Rules of Order for Videoconferences, Part 3

The first and second posts in this series covered rules for orienting to purpose, connecting people, drawing out information, and getting closure on commitments — the first four stages of The Grove Facilitation Model. This post, the last in the series, deals with Videoconferencing Rules of Order for the final three stages: supporting action, monitoring progress, and leveraging learning. A future post will go into more detail about the Model itself. For now, if it’s unfamiliar, just think of it as a set of lenses that a facilitator can use to plan and handle group processes.

Screen shot of web-based countdown timer

Tickcounter’s Web-based Timer

Supporting Action
When the videoconference is humming along and people are embedded in the work of the meeting itself, it seems like the safest thing to do is to sit back and not mess with it. But there are still some small things you can do to make it easier for everyone to work together via video.

  1. Build in stretch breaks. It’s more fatiguing to sit in a video call than to sit in a face-to-face meeting of the same length. For every hour of meeting, build in a five-minute stretch break, with longer breaks after two hours. Set a countdown timer on a shared screen to help people return on time, and discourage people from skipping their break. (Here’s a timer for PowerPoint — I haven’t tried it, though — and here’s a web-based one that I do use.)
  2. Give participants something to focus on besides each other. Share a screen showing a visual map of the work process or other materials that are not text-heavy. Bring in a digital graphic recorder to capture the meeting in real time on a shared screen. Create a simple template in PowerPoint and complete it while the group talks. Having a visual representation to discuss and refer to helps to keep the conversation on track. People find a bit of variety stimulating and engaging, so don’t use the same technique every time.
  3. Give participants something to do. Use other tools in combination with video. Set up a shared spreadsheet where participants can take a few moments to reflect and type answers to relevant questions, or give their opinions of different options. Once everyone has had a chance to reflect and respond, use the document as a springboard for discussion. Or get everyone into a shared sticky-note board and have them create and interact directly with digital sticky notes.

After I posted the first in this series, Nora Rubinoff added some excellent rules of order in a blog post of her own that I would also classify under supporting action.

Monitoring Progress
When the group is working, the facilitator can keep the meeting flowing with light touches as they would do in a face-to-face meeting.

  1. Keep an eye on body language, but not the way you’re used to doing it. On most video conferences, you can only see people from the shoulders up. It’s easy to miss signals that would be obvious in a face-to-face meeting. Watch for signs of fatigue or distraction: looking down often, repeatedly or persistently looking away from the computer, frequent nodding without contributing, leaning the head back onto the top of the chair and looking at the ceiling, fidgeting. These can all signal that patience has run out and it’s time for a quick stretch break. Also watch for quiet people trying to break in to the conversation, and help make room for them. They may suddenly look alert, sit up straighter, or start to open their mouth and then close it again if there isn’t space to talk. Call on them by name and ask if they wanted to say something.
  2. Narrate your actions when you do something that appears to be a distraction. If you need to pull up a document, for instance, or look for a relevant email pertinent to the task at hand, say so. “I’m going to pull up the email that has our agreements from last time. It will only take a moment and I’m not reading any new messages right now.” Otherwise, your obvious shift in focus will be taken as an invitation for everyone to check their messages and the meeting will lose momentum.
  3. Bring the agenda back on screen each time an item is completed. In face-to-face meetings, we tend to keep the agenda posted all the time and refer to it throughout the process to keep people oriented and on track. With videoconferences, it’s easy to lose sight of progress because the agenda is displayed once at the start of the meeting and then never again. Instead, share it on the screen, annotating and updating it if possible, each time you shift from one topic to another. Even if you’ve sent agendas to everyone beforehand, it’s helpful to do a quick group check in now and then.

Leveraging Learning
The activities that fall under the category of Leveraging Learning are often dismissed as ‘extras,’ things that are nice to have but not necessary in our time-pressured workdays. However, they do not need to take a lot of time and the payoff in participant satisfaction, productivity, and engagement is huge. Spare a few minutes for practices like these that get everyone involved in the group’s choices and success.

  1. Take a moment at the end of the meeting for “likes and wishes.” Invite each participant in turn to share one thing they liked about the way the meeting worked, and one thing they wish for next time. You can leave it open in terms of scope or frame it so that people are reflecting on the technical aspects of the engagement. In settings where people are not inclined to speak openly about what they would like to change, set up an anonymous way to contribute, such as a shared sticky-note board or shared document. Use the feedback to adjust future video meetings.
  2. Take screen shots at various points in the meeting. Combine them with images of charts created by digital graphic recording and links to documents jointly edited during the meeting. Share this output with participants via email soon after the meeting as a visual record of their virtual time together.
  3. Host occasional pop-up sessions dedicated to reviewing the technology you use for video, shared editing, and other meeting functions. Invite interested participants to prepare short presentations of new tools that show promise, or ask volunteers to try out specific tools and report the results. Keep your group’s tech fresh by sharing the responsibility for finding, testing, and proposing new tools.

