Digiwrimo: (re)draw the routine

Tanya Lau (@tanyalau)  By day, I am usually implementing online learning initiatives at a large government agency in Sydney. At other times, I can be found exploring and experiencing life with my son, erratically connecting with intriguing people on the internet, facilitating edcontexts.org, and occasionally trying to complete a masters dissertation. I tweet as @tanyalau and blog at explorationsinlearning.wordpress.com

Lights through a rainy window

flickr photo by RichK   shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

When I first started thinking about this post, I imagined I might try to create an activity that explored the use of visuals to communicate in some sort of weird and interesting way, artistic, fun and far removed – a distraction from? – the routine, mundane writing that we’re all required to do, day to day as part of our day to day work, in the office or at home: reports, emails, briefing notes, specifications documents, forms, essays, research papers, dissertations…

Handwritten words: #DIGIWRIMO "visual" theme post[Image: DigiwriMo post header, by @tanyalau]
Doodle of words Creative, Art, Weird and some ???

[Image: DigiwriMo weird art?, by @tanyalau]

But as I started thinking about what that activity might be, my mind kept returning to a tweet from my friend Bruno – something he said when he was deciding whether or not to participate in #digiwrimo:

Handwritten text of above tweet

[Image: Bruno’s DigiWriMo tweet, by @tanyalau]

It’s been nagging at me, because it’s making me think: well, why shouldn’t or couldn’t #digiwrimo help directly with our routine or work-related writing – rather than being seen as a distraction preventing us from getting back to the *real* writing?

Words: Why Not Digiwrimo helps with job work writing?

[Image: DigiwriMo why not?, by @tanyalau]

So I started thinking about the types of everyday writing and communication that I do, and remembered some of the things I’d seen recently from people who are doing inspiring things to make these types of writing and communication more visual, interesting, engaging – and, ultimately more effective:

Words: inspiration. Nick Sousanis, sketchnoting, doctoral thesis

[Image: DigiwriMo inspiration, by @tanyalau]

Nick Sousanisgraphic novel Doctoral dissertation:

Hand drawn male head with scarf round face

[Image from Sousanis, N (2015) ‘Unflattening’ http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674744431 via Studio 99 ‘Unflattened’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5SicXrnOYU]

Hand drawn Mona Lisa

Silhouette of girl

[Images: from Sousanis, N (2015) ‘Unflattening’ http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674744431 via http://boingboing.net/2015/06/21/doctoral-dissertation-in-graph.html]

Conference sketchnoters

Image of sketchnotes

[Image: Twitter search #sketchnote, photos https://twitter.com/search?f=images&vertical=default&q=%23sketchnote&src=typd, retrieved 29th October, 2015]

Visual reports….like this example from Toby Hewitt, who reported the results of his training needs analysis as an infographic.


[Image: Training Needs Analysis infographic by Toby Hewitt https://image-store.slidesharecdn.com/fecb4066-0dec-4ec6-9a88-a3d8f4a730b8-original.png via LinkedIn status update, September 2015 https://www.linkedin.com/nhome/updates?topic=6050060917800984576&]

The question I then asked myself was:

“How could I apply or adapt this type of visual thinking to my own work-related writing to improve communication, learning, engagement or understanding?”

How could I apply this to my own work?

[Image: DigiwriMo how can I apply these ideas?, by @tanyalau]

During digiwrimo, I’m going to take these ideas, adapt and hack them to my own situation; to take a document, a meeting, a conversation, an email, tweet, post, blog comment, report, shopping list, reminder note (anything!) – routine writing or communication that I do on a daily basis – and explore and experiment with it to find new, different and interesting ways to interpret and communicate its message primarily using visuals. (Starting with attempting to sketchnote this post).

Another thing I’ve been wanting to do more for a while is to experiment, play with and explore, and use digital tools for creating sketchnotes, infographics and data visualisation. Seeing as #digiwrimo = digital writing month, I’m going to use this opportunity to give myself the kick up the backside I need to actually Do It – and to share my endeavours and experiments with the #digiwrimo community.

I will try

[Image: DigiwriMo visual thinking, by @tanyalau]

And, in the spirit of digiwrimo, I’d like to encourage you to do the same.

More visual thinking inspiration

Visual notetaking in 3rd grade:


Nick Sousanis’ experiment in visual thinking:


Thinking differently using sketchnotes:


Ideas for creating visual notes:


A story about letting go of fear and sharing ideas visually: 


Digital tools to experiment with

iPad apps for sketchnoting:


Android sketchnoting apps:


10 free infographic tools:


20 free data visualisation tools:


8 thoughts on “Digiwrimo: (re)draw the routine

  1. Thanks for your thoughts.

    While I think that having fun at creative writing has value in itself because it’s a wonderful way of expressing our human-ness, it’s possible that it may have positive side effects on the job one earns her/his wages with.

