally is mapped visually.
In the midst of this creative whirl, a young new face came on the scene, David Sibbet. In 1972 he was working for a leadership development organization called the Coro Foundation, which was moving into a new office. In the office next door was Interaction Associates. David became passionate about IA methods. In his work, he wanted to become the training director of a public affairs leadership program for the Coro Foundation. To do that, he wanted to create a comprehensive picture of how a city government really works.
And for that purpose he wanted to borrow Fred Larkin's wall paper holder one afternoon. Instead of using the small, approx. 65 cm wide paper strips of the IA method, David Sibbet decided to use a large panorama format. In doing so, a new way of working may have been inadvertently created!
From that first exciting afternoon, Sibbet started what he then called "Group Graphics" - which is now Graphic Recording. Group Graphics® is a registered trademark of Sibbet (although there was some debate as to whether Geoff, Fred or David coined the term first). He continued to learn from the pioneers around him and explore the new ways of working with his students. He schooled himself in systems thinking, did a Masters in Journalism where he learned to ask questions, listen and storytelling. These are all still essential components of Graphic Recording.
During all this practice, David also invested in a theoretical background. One day in 1976 he met Arthur M. Young, who was teaching at Berkeley. Arthur had developed a framework called "Theory of Process". David merged Visual Thinking with Process Theory and in the late 70s developed what he called the "Group Graphics Keyboard", a kind of vocabulary and grammar for visual language. This is still included in good graphic recording training courses today. It's based on not looking at images as static artifacts and structures, but also including the process of how the graphic is created and needed to understand it. So he started to include everything when using visualization.
"Sibbet recognized that the power of group memory could be increased substantially by adding a specialized set of icons or graphic images to the structure sketch. Sibbet, who had both strong artistic and conceptual abilities, developed a series of templates that could be used to structure ideas".
[Geoff Ball, former SRI Explicit Group Memory Researcher]
Finally, in July 28-30, 1980, he held his first public workshop on Group Graphics (co-led by Sandra Florstedt and Geoff Ball) with 20 participants. This event is now considered the first graphic recording training ever held.
Venue of the first Graphic Recording training in 1980 at Fort Mason, San Francisco (Photo: Mathias Weitbrecht in Sept. 2017).
David Sibbet published the handbook "I see what you mean - A Workbook Guide to Group Graphics" on the occasion of the first training. the first book about Graphic Recording. I have a copy from that time. It's still one of the best sources for learning graphic recording decades later, along with trainings. David coined the phrase "Helping people see what they mean" as a core benefit of visualization work - helping people "see what they mean".
Another visual innovator of this time to be mentioned here worked in Great Britain. We are talking about Tony Buzan, the creator of mind mapping. Buzan's method is a fresh alternative to the outdated linear education system that teaches you to start everything in the top left corner of a page... Mind Maps instead start from the center and take advantage of the human brain's natural tendency to organize things in branching patterns.
The 80s consulting boom
In the late 70's, early 80's there was Jim Channon, initially a member of the US Army. My friend George Pór, a world-renowned facilitator, met him in those years, as he met David Sibbet, Bob Horn and others. George tells me that Jim developed a map for the Army with 1,500 points of information. The Army needed something to get a handle on the increasing complexity. To do that, Jim developed a visual language that he applied to the aforementioned map. Despite the 1,500 data points, the visual work did not overwhelm the viewer. Later, Jim left the Army, authored a comic book called "The First Earth Battalion" - a visionary exposition of how an army can be used to regenerate the Earth. Later, Jim attended the Esalen seminar center on the US West Coast to study the Human Potential Movement - an emerging combination of psychology, therapy and consciousness work that decades later gave rise to the global Mindfulness movement, among others.