Although synchronous meetings are only a small part of remote work, they provide opportunities to build relationships and cement commitments among distributed colleagues. Using these guidelines will help you make the most of your team’s remote gatherings, bring team members closer together, and increase their effectiveness as a distributed team.

 

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , , , , , , .

Rules of Order for Videoconferences, Part 2

Last week, I wrote up a few Rules of Order for Videoconferences, focusing on reducing disorientation and on building connections with people. This post continues the list and proposes rules for having fruitful discussions and helping participants come to agreement. These ideas are pretty useful in any kind of meeting, not just videoconferences.

I’m dividing the Rules of Order for Videoconferences into the stages of the Grove Facilitation Model, shown here, in case you’re curious about my categories and where this is going. More about the model later.

Image of The Grove Facilitation Model

The Grove Facilitation Model v. 5.0. © 2006, The Grove Consultants International.

 

Rachel’s Rules of Order for Videoconferences: Part 2 (continued from Part 1)

C. Drawing Out Information

  1. Listen for understanding — not to respond. It’s natural to spend your listening time thinking of what you yourself are going to say in response. Be alert for this in yourself and try to put your own thoughts aside while you focus on what others are saying. If you’re afraid you’ll forget what you want to say, jot a quick note on a piece of paper, then go back to listening. (This is good general practice, not just for videoconferences. Read more about good listening habits here.)
  2. Ask good questions. Instead of following someone’s comments with a statement, try following with a question that invites them to say more. Or, rephrase back to them what you think you heard them say, to check for understanding. It’s often difficult to feel connected to people in video conferences. Asking good questions demonstrates that you’re paying attention and makes the speaker feel like you are really connecting with them.
  3. Be okay with some silence, especially after you ask a question. Silence can feel awkward, particularly on a video call. You ask a question and then nobody says anything, and everyone is just sitting there staring at you! So you start talking again to dispel the awkwardness. Don’t! What’s actually happening in that moment is that people are gathering their thoughts. Introverted thinkers in particular are framing what they want to say. Just sit and look relaxed and interested (even if you are privately freaking out) and leave an inviting space for others to fill. They will.

D. Getting Closure on Commitments

  1. Reflect agreements back to the group. There are lots of ways to do this, but if you’re in a videoconference, use what you’ve got. Keep a big marker and blank paper sheets handy. When an agreement is reached, write it down in large, clear letters and hold it up to the camera. (You might want to make sure your camera doesn’t reverse your image — but test with a friend, because some software shows YOU a mirror image of yourself even though other viewers see you correctly.) Give everyone a moment to read it and ask if it’s accurate. At the end of the meeting, run through them all again, then follow up with an email stating the agreements.
  2. Check for consensus explicitly. We’ve all been in meetings where the convener says, “Everyone in agreement? Yes? Great, let’s move on.” Wait, what? When was I supposed to consider, let alone voice, my level of agreement? Don’t mistake silence for agreement in videoconferences. Try introducing a simple agreement scale (see below). Ask everyone to write the scale down, or email it to them ahead of time. When you need to check for agreement, have everyone review the scale and hold up the number of fingers or otherwise indicate their level of agreement. Recall that consensus can mean no one is vetoing, though for more important decisions you might set a higher baseline of agreement.
  3. Allow responsible parties to state their own commitments. In the interest of time, it can seem expedient for one person to run rapidly through a list of who said they would do what. You’ll get more follow through if you give everyone a moment at the end of the meeting to state for themselves what they have agreed to do. It gives you a chance to address any misunderstandings or unclear action steps, too.

Two Simple Agreement Scales

Five point scale. Everyone holds up the appropriate number of fingers:

1 = totally agree

2 = mostly agree

3 = meh, don’t want to hold everyone up

4 = need to talk about it more

5 = complete disagreement

Thumb scale. Everyone holds their thumb in the appropriate position:

Thumb up: yes

Thumb sideways: not sure yet, maybe more discussion is needed, or it’s okay but not great

Thumb down: nope

The next post will cover Rules of Order for supporting action, monitoring progress, and leveraging learning. As always, remember that any ‘rules’ I share are like the Code of the Pirate Brethren: more guidelines than actual rules.

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , , .

Video Conferencing: Rules of Order

Screenshot of Rachel in a videoconferencing window

Seriously, look at the camera.