    It reminds me of this game board design I made for our med school after getting challenged by DS106 to design a game board.

    It’s a game board interface of an introduction into the new medical curriculum of our med school.

    The text is in Dutch only, never mind that, it’s the interface I’m referring to in this reply.

    • Ronald! Thanks for posting your game interface drawing – I love it! I admire how simple it is yet – instantly understandable without any need for text. And I accidentally discovered it was interactive – and in fact what you’ve done actually looks like a great way of rapid prototyping an interactive digital piece – uploading a sketch into an authoring tool and adding hotspots describing the functionality for each step. Great idea…(not sure if that’s what you’ve done here, but it’s certainly given me an idea for how to convert rough hand-drawn wireframes into a quick prototype or interactive storyboard).

      • Thanks
        I made it with MS PowerPoint and used the converter iSpring Presenter by the firm iSpring Solutions to convert the PowerPoint with all its voices and hotspots into HTML5

  2. This is a great post Tania, and one of the things I have started doing is questioning the way we default to text.

    I wrote a necessarily long email today that I didn’t send. I couldn’t send it because it was lots of text interspersed with links, and it just felt… not right. Not at all like the meeting I had just left with them where we communicated, asked questions, smiled, thought out aloud. It felt like a bad piece of communication to a group of people who were passionate about communication and creativity, as I am, yet here I was writing something that felt vanilla. Why? Why is the unwritten rule to use text. 😉

    Then there’s also that report I need to write in a few weeks. That won’t be text either now. I’ll capture the voices of others and use those with visuals to tell the story.

    When I go into work tomorrow, I’m going to take that piece of communication and delete it and redraw it instead. It’s probably not something I can share back to the digiwrimo community, but I’ll try and capture how redrawing it with some of the tools you have suggested, worked as a process. It might feel harder than writing, but if it’s more rewarding for the recipients feeling adrift in a sea of text, it’s probably worth it.

    [Note that I’m saying all this with a long text comment.]

    Comments/response forms interfaces are quite often limited to text and rethinking what our interfaces prompt us do digitally, is a good thing too.

    Are we overly text-biased? Do email and online interfaces invite us into text-only? How does this limit communication for those who have difficultly writing or spelling? How can we break that and easily encourage visual replies to emails if we send a visual-based email?

    A copy of Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening was there for me in my porch when I got home, your post on Digital Writing Month – so today is definitely a day to pay attention and take up an invitation like yours, to redraw!

    • Hi Angela, thanks so much for your reply, loved hearing the story about your email. And yes, have certainly been there myself. What is it about work-related communication that encourages – even demands – a plain, linear , vanilla text narrative? (as Yin’s own story below reiterates)?!

      Text is a hard habit to break though. Since I wrote this post (about a month ago, originally), I’ve tried to make more of an effort to incorporate more visual – to sketch or use more visual techniques to map things out, plan or communicate. It does require a conscious effort though. But starting small – even just using arrows to connect ideas in notes is something. I should start posting some of my efforts like I originally intended…!

  3. Answer to your question: Yes, methinks a majority of us are text-biased. :) We have been so schooled to think we must write because we can’t draw. I’m fortunate to have learned earlier in my professional life to break free from just writing and to experiment with graphic representations, drawing, mindmapping and others. I remember more than 10 years back when I did a mind map at a corporate meeting, and my manager cleaned the whiteboard and told me to start all over again — this time to write my notes linearly, in text.

    We can all draw or sketch or make visual notes, in our own special style, if we stop beating ourselves down. :)

    • Hi Yin, thanks for your response and story. Yes – I think you’re right…the preference for writing rather than drawing is slowly (or quickly?!) schooled out of us by an education system, society and workplaces that all reinforce the message that ‘serious’ work = text. Even doodling and sketching is condemned unless you happen to be in a ‘creative’ line of work. I was aghast at the story of your manager cleaning off your mindmap and telling you to start again! But…I guess, sadly, not all that surprised. I wonder if that is slowly changing…Do you think that manager would do the same today?

  4. This post was for me :)

    Honest, I did some tentatives in writing this month but the results have been more than frustrating. First the obstacle of the language, second to get myself understood is not easy. As soon as I write I tend to be exaggeratedly formal and long.

    Videos are long to prepare and really fit when there is action. As soon as it’s abstract like Ron example, it can’t do it.

    Drawings are cool. It’s also one of my skills and passion. I have tons of pens, paint, paper and tons of software also (in fact computer graphic _is_ my specialty).

    It just requires to have a great workflow in place and execute quickly. I think I should re-explore this path. In fact what I would like is that drawings are as easy to build as text. We still lack the right tools.

    I made some interesting breakthroughs last month. http://xapi-cop.net/zh/xapi-playground/map-of-xapi-playground/ (I did the software behind it, not the map) Suffice to build on it. HTML is dead, long life SVG :)

    Thank you, Tanya :) that was the nudge I needed to explore this again.

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