Jennifer Hammond Landau and Suzanne Bailey should also be mentioned. Jennifer attended one of David Sibbet's early workshops and then went on to see to it that visualization was included in the conferences of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) showed up. And Suzanne trained numerous people in graphic recording and graphic facilitation. The aforementioned Bob Horn was a participant in the first workshop in 1980 and is the author of the standard work Visual Language. In 1999 he spoke at the Annual Conference of the International Forum of Visual Practitioners.
Image: Bob Horn, visualization pioneer of the first hour, with Mathias Weitbrecht, 2018
Furthermore, there was Nancy Margulies. She started visualizing in 1984. Nancy worked a lot in corporate visioning sessions and over the years developed her own approach, "Mindscaping". She is also one of the early practitioners of the World Café and worked directly with Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. Later, Nancy was one of the first to begin offering visualization "remotely" as well, via the Internet, e.g., split screen. Her first book, "Mapping Inner Space" was published already in 1990, as well as several subsequent works in the years after.
Graphic recording and visual facilitation experienced a boom in the 1980s. This was triggered by the fact that the field of moderation and facilitation experienced a great wave of demand. Why? Businesses and government agencies needed to find ways to get more and more employees working together more effectively. The niche of visual consultants was a good fit.
The company mentioned above, Interaction Associates (IA), which had helped to create and define the first facilitation approaches, was now active worldwide. Large recording teams were assembled to support them in their projects. By the end of the decade there were a growing number of graphic recorders active both within IA and as independent contractors.
In all of this you can see the wealth of influences that have contributed to graphic recording. Those who worked with it back in the 1970s and 80s were very successful from the beginning. They had big clients because they worked mainly in strategy. By the way, this later became the complex but highly efficient field of Strategic Visualization.
A development in waves
In the several decades since graphic recording has existed, it has evolved in several waves. From the inventors to the early adopters, to the international phenomenon, to today. A today in which numerous practitioners do not learn Graphic Recording, but simply get started. With all the consequences.
But more on that later. First, let's take a look at the aforementioned development in waves: Not all, but some of these waves, by the way, were very aptly visualized by Christina Merkley in 2007: This is an informative visual of the genesis of Visual Facilitation - from which Graphic Recording emerged:
The above image of the waves of development of Graphic Recording and Graphic Facilitation is by Christina Merkley. It only covers the history up to 2007. What would be the wave at which today's development stands? (Download the image in high resolution here)
The following waves were so aptly first described by Kelvy Bird described.
The 1st wave - 1970s - the "inventors": During these years, the pioneers and method-setting inventors of Graphic Recording, as described above, were working: David Sibbet, Jennifer Landau, and founders of The Grove Consulting. ...
The 2nd wave - 1980s: Jim Channon, Matt Taylor, Brian Coffman with MG Taylor Corporation (Colorado, USA)
3rd wave - 1990s - the "early adopters": In the 90's people became Visual Practitioners who had studied and worked with the pioneers and initiators. As a result, the field continued to grow in the US. And not only that - in these years the first facilitators started to work with it in Canada and in Europe. Primarily, they worked with it in the practical work of management consulting, organizational development and change design. Non-profit organizations and social change projects also began to benefit from Graphic Recorders working with them.
4th wave - 2000s - the "Early Majority": In these years, one met people who had still learned quite practically from the previous generations, - that is, had enjoyed a "direct transmission". While the "analogue" application was still predominant (working on large wall surfaces), the first attempts to integrate digital technologies began. And the first practitioners began to work as graphic recorders in Australia.
5th wave - 2010s - the "Self-Directed Majority": During these years, especially from 2015 onwards, many people began to just "get started" without the direct transmission. They taught themselves about the practice, using books and videos published by those who had started in the first four waves. In time, almost the entire rest of the world joined in: Central and South America, the Middle East, India, Africa, Asia.
A global community of visual practitioners
By the 1990s, many graphic recorders were already on the road. Two of them from the early IA days, Leslie Salmon-Zhu and Susan Kelly, found that they could almost never talk about their work. After all, graphic recorders are usually out on their own. So they approached others and held their first Community Gathering in 1995. 17 graphic recorders met in Occidental, Northern California, near San Francisco.