I’ve found myself in more video conferences than usual lately, so naturally I have been noticing what works and what doesn’t and thinking about why. I used to actually dislike using video in remote meetings. No matter where other people look, they seem to be captivated by something just out of view; all the social cues we get from following another’s gaze simply don’t work; and no matter how I wear it, my hair always looks really bizarre.

Despite all that, I’m starting to change my mind about using video in remote meetings. I’m getting accustomed to it and even starting to enjoy it once in a while.

However, I’ve noticed that it isn’t always used very effectively. As an inveterate fixer, I’ve therefore started to compile a Rules of Order for videoconferences. They’re nothing like as complicated as Robert’s Rules of Order, and strictly speaking they’re not even about order so much as about reducing the confusion and disorientation people feel. I’m still developing it, but here is the beginning of the list.

Rachel’s Rules of Order for Videoconferences

A. Reducing Disorientation

  1. In the first five minutes, have everyone in the meeting say hello and show themselves. This is especially crucial when some people are together in a room but not all of them are on camera at once, and others are remote. It’s very disorienting for the remote folks to hear disembodied voices chiming in unexpectedly. It’s also common politeness to make sure everyone understands who is within earshot.
  2. If some people are on camera, everyone should be on camera. If some participants don’t (or won’t) have video, at least show a photograph or other image of every speaker. The people who are actually on video will seem more present and animated than those who are not. Getting everyone on equal footing helps.
  3. Figure out where the camera is on your device and look at it when you are talking. It feels strange at first because your instinct is to look at the face of the person you are talking to. If you look into the camera, you will be making eye contact while you are speaking. If you look at their face on your screen, you will not. If you’re using a Mac, for instance, the camera is right next to the green dot at the top of your screen. Try moving the video window to the top of your screen so you are naturally looking toward the camera more, then just lift your gaze to the green dot when you speak.

B. Building Connections with People

  1. Look at your camera more than you look at your notes or at other parts of your screen, even when you aren’t talking. See A.3., above. It feels weird for you (at first) but it feels very natural to the person you are talking to. Video conferencing actually allows you to make ‘eye contact’ with multiple people at once, so take advantage of that.
  2. Take time to be social. Ask how people’s day is going, or what they did over the weekend. Really listen to what they say and respond to what you hear. It seems counter-intuitive; doesn’t socializing just waste time in meetings? In fact, everything goes smoother when people are relaxed and comfortable with one another. The few minutes you take in being social will pay off later.
  3. Have a hot drink while you meet, and encourage everyone else to grab a cup of something too. There are several advantages to this. First, if everyone is sipping some of the time, no one is talking all of the time. Second, it may actually make everyone more friendly. A 2008 Yale study seems to indicate that people who hold a warm beverage perceive others as warmer and friendlier, and are more likely to be friendly themselves. If you’ve had too much coffee already by the time your meeting rolls around, try hot water with lemon.

I’m still mulling over some other ideas. Meanwhile, what rules would you add?

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , , .

The Despondent Pit of Techno-Despair

Don't fear the Pit.

Don’t fear the Pit.

 

Have you ever been in the Despondent Pit of Techno-Despair? You know what I’m talking about, if you’ve been there. You’ve been trying to get some type of technology to work, usually in front of other people. It probably worked yesterday, or even earlier today, when you tested it by yourself, but the controls are now mysteriously incomprehensible and you’d swear they look different than they did an hour ago. Possibly a lot of people are waiting to do some very important work supported by the technology you’re fooling with. Time stretches and warps in a weird way, and it feels like everyone else is holding their breath and staring at you with saucer-sized eyes. You can almost see them thinking, “What the heck is this person’s problem, and how long is it going to be my problem too?” You start to feel like you are at the bottom of a giant black hole in the earth and the sunlight is so far away you will never see it again. You kind of wish it would just collapse on you and everyone would go away and let you die of embarrassment in peace.

Yeah. Welcome to the Pit.

I spend a lot of time in the Pit, which sometimes surprises people because I generally seem to have a handle on technology. (Generally.) But think about it: I spend a lot more time walking along the edge of the Pit than most people. It stands to reason that I’ll fall in fairly often.

So why would I keep wandering around on the edge of this scary, deep, dark Pit if I know how awful it is when you fall in?

Simple: I also know the way out.

I’ve built a ladder that I use to get out of the Pit. Rung by rung, I can climb my way back to the sunshine. Knowing this makes me unafraid to fall in, and even lets me laugh about it and take it in stride. Well, sometimes.

Here, I’ll show you my ladder. This is the ladder I’ve built for when I’m working with a group, and I’m the one having the issue.

