#162: The Graphic Recorders

May 10th, 2013

It starts with the hands, hands with fingers twiddling around a strand of her black hair, hands inked themselves with a delicate network of henna, brown lace temporarily stained on the skin. Writing on the hands she writes with. She wears a black-and-white scarf checked with roughly the same pattern as the two chairs stationed by the frosted storefront windows. She wears a black hoodie with ?!? as the logo, three characters written as curlicued and intricate as anything that’s on those hennaed, twiddling, speaking hands.

She speaks with her hands for a living. She does it as a business along with the smiling woman to her left with the explosion of sunlight-colored hair and, to her left, the perfectly coifed man with the checked shirt and the bit of wood stain on his own talking hands.

Lindsay Roffe, Dusty Folwarczny and Ryan Robinson are Ink Factory. They want to draw for you.

Under their hands, a white wall becomes a visual Choose Your Own Adventure of your stories, Lindsay says, quoting Dusty. Words and pictures jumble together with links creating paths through. A glance at a copy of one of the boards they created could start at “Get into law school” and take you to other dreams and goals, linked from there by sketches created in the moment to the struggles and hardships and five-year plans and before you know it you’re reading the stories of people who suffer from severe hemophilia.

Or architecture guru Geoffrey Baer talking about 10 buildings that changed the world.

Or analytics nerds talking about new ways to visualize data.

It’s jarring and familiar, this mixture of images and words and the strange inherent connections in between. It’s how a brain works.

“This is a conference we’ve done every year with hemophiliacs, severe case hemophiliacs,” Robinson said, tapping at a small re-creation of what was originally a board that sprawled eight feet high and 48 across. “Some of these conversations, both myself and the other artist were literally crying during it. There were some intense moments. They’re spilling their life to you. You’re privy to conversations that nobody’s privy to and there’s 12 people here, so it’s very intimate. People were telling their life story about that they didn’t know they were going to wake up in the morning.”

“When it’s data migration, not quite as sexy or emotional,” Folwarczny said. “But having said that you get some of those nerds that are engineer types that are really into — and I don’t mean to say ‘nerds.’ I didn’t say ‘nerds.’”

“She said nerds,” Roffe whispered.

“No, but you get those really into their — they’re not used to looking at visuals or anything — when they understand that this can be a tool for them to figure things out, they get really excited too,” Folwarczny said. “Winning over somebody that’s like ‘I need my notes, I need my Excel spreadsheet,’ I think is kind of fun.”

Speaking from their new Bucktown storefront with the frosted glass in front, the chairs that matched Roffe’s scarf, the wall of dry-erase board detailing the Geoffrey Baer talk they still can’t bring themselves to erase, the paper clouds raining lightbulbs and the stained door on sawhorses that tinged Robinson’s hand, the Ink Factory three laughed and joked about visualizing complex topics. They shared memories of sharing the memories of others.

Ryan Robinson’s background is in photography. Dusty Folwarczny is a sculptor. Lindsay Roffe is, well, she has degrees in speech communication and fine arts. She used to tell people at parties she was a graphic designer for simplicity’s sake.

So what is it they do for their clients, for WBEZ, for Exxon-Mobil, for the Golden Apple teachers award, for VW, Target, Whole Foods, Sears, the Y, for the pharma company that sponsors the yearly gathering of hemophiliacs?

“This is a newer field in general and the nomenclature for what we do is not universal,” Folwarczny said. “So there’s a couple different terms for it: ‘graphic recording,’ ‘graphic facilitation,’ ‘scribing’ and, actually I just worked with somebody from Germany and they call it ‘scribbling,’ which I think is awful.”

Roffe and Robinson chuckled in shared distain.

“Now that we’re grown up and we have Ink Factory we’re trying to popularize the term ‘graphic recording,’” she said. “‘Scribe’ is almost like slang, I feel like. It’s slang for graphic recording. The way we think of graphic facilitation is when you’re involving your input into the drawing. Graphic recording is simply just listening and synthesizing and filtering.”

There are details, of course. There’s the rarefied world of scribing and only scribing they did before Ink Factory. They were about three in a field of 600 worldwide, they said. There’s tales of being flown by corporate clients around the globe, of the three freelancers deciding to hang a shingle together in conversations that took place in Australia and Europe.

They’ve been together about 18 months. They’ve been in the modest little storefront with the frosted glass that says “You Talk. We Draw. It’s Awesome.” for about a month and a half.

It’s a story that started in a dozen different places and will spiral off to a thousand more before it’s done. This storefront, this conversation, this moment of Lindsay Roffe twiddling her hair with henna-painted fingertips is just one spot on a Choose Your Own Adventure wall of memories Ink Factory will transcribe for others.

Their story is telling yours.

It starts with the hands.

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