The Importance of Visual Scribes in Ideation

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May 24, 2012
Thoughts by
Tyler Hagler

Visual scribes are an essential part of ideation

Some of the best work we do at Trig involves venturing out to companies and leading innovation teams in ideation sessions. I almost enjoy writing about this service as much as I do deploying it on behalf of clients and partners.

There’s almost nothing more exhilarating than being part of early-stage ideation sessions with organizations that you know have the human and financial capital to exploit the best ideas born from them. While the product design and development process as a whole can take months, sometimes years, depending on the industry and the product, great ideation sessions can provide the vision and roadmap for the product development portfolio. The ideation process itself generates multiple options for product managers to choose from as they plan the next several years of development.

From the time I entered the innovation management profession, I have interacted with many other business consultants and think tanks who also conduct ideation sessions, and I've been amazed at how these firms—many of whom are filled with individuals who inspire me in different ways—under-utilize visual scribes in these sessions.

A large component of industrial design education is learning how to communicate effectively through drawing and sketching.  We know from many scholarly critique sessions that great sketches can give ideas a competitive edge, to the degree where a poor idea with an awesome sketch can win out over a great idea that has been crudely drawn. It’s sad, but quite true, just as some companies with inferior products and services ultimately win deals through better salesmanship, marketing, or packaging.

Visual scribes pull from the industrial design discipline to quickly sketch out an idea during an ideation session. The imputed value of sketch quality simply cannot be underestimated, and it must drive us as scribes to ensure that our work outputs during sessions have a proper, balanced level of influence on our audience.  

As scribes, we have to be careful to evenly distribute the quality of our sketches during an ideation session to not overly influence the group's decision-making process. Thus, not only must we strive for a high level of communicative drawing, but we must ensure we maintain the same level of achievement on behalf of each idea expressed, almost as a lab control, so that our constituents can evaluate each idea within its own merit framework.

Great visual scribes are those who listen well and accurately communicate through their sketches, what they hear. If a scribe has done his job correctly, then an ideation team will be able to hold up the sketch as a rallying cry for the idea as they build critical mass buy-in with other teams and eventually across the entire organization. 

Tyler Hagler

As a career industrial designer and innovation practitioner, Ty Hagler has managed hundreds of new product development programs through the process of opportunity identification guided to commercialization.


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