  • Starting on the bottom rungs, I breathe and I stay calm. I can’t do anything if I’m not calm, so that’s the first thing to get under control.
  • Moving up a rung, I say oops! That is, I acknowledge there’s a problem and I briefly say what it is. This usually gives me the space to realize what’s likely going on and then I can…
  • Move up to the next rung, where I Try One Thing. Just one. The most likely one. If it works, yay! I’m out! If not, I reach up to the next rung…
  • Which is to switch to my backup plan. (Always have a backup plan.)
  • Once I’m in a stable place with the backup plan in effect, I briefly say what went wrong that made me put the backup plan into action. I describe it neutrally, remembering that the computer is really not out to get me, nor am I an idiot. I just fell in the Pit, is all. At this point, I reach the top rung…
  • And I can move on — I’m out!
My ladders, now your ladders.

My ladders, now your ladders.

 

I also know how to climb down on purpose and bring other people out with me. It’s almost worse than falling in yourself: You’re walking along with someone on the edge of the Pit, and suddenly they fall in and start panicking. They’re terrified you’re going to wander off and leave them down there (which is what happens when they encounter really bad tech support).

The temptation to cut the poor person loose can be very strong. Don’t be that guy. Climb down there and show them the way out, now that you’ve learned it.

Here’s the ladder I use when I’m helping someone else out of the Pit:

  • The bottom rung is about getting them calm. Say, “It’s okay, let’s take a moment to figure this out.” Next rung…
  • Get them to stop making it worse. Say, “Okay. Don’t click anything until we figure out what’s going on.” (If they keep clicking, they keep changing the state of the problem, and you’ll never work it out.)
  • From there, climb up to the next rung and ask them to describe what they see on the screen, again without clicking anything. Literally ask, “What are you seeing right now on the screen?” This is assuming you’re working remotely and can’t see them, of course. If you’re right there with them, you can skip this rung.
  • If what they describe gives you the answer, go ahead and say it. If that works, yay! You’re both out. If not, there’s more ladder.
  • If you can accomplish the same task another way, switch to that backup plan. (You do have a backup plan, right? You always have a backup plan.) If not, and you can easily view their screen (have them share it in a Skype call, for instance), try that.
  • Once you’re stable, either in the backup plan or because you can see their screen and talk them up another rung, explain what happened in a neutral way. Nobody is an idiot. The computer isn’t out to get anybody. It’s easy to fall in the Pit. No worries. Then, grab that top rung…
  • And move on! You’re both out.

Take my ladders with you next time you’re heading for the edge of the Pit. It really helps to have a way out!

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , .

Cleaning Chart Photos with CamScanner

One of the participants in last month’s Advanced Visual Facilitation workshop pointed me to a new (to me) app for cleaning photos, CamScanner. I’m pretty happy with the way it cleans charts, and like many of you I’m having trouble with ScanScribe as my laptop advances technologically and poor ScanScribe does not.

CamScanner is an iOS app (there is also an Android version). It can open photos from your phone or iPad’s camera, or you can take photos with the app itself. Once you get a photo in there, you can correct the keystoning (straighten the edges), drop the gray out of the background paper, brighten the image, and transfer it to your laptop for final clean-up or editing. To my delight, I discovered that I could even do the transfer to my laptop even while sitting on a plane with no internet access.

You can also create an account with CamScanner to get cloud storage for your documents, but I didn’t. You can do everything described below without creating an account.

Here’s the original photo I was working with, taken on my iPhone:

Original chart photo

A teaching chart from the AVF workshop (original iPhone photo).

 

And here’s the way it came out of CamScanner after less than a minute of work:

Cleaned chart image

The same chart cleaned up in CamScanner.

 

Get a Photo Into the App
Launch the app and either use the camera button to take a photo (I haven’t tried this with a chart so I don’t know what the results are like), or use the import button (the smaller button) to grab one from your photo roll. You can open a few at a time.

CamScanner screenshot

Adding a photo to CamScanner

 

Correct the Keystoning
If you added a single image, the app takes you to the keystoning correction right away. Match up the circles with the corners and middles of your chart and click the checkmark to save.

CamScanner screenshot

Correcting the keystoning

 

If you added several images, it looks like the app does the keystoning for you. Tap one of the photos you imported to look at it more closely. If the auto-correction is not quite right just tap Re-Edit (top right) to do it yourself.

CamScanner screenshot

The Re-Edit button

 

Correct the Color
After you do the keystone correction, the app applies Magic Color almost as if reading your mind. That’s the one that drops out the gray paper background. You can check it against the original by tapping the Original button, or play with the other settings, but Magic Color usually does the job. Sliders at the bottom let you adjust the magic, the brightness, and the saturation. Click the check mark when you like what you see.