Since then, these meetings have taken place every year, have become global graphic recorder industry meetings, and are groundbreaking for the scene of all visual practitioners. Within a short period of time, an official professional association for graphic recorders, visual facilitators and visualization practitioners of all kinds grew out of the meetings: a global association named International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP). A volunteer, rotating board runs this organization, holds conferences and online meetings each year, maintains a good website, and offers numerous other member benefits. Conferences have already been held in the USA, Germany and Denmark (EuViz). In 2020, the 25th IFVP Conference will be held, like the first one, also near San Francisco.
The International Association of Facilitators (IAF) has also represented the interests of visual facilitators, including graphic recorders, since the 1980s.
In the 1990s, The Grove began publishing and selling visual templates called Graphic Guides® on a large scale. This led to another boom in visualization methods including graphic recording. For those who had otherwise always been shy about drawing could now hang visual templates on the wall, fill them in with a group, and work in a visually supported way. A number of important techniques thus became visual: scenario techniques, strategic vision work, decision-making and feedback rounds in groups, etc.
Another boom for graphic recorders came, also in the 90s, with the emergence of participatory methods, especially World Café and Open Space. Working participatively means involving everyone in a group, and thus achieving a better result than if there is only one or a few speakers. Graphic recording can make these voices visible in real time, reflecting directly back to the group and thus creating group coherence.
This is also where the connection to the combination of several participatory collaboration methods, the practice called Art of Hosting, was born.
At the end of the 90s, technology began to enter the field of graphic recorders. They were excited about the advent of powerful scanners, later digital cameras, etc. to duplicate their recordings and offer their clients more ways to use them. The Apple iPad, now with numerous visualisation apps, started to play a role for Graphic Recorders in 2010. Today, digital graphic recording is established and widespread.
Graphic Recording and Visual Facilitation have also been studied scientifically time and again and their effects confirmed. One example of this is the research work of Martin J. Eppler (University of St. Gallen).
In 2012, the term "sketchnotes" appeared for the first time, coined by Mike Rohde. Sketchnotes are visual notes with a personal focus in a small format. Definitions of Graphic Recording that occasionally circulate in this scene are "Graphic Recording is Sketchnotes in large" or "Sketchnotes are the little sister of Graphic Recording". Neither is correct. Attitude, skills and focus are very different. The term Sketchnotes has been around since 2012, Graphic Recording since the late 70s.
Today, the sketchnote scene and the visualization scene are getting closer and closer to each other, sometimes practitioners of both disciplines meet at visualizer meetings (such as the European Visual Practitioner Gatherings, see picture above) or Sketchnote meetings (like the International Sketchnote Camp). In 2018, Nadine Roßa and Visual Facilitators published the first Sketchnotes online course in German.
Learn Graphic Recording
Currently there are hardly any well-founded Graphic Recording trainings. The standards and quality pioneers here are the GR training of The Grove, San Francisco, and the GR training of Bikablo established. These recommended, and certainly most well-founded offerings worldwide are taught every year. Furthermore, a few established practitioners who have learned Graphic Recording themselves from the pioneers or the second wave offer occasional advanced training. So the offer is very thin.
But that's not why so many newcomers and career changers are teaching themselves graphic recording or just getting started these days.
The reason is usually a misperception or reperception of the Graphic Recording method. The assumption that it is primarily about the image, about drawing. That illustration and drawing skills or training would suffice. For decades, however, other skills were in the foreground of Graphic Recording: process competence, listening, group dynamics, etc.
Therein lies a great opportunity. Graphic recording is changing. The new entry of illustrators in recent years also brings beautiful opportunities of learning from each other. Facilitators are learning to draw better. Illustrators are learning facilitation skills and attitude. All offer graphic recording, and all know the historical basis of graphic recording as a facilitation-based method.
