Case study: Graphics and social innovation

Case study: Graphics and social innovation

I’d like to introduce you to Jenni Inglis, MDes, MSc, FRSA. Jenni is Director of VIE (for Life) Ltd. VIE enables social purpose organisations to better involve their stakeholders in design and evaluation of initiatives in order to create more positive change. Jenni attended Secrets of Simple of Graphics back in January 2017.  Read about her experience – her reasons for attending the training, how she’s using graphics in her work now and what she has to say to people who are thinking about learning this skill.


Before Jenni attended Secrets of Simple Graphics in January 2017 she already used some graphics in her work as a facilitator. However she only used graphics she had prepared beforehand. Jenni felt this was limiting what she was doing. She has recently found herself working more and more with groups of people who might not get the most from spoken and written English. She felt that an increased use of graphics would help in these settings. The introduction session in the training helped Jenni to realise that she actually wanted to become more fluent in graphics, so that she could use them more spontaneously and draw graphics live in front of people.


Jenni found the training to be great practice in drawing graphics live in front of people. She thought it very well structured and full of tips and tools to improve the way she uses graphics. It enabled her to explore the use of graphics in different ways that she had not previously thought of (e.g. the difference between graphic recording and graphic facilitation) and to identify stretch targets for herself.


As Jenni says, ‘At the end of the course I had really caught the bug, in a good way!’. Jenni decided that she wanted to use graphics all the time in all her work – in presentations, in templates for individuals and groups, in capturing what people say, and when training – so that she could really become fluent, just like learning any language.  She gets a lot of positive feedback and the individuals and groups she works with are more engaged. To someone who is considering going on the training, Jenni says, ‘Do it! You’ll have a great day and learn a lot about how you can make your work more engaging through graphics.’ See below for a sample of Jenni’s work!              

Keen to catch the bug yourself? Book your place now for Secrets of Simple Graphics April 26th 2019

Top tips for lettering on flip charts

Top tips for lettering on flip charts

Have you ever written a list on a flipchart only to discover that, despite best efforts, your writing makes a downward curve?

Here are my top tips for lettering:

  • Write your title in advance where possible. Figure out how many letters you can fit across the page before you run out of space.


  • When writing live, add a little mark to the opposite side of the page (where your sentence will end). Glance over at the mark from time to time – this acts as a guide to help keep your writing straight.


  • Stick out your pinky! Use it to anchor your hand on the page. This works whether you are right or left-handed.


  • Using a ruler, draw lines on your flipchart in pencil beforehand.


  • Use a piece of flipchart paper with thick lines and place it behind the page you are working on. (This always reminds me of my Mum sitting down to write a letter to my aunt using Basildon Bond stationery.)


  • On that note it’s also possible to buy flipchart paper that features lines or guides to help your writing.

Remember to use plain lettering with no serifs (small lines added to the stroke of a letter like this for example) and avoid fancy calligraphic strokes. They may look pretty but they are often inaccessible to your audience.

I hope you enjoyed these tips on lettering – if you have any of your own do let me know and I’ll share them in a future edition.

For more tips and hands on practice to boot why not join me for Secrets of Simple Graphics in Edinburgh on April 26th 2019? More information and booking here >>

Three quick cheats for drawing live

Three quick cheats for drawing live

The day of reckoning has arrived.

You’ve had some training in graphics and you’re determined to put your new skills into practice. You may have offered to take visual minutes at the next team meeting or to create a visual record of a planning session – whatever commitment you’ve made now’s the time to jump out of your comfort zone and take the plunge with live drawing.

Here are a few tips to help you out on the day.

1. Draw your title in advance.

Lettering can be tricky, especially when you’re feeling nervous, and particularly if you’re not used to writing and drawing large scale. Spelling mistakes are common. Give yourself the best start by writing your title out in advance. Add a simple graphic and the date, and you’re good to go. (Tip: Sketch out your lettering in pencil and/or draw pencil lines with a ruler to keep it straight)

2. Sketch a large drawing just before the event starts

You can kick off your recording by choosing a landscap format to begin with. With a landscap format there is a large sketch on your page which then becomes surrounded by the key nuggets you are recording e.g. bullet points of text and smaller sketches. Your large sketch can be related to the theme of the event or can represent the internal or external landscape – how the room is set up or any significant buildings or features outside the room. Doing this early on (you can always copy your drawing from a smaller sketch you make on your note pad) helps to build confidence and take away the often intimidating feeling of facing a (very large!) blank page.

3. Keep your icon library at your feet

Prepare an icon library (bank of images) in advance that is specific to your event. Research themes and topics that may emerge on the day. Bring this with you and keep it at your feet. That way if you get stuck on what to draw reach down and have a quick look through your icon library for ideas.

Remember this is your gig. Do what you need to do to feel calm and in control. Making peace with your nerves is a good first step. It’s natural to be nervous; it’s a sign that you care. Breathe through your nerves instead of fighting them and you’ll feel a lot calmer.

Good luck and if you need a debrief afterwards feel free to drop me a line!

Your training questions answered

Some of you have been in touch about Secrets of Simple Graphics open course and naturally have some questions before deciding to book.

Deciding to go on a course is not as simple as being interested in the topic and being available on the day of the course. I appreciate there is a lot more to it than that.

That’s why I’ve put together this simple Q&A guide to answer any concerns or queries you may have. You’ll also hear from past delegates who shared similar concerns.

About course requirements
Q. Do I have to be able to draw to go on the course?
A. Absolutely not! Don’t worry if you haven’t drawn anything for years, or believe you can’t draw. You’re in exactly the right place to build your confidence and practice step-by-step in a safe environment.

