Thinking Through Drawing 2020: Drawing Changes

I was pleased to join the Thinking Through Drawing (TTD) community for their 2020 symposium, Drawing Changes, last week, and present some work on visual methods for scenario planning.

The TTD community explore links between drawing and cognition, and it was great to bring their perspective to bear on the question of how we might usefully draw the future to inform our decisions in the present.

The session was well received – here are some comments from attendees:

I was surprised by my choices and solutions.”
“It’s like drawing [scenarios] aids the process of giving permission to do the decision you really want to give attention to…”
“And drawing give us the physical cues as we draw – tension, chills, etc. Important info.”
“And you can examine the “players” as fictional characters, allowing for new insights.”
“For me the diagram is a process functional tool, this is illuminating in thinking of it in relation to decision making not just areas of charting or organising existing knowledge.”
“I allowed myself to think ‘worst case scenario’ in every area. Made me realise I would carry on even in black dog days.”
“The visual metaphors in a Gantt chart force your thinking, whereas this coaxes.”
“It made me reflect on a decision I thought was made, but I am actually still wavering on.”
“The process got me to think bigger. What started as a creative project became wanting to change a bad situation. I think the creative project is still important but imagining what I want to change is crucial.”

The symposium also featured a huge number of other valuable workshops and presentations. Among the standouts for me were Kate Mason of the Big Draw, and Sanchita Balachandran‘s comments linking contemporary sketching back to our understanding of the ancient world.

I also enjoyed a presentation from Howard Riley, emeritus professor at the University of Wales.

He has written of art as existing “halfway between intellectual understanding and sensual experience, offering some useful criteria for art which resonate with the work of scenario planners exploring imagined futures:

The notion of conceptual intrigue: the degree to which a work affords viewers fresh intellectual insights on the theme or concept to which the work alludes; and the notion of perceptual intrigue: the degree to which the manipulation of the material qualities of the work might stimulate perceptual experiences which cause the gaze to linger, and perceptual complacencies to be challenged.

Howard Riley, “May You Teach In Interesting Times

Good scenarios, plausible imagined futures which challenge our understanding of what is going on in the present and what awaits us in the future, also afford fresh insights on key themes – and working with scenarios, in workshops and conversations and collaborative tasks, is also about Riley’s “perceptual intrigue”.

As we sketch and debate, move Post-Its around on a board, or drag and drop items in a shared virtual space, trying to construct a future which challenges and enlightens us, we are also manipulating material to stimulate perception, challenge complacencies, and encourage our gaze to linger on what were previously blind spots.

As Ramírez and Ravetz write in their work on “feral futures“, the future is something we feel, interpret, and respond to aesthetically, including our acceptance or rejection of a given future’s plausibility. From huge institutional decisions to choices we make about moving house, strategy is almost inevitably about feeling as much as reason: this is the right route to go down, I believe.

Riley’s notions of “conceptual intrigue” and “perceptual intrigue” speak to how scenarios can help us to see the world afresh; and when we draw our way into new imagined futures, the benefits of visual art may compound those of foresight work.

I’m grateful to TTD for welcoming me into their community this weekend, and I look forward to sharing our visual approach to scenario planning in full very soon.

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