The development in the German-speaking countries
In the German-speaking countries, too, several pioneers shaped the establishment of Graphic Recording from the 1990s onwards. Reinhard Kuchenmüller and Marianne Stifel (Visuelle Protokolle®) are to be mentioned here, who developed a method in the early 1990s in which concise, emotional core statements and moments were recorded in meetings and seminars and supplemented with a picture. They preferred to work with small individual pictures in A5 format.
The facilitator Holger Scholz and the visualiser Martin Haussmann began a fruitful collaboration in 1997 under the name Kommunikationslotsen, and made Graphic Recording known in Germany. The ideal combination of process support and visualization brought Graphic Recording and Visual Facilitation into numerous important change projects. They also developed numerous products such as templates, learning maps etc. as well as a sophisticated learning curriculum for facilitation (Communication Guides) and visualization (Bikablo®).
Anna Lena Schiller (Riesenspatz) was one of the first to document large-scale conference hall stage talks via graphic recording. Whether it was the internet conference re:publica in 2010, or many others before and after - Anna Lena Schiller visualized. She is the editor of the anthology "Graphic Recording" (Gestalten Verlag) with examples of work by numerous colleagues.
Sabine Soeder has been active since around the mid-2000s. She involves people in her graphic recording and facilitation work in a very interactive and participatory way, so that they co-create the results. She is very bespoke in her process design, facilitation and consultancy work for workshops, events and large transformation programmes - and always visual. She now works with a highly professional European network.
Myself, Mathias Weitbrecht, started in 2005 with initially mainly strategic visualization, then later under the name Visual Facilitators with the complete spectrum of visualization: today we are able with a large team of visualizers and facilitators, projects with change consulting, facilitation, graphic recording, strategic visualizationtarget images, change maps and even Explainer Films (which actually happens with large engagements, where everything is booked one after the other in the course of a longer project).
Holger-Nils Pohl is a pioneer in creating high value with the simplest representations and has created significant training and interaction formats, especially in the Agile and Scrum world. He created the iPad app WorkVisual (2016-2019), which was considered the very first pure graphic recording app. It offered a simplified user interface and a screen mode for full-screen broadcasting despite parallel work in the app.
Around 2010 there were a few dozen practitioners in Germany practicing Graphic Recording full time. Almost everyone knew each other, the graphic recorders emailed each other with jobs they couldn't do, there was a shared enthusiasm and mutual support.
Graphic recording is a widespread practice in Germany today. This is also due to the fact that illustrators have discovered the activity for themselves. This started on a larger scale from around 2012-2013, with a current peak around 2019. In the perception of some German-speaking pioneers, this went hand in hand with an expansion of modes of expression (visual styles), a drop in prices (as illustrators usually charge different daily rates) and a loss of quality (as the process focus that is inseparable from the method became less integrated).
Around 2016-2017, the Illustrators Organization started to mention Graphic Recording more often. They also published a reference to Graphic Recording in their fee book. The prices (daily rates) for Graphic Recording in their middle and upper mentions are certainly halfway correct. Many illustrators in German-speaking countries (but far fewer in other European countries) have started to offer graphic recording as well. Nevertheless, as this article shows, the method remains unalterably a process-oriented (rather than image-oriented) practice.
Graphic Recording requires numerous significant skills as a first priority, long before drawing skills come as a skill. The book "Co-Create! The visualization book" a whole chapter. There are a few examples in which the graphic recording skills, the facilitation attitude, the origin of graphic recording described in this article are outstandingly embodied, such as the former illustrator and now successful graphic recorder Malte von Tiesenhausen.
In 2019, there are several hundred graphic recording providers in Germany, but not all of them offer it as a main job or full-time.
In 2013-2014 the "Graphic Recording Netzwerk Berlin" was formed in Berlin, a group or almost community of friendly graphic recorders who cooperate closely. From 2016 onwards, a group of German-speaking graphic recorders, mainly with an illustration background, met under the name "W28 Branchentreff". The meetings in Cologne, Hamburg, Vienna, Munich etc. very skilfully bring together a part of the German-speaking scene - but are so far almost without networking with the global scene (see above, IFVP, EVP etc.) and their partly decades-long work results.
