Bethesda resident Barb Siegel walked up to the 4-by-10-foot white paper fastened to a wall in Somerset Town Hall with four markers wedged between the fingers of her right hand.
As community members voiced their concerns Jan. 28 about the more than half-mile sidewalk proposed for the “Green Mile” in Chevy Chase, Siegel took to the page, illustrating a blueprint of the conversation, complete with key words and images of bikes, trees and stoplights.
Siegel, a visual artist and a former architect, is one of about 10 graphic recorders in the Washington area who create visual diagrams of meetings and conversations as they unfold.
“This is really exciting stuff because what happens is, when you see pictures and when you see words, if you move the information around, you start thinking about it differently,” said Siegel, who started as a graphic recorder in June after a friend told her about the field.
Since then, she has been offering her services to friends as a way to practice and spread the word.
“People love it. They are always surprised at how effective it is,” Siegel said. “It just helps people focus. Our brains like to make meaning, and if you put two images next to each other, we will try to figure out what’s the connection.”
Siegel is a member of the International Forum of Visual Practitioners, a global group of people who practice graphic recording, said the organization’s secretary, Anne Leach of Joplin, Mo.
The organization was founded in 2003, Leach said, and is the only one of its kind. It allows more than 200 visual practitioners, as they are called, from all over the world — including in Brazil, France, Singapore and Spain — to stay connected and share their ideas and resources at an annual conference.
“It’s definitely a very collaborative experience,” Leach said. Members pay an annual fee to join and stay in the organization.
The organization defines visual practitioners as a people who use “visual methods to assist learning and communication between groups and individuals,” according to their Web site. Leach said about 87 percent of people are visual learners. By placing the ideas of participants on the board for the room to see, they tend to feel valued because they see their ideas have been heard, she said.
Sarah Morse, co-president of the Little Falls Watershed Alliance — which held the meeting Siegel recorded last month — said she found the chart effective and hopes to use it again in the future.
“I could see using this at any kind of board meeting where you have an issue people need to discuss,” Morse said. “I really wanted it during this meeting because I felt it would remind people that there was someone taking notes.”
Morse said she is a visual person and that she enjoyed being able to refer back to the conversation chart without having to read through all of the meeting’s minutes.
“When people ask what happened at the meeting, I can just send it out,” Morse said of the picture Siegel sent of the final product of the chart.
Lucinda Levina of Chevy Chase said she has been doing graphic recording since August. Levine, a former teacher and illustrator, said the use of graphic recording in the classroom helped her students develop ideas and concepts.
“When people see things in visuals, they tend to understand things more readily, [and] they get more involved in the conversation,” Levine said. “It just helps everybody get on the same page to literally see what they are talking about.”
Jim Nuttle of Silver Spring is registered with IFVP. Nuttle, a freelance graphic designer and illustrator who has lived and worked in the Washington area for 32 years, said he has worked as a graphic recorder for about six years.
He said he has taken on graphic recording as his dominant career, noting he does upwards of 15 charts a month — for board rooms of six people, meetings of 20 people and sometimes hotel ballrooms full of people at trade conferences. Most of his clients are corporate, and the work includes meetings about business planning, problem solving, strategic visioning and some product work, as well as government clients, Nuttle said.
Nuttle said one of his biggest struggles is keeping up with trade shorthand and jargon he is unfamiliar with. He also said he sometimes has difficulty forgetting his training as a designer and illustrator, which he said tends to give him a wider range of visuals to use while capturing the conversation.
“My tendency is, I want to make it look like a beautiful, balanced composition,” Nuttle said. But “that’s not why I’m there. I’m there to capture the information.”