VizThink1: A Summary


I guess after a week I owe people a little more than one word describing the event but I think that word sums it up pretty good from my perspective.

It was an event filled with a handful of firsts for me. It’s the first event that I’ve really put together on my own from scratch – I’d done BarCampEarth – Toronto back in August of 2006 but there was already a momentum and format behind it. It was my first time sharing my interpretation and experiences with visual thinking to anyone in that much depth and lastly it was pretty much the first presentation I’ve prepared, produced & presented to a large group.

So how’d it go?

People Came
Key #1 to an event is having people show up. Although we had a few last minute cancellations (with good excuses) about 18 people made the trek out to our offices here in Berkeley castle. What amazed (and terrified) me was I actually knew very few of the people and aside from some occasional chatter online more than half of the people I was meeting there for the first time.

People Participated
The next challenge with an event like this is making the conversion from “me” to “we”. It was really important for me that this event didn’t end up being like a lecture where everyone sat, listened to me say my piece and then go home. The folks who were coming that I knew are used to the TorCamp/BarCamp style of events so I was pretty sure they’d jump right in, the rest were unknowns so I was unsure of how well the transition would happen. In reality everyone was game and the lesson I took away for any future presentations (and want to share with other presenters) is “Just Ask”.

“Just Ask” – I think it’s really the key to engaging the audience in these contexts, while it’s not intended to be a formal lecture style everyone still falls into the same patterns when there’s one person facing a different direction from everyone else. It’s your room until you do one of two things, lose their interest or invite them to contribute/participate.

For those are interested here’s the presentation:

We Networked, Chatted (& Drank)
After the presentation I asked everyone to take an index card, draw a picture of themselves, write down one word to describe themselves, and stick their name on it. We then had everyone go around the room and introduce themselves and their card. Finally, as we cleaned up and prepared for the move to the bar I asked that everyone place their card on a whiteboard I’d laid out and draw a line between their card and the card of anyone they knew before they came to VizThink – here’s the result.


I love how it turned out – while it’s certainly not on the level of the “Microsoft circa 1978” photo it’s a great moment from what I hope is the start of a new community. I was also quite happy to see there were a few people who either had no connections or just one as it means the community in general is growing. I’d like to figure out how to continue to build out this map as the VizThink events happen and watch how the community grows – if anyone has any ideas please let me know – it’s obviously going to need to be built in something like Flash etc. in order to manage it properly overtime.

Another great moment was as we prepared to move to the bar someone asked “Can we take the paper & pens with us?”. It was a great feeling to watch the rest of the night evolve as we took over a corner of Betty’s and the conversations spilled out onto the tables around the drinks. Post-it’s, index cards & pens were scattered across the tables and lively conversation was underway in each corner.

A Bit of Thanks
I do owe a few people some thanks – first off Mark Kuznicki, who “self-selected” me into leadership on the TorCamp Google Group. This event started as an idea he put into my head and likely wouldn’t have happened without his encouragement. He also served as an excellent sounding board as I struggled with where, and how, to get the group involved in the presentation.

Another huge chunk of gratitude goes to Dave Gray – it was his “Visual Thinking School”, which I attended back in September that changed a lot of things for me and made this possible. In a very cool move he also reached out to me when he noticed the VizThink event posting online and offered his help. Even though he’s completely swamped with his own business, XPLANE, he was kind enough to take some time and review the presentation and make recommendations/offer guidance. He’s a great guy who at the end of the day really just wants to see the idea of Visual Thinking spread to as many people as possible – and I’m happy to do my part to help further that cause.

Lastly, thanks to everyone who made it, especially those who had no idea who I was before they came. Thanks for taking a flyer on me and the idea and I hope you found it worthwhile and will return to future events. Sean Howard of gets the keener award for VizThink1 – I was still waking up the next morning when I saw his first post where he’d put some of the ideas to work. He quickly followed with a second, brilliant illustration/post.

It’s a question of “when”, not “if”. I’ve added page to the wiki called “VizThinkIdeas” – if you have suggestions for what we could cover at future VizThink’s please stop by and add it to the page – if you’ve got something to share and you’d be willing to step up for VizThink2 please get in touch with me. [ryan.coleman (at) gmail]

As for timing it will likely be the first or last week of April. I’ll get a page up shortly and we’ll start to lay down some plans

Odds & Ends
Nick Pagee has kindly offered to scan the toaster sketches and people cards from the evening. As soon as I’ve got them I’ll put them up on Flickr and put a post here on Found in Translation.

I’ve also created a page on the wiki called VizThinkFeedback. Please stop by and give any feedback or suggestions you may have for the event so we can help improve it as we go forward.

If you do happen to blog about VizThink or you post about something generated using something you learned at please consider tagging it with “VizThink” so it is easy to find.

Lastly, I’ve created VizThinkResources on the wiki. I’ll post the presentation materials and links I mentioned here and would encourage everyone else to add any other links or materials that you think would be useful to this page as well.