In Switzerland Ursula Arztmann (Innovation Factory), who began working with visualization as early as the end of the 1990s, should be mentioned as a pioneer. Early on, facilitators like Daniel Osterwalder began to offer and train the visualization technique in projects. Daniel's uniqueness lies in offering a skilful combination of facilitation, design thinking and graphic recording.
In Austria is as a pioneer Markus Engelberger who, as a "visual catalyst", has "Closing the Creativity Gap" as his mission today. The company VerVieVas has been offering everything from graphic recording to explanatory film since 2011.
Guido Neuland, from the company Uncharted Territory, manufacturer of office furniture, seminar supplies and Metaplan pinboards, recognized the potential of the increasing number of visual practitioners from around 2009 onwards and serves their need for material in the best possible way. Graphic recorders and visualisers around the world work almost exclusively with German Neuland pens, which leave nothing to be desired in terms of visualisation. After the international "Neuland Ambassadors®" have been sharing tips and knowledge around the world as brand ambassadors since 2016, the "Neuland Toolmasters®" have also been available in German-speaking countries since 2019.
PowerPoint has long since passed its zenith. Graphic Recording is a way to work more effectively with groups and in meetings. that this works and how it works has evolved over the nearly 50-year history of Graphic Recording. Many special people, many professions and backgrounds, and a lot of practice have contributed.
The history of graphic recording is important. Especially at a time when its use is expanding, new variants are being added, and the number of practitioners is increasing. The decades-old definition of what graphic recording is often remains unknown or diluted.
As a customer (purchaser of graphic recording) it is important that you do not only follow the term "Graphic Recording". Because if you have multiple quotes on hand offering this same term, there is often something else behind it as delivered. It is advisable that you question what the focus of the provider is and if this fits your goals. You now know the history of Graphic Recording after reading this post, and with it the power that this visualization practice can unleash: Graphic Recording, when used correctly, can contribute to transformational moments in a group, meeting or discussion, supporting change. That's what it was invented for.
But what do you need? Sometimes simple pictorial documentation is enough, sometimes the aforementioned transformational implus is desired - and there's everything in between. There are vendors for everything, but the history and decades-old definition of what graphic recording is are important to vendors and clients alike.
As a performer (provider of graphic recording) knowledge of the roots of graphic recording is essential. The field of work is expanding, many providers from different backgrounds are starting to visualize, some with training, some without. As a provider, I can be aware of the incredible variety of skills it takes to execute Graphic Recording well. I can take advantage of the great potential to learn as an old "GR root" (facilitator) from newly growing "GR fruit" (illustrators) - or conversely, as a newcomer, visual illustrator, learn from those who are excellent at connections, networking, information hierarchy and organizational knowledge. Learning from each other is the key. Then a new awareness of what graphic recorders have to give to the world can emerge. History is part of this.
The story of Graphic Recording also explains why Visual Practice works and what it can contribute to the world today: a real building block to solving the world's pressing problems. However, the more facilitation, systems and process focus is involved, the more so. A large-scale example of this is currently the work of Otto Scharmer, whose Social Change projects and Theory U touch hundreds of thousands in over 160 countries, thanks in part to visual support.
When I spoke at the top of the story of five waves so far in which Graphic Recording has historically developed, this can become the sixth: Graphic Recording as a global practice to help see global challenges more holistically, raise consciousness to a higher level, and support change for people, purpose, organization, and planet.
Christina Merkley - The History of the GRaphic Recording Field (PDF)
David Sibbet - A Graphic Facilitation Retrospective (PDF)
Susan Kelly - The Benefits of Using Graphic Recording / Graphic Facilitation (2005) (PDF)
And the future?