‘You don’t need to draw to do the course – it is totally true. At the start of the day no-one wanted to do anything on a flipchart but by 4pm the pens were not for being put down! Really useful tips and tools for using in work‘
Audrey MacNeill, Administrator | Kinharvie Institute

‘I started the day convinced I couldn’t draw, but using the techniques, hint and tips Emer gave throughout the day I am now raring to go and run a session!’
Fiona Dee, Organisational Development Business Partner | Midlothian Council
Q. Is there any pre-course work?
A. No. If you have specific questions about how to apply graphics to your work do bring these on the day.

Q. Do I need to bring anything?
A. All materials are supplied on the day. All you need to bring is an open mind.

Q. Will I have to draw in front of other people? 
A. Exercises are varied and include working alone, working in pairs and working in groups. If you don’t feel comfortable about engaging in any element of the course that’s no problem at all. As with anything new there is often an element of stepping out of your comfort zone. My intention is to support people to learn in a safe environment, not to coerce people into doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable!

‘A great course!  Despite my initial trepidation, I now feel more confident about using graphics with my clients.  Emer’s patience and pragmatism meant that all of us on the course learned a lot, were able to practice in a safe environment and now have the tools and techniques to apply our learning back in the “real world”.’
Rachel Letby | Crail Consulting

About the course content
Q. Is it about graphic facilitation or something else?
A. The course is an introduction to the different ways simple graphics can be used and includes: the advantages of graphics, the four main ways of using graphics (graphic facilitation is one of these main ways), building blocks of graphics. You will get lots of tips on how to create simple images quickly and will get the opportunity to practice your skills as you learn them. The final exercise involves creating a one page piece which you may use for presentations, training or simply to explain an aspect of your work.

Q. Will you be judging our drawings?
You can be assured I won’t be judging anything! As a group we will look at what we have produced and discuss its effectiveness and application in a work setting. It may help you to know I don’t have a background in art. On the course you’ll also learn how graphics differs from art (phew!).

Q. Is it just for trainers and facilitators?
A. No. We have had people from areas as diverse as law, marketing, interior design and counselling as well as trainers, facilitators, coaches, presenters. If you are in the business of communicating you will benefit from this personal development course.

‘The course was fantastic – really inspiring and instilled confidence that you can use graphics in your own workplace – no matter what your intended audience.’
Alison Marron, Solicitor | Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

‘Undoubtedly the most fun CPD course I have ever attended!’
Dr Nicky Imrie, Training Officer | Scotland’s Urban Past 

Q. What about post-course support?
A. On the day you will create an action plan for implementing what you have learned into your work. For one month after the course you will receive a series of follow up emails to support your learning. You’ll also be able to email me with queries, questions, challenges you have regarding implementation of the course. In addition you can ask me for feedback on work you have completed or pick my brain for ideas!

About the venue

For information (including access, location, transport, parking etc.) about the Edinburgh Conference and Training venue please click here and for information about Engineers’ House, Bristol, please click here.

I hope you found this Q&A useful. If there’s anything I missed out do get in touch.

The Spanish guide to graphics

Last year I spent the month of July living and working in Spain.

Before I went I thought I’d better learn some Spanish, so I took some classes and hoped for the best.

At the end of the month I was surprised to discover my Spanish had not improved greatly.

I came back to Edinburgh and bought a book called ‘Fluent in three months’* (a girl can hope). I began to see where I had gone wrong.

I also began to see the similarities between learning Spanish and using graphics for the first time.

So here it is, my Spanish guide to graphics:

1. Find your passion.
Before I went to Spain I thought learning Spanish was a sensible thing to do. Now, having experienced life in Spain and made friends there I have fallen in love with the language. I really really want to get better at it!
The same goes for learning graphics. Where’s your passion? What’s your hook? Find it, and there’s your motivation to learn.

2. Apply a triage system to your learning.
One day I just had enough with the whole ‘esto’ ‘este’ ‘ese’ ‘eso’ etc. business. Why can’t it be as simple as ‘this’ and ‘that’?! Being frustrated with the language wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I cornered my flatmate and asked her to explain it to me till I finally got it.
Where are you getting stuck when it comes to using graphics? Are you having difficulty drawing people, using colour or coming up with icons? Spend some dedicated time working through your sticking points, and feel oh-so satisfied when you break through those barriers.

3. Have a ‘no English’ rule.
I came across a blog recently called ‘A year without English’**. It’s written by two guys who spent 3 months each in Spain, Brazil, China and Korea. They were so determined to learn the language of the countries they visited they decided on a ‘no English’ rule. Amazing!
How about sticking to a ‘no words’ rule to help you improve your visual thinking? Try to explain something to a colleague without using any words or text, just by drawing out what you want to say. I can see this being quite a fun exercise.

4. Get specific.
When I started learning Spanish my goal was ‘to learn Spanish’. No wonder I wasn’t progressing when my goal was so vague. Since my return from Spain I have made much more progress as I am now clear on my goals and my timeframe.
When I train people in graphics I always encourage them to get specific with their goals and their action plans. And by the way, ‘Practice’ is not an action plan, which leads me to my final point…

5. Speak/Draw before you are ready.
I thought I would learn as much Spanish as possible before I started to speak it. That way I would be ‘ready’ and know what to say. Not only was I not ready, I would be never be ready. In fact the more I told myself I needed to ‘be good at’ Spanish before speaking it the less likely I was to actually speak it.
The same goes for graphics. You will never be ‘ready’. You need to just do it and learn as you go along. Because learning from the comfort of your office and then trying to explain that you left your passport back in the flat (with your keys) are two very different things!

I hope you have found this guide useful on your quest to use graphics. Feedback, comments etc. welcome as always.


* Fluent in Three Months, by Benny Lewis. See