CamScanner screenshot

The Magic Color button

 

Wait… Was That an OCR Button?
Yes, yes it was. There are several languages you can choose from, but don’t get your hopes up. I haven’t found the OCR to do very much with my hand-drawn charts.

Put Them on Your Computer
Hidden behind the More button, the app has several ways to share your photos (email, text, upload to social media, connect with apps like Dropbox, Evernote, and others, and so on).

CamScanner screenshot

Sharing options

 

If you save them to your Camera Roll, you can use Air Drop to transfer them to your computer. I was utterly delighted to be able to do this on a plane, because I needed to clean one last chart to complete a project and Photoshop wasn’t cutting it. There was too much variation in the background. Since I had the photo on my phone already and plenty of time on my hands, I decided to give CamScanner a try. It did a great job, I saved it back to my phone, and then I used Air Drop to share the photo back to my laptop in about ten seconds.

Finish Up in Photoshop
CamScanner leaves a bit of garbage behind, but it was very easy to clean up compared to trying to do the whole chart in Photoshop.

And there you go! I definitely recommend it for speeding up your chart cleaning if you’ve lost ScanScribe.

What else have you found to quickly clean charts? I’d love to explore more options.

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , , , .

Importing Custom Brush Sets – Sketchbook for Mac

This deals with the desktop version of Autodesk Sketchbook, not the iPad version. Sketchbook is now a subscription application. Only the paid, Pro version allows importing of brushes.

Illustration of Rachel's brush set

My custom graphic recording brush set.

 

Some time ago, I created a custom brush set for Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (an older version). I’ve updated the brush set and created a video showing how to import a brush set into the application.

Download my new Graphic Recording brush set for 2015.

If you prefer the older set, it’s still available here (scroll down, it’s near the bottom of the post), and it can still be imported.

Don’t unzip the files; Sketchbook will look for a zip file when you try to import the brushes. Happy recording!

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , , , .

Transforming Virtual Meetings: What Do You Think?

Last week I had the marvelous opportunity to chat with Rachel Hatch, one of the research directors for Institute for the Future (IFTF)’s Ten-Year Forecast program. Rachel is into a wide range of fascinating things including affective technologies, which are devices and systems that can detect, interpret, and/or represent human emotions and behaviors related to emotions. She also has a radical view about virtual meetings: what if we don’t try to make them as good as face-to-face meetings? What if we look at them as something totally different and make them the best that they can be, in ways that don’t map to face-to-face meetings at all? Mmm. Love it.

I’m really curious what YOU think about some of the ideas we talked about. Each of the sections below ends with a question. If you have thoughts about one or more of them, post your answer in the comments.

Attentional Proximity

Our conversation started with the idea of attentional proximity, which is people paying attention to the same thing at the same time. Rachel observes that in collaborative work, attentional proximity is more important than physical proximity (i.e., being physically near someone). She also notes that physical proximity doesn’t guarantee attentional proximity; just think of the last time you tried talking to someone next to you who was busy playing with their mobile, and you’ve got the picture of physical proximity without attentional proximity.

We talked about how challenging it is to convey attentional proximity in remote settings. The cues that we are used to depending on, like body language, gaze direction, and posture, are often unavailable in those settings. Rachel also pointed out that among colleagues she feels in tune with, she finds it easy to share attentional proximity even at a distance, and she raised the question of what might be at the core of those interactions that makes them flow so well and be so productive.

I’ve experienced this too—there are some people it just seems easy to be in sync with, or some situations where it has just clicked—and I also wonder what makes that happen or not happen. Obviously if one of us is distracted or thinking of something else, we won’t get that ‘click,’ but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to happen no matter what.

Question 1: Have you experienced attentional proximity with someone at a distance? How did you recognize it, and what do you think allowed that to happen?

Copresence

Last fall, Rachel wrote an article, From Telepresence to Copresence, about shifting the conversation around remote work from aiming for telepresence (“as if you were there”) to embodying copresence (“different from and maybe better than being there”). This is an idea that I really love as a way to reframe virtual work. She points out that using the term ‘remote’ or the prefix ‘tele’ puts distance at the center of the relationship. ‘Copresence,’ on the other hand, puts togetherness at the center.

As near as we can tell, the term copresence comes from sociology, where it describes the experience of being with other humans, either physically or otherwise (see this article by Shanyang Zhao at Temple University for a taxonomy of types of copresence). I asked Rachel to describe what copresence looks like with a geographically dispersed group or team; how can you tell when you’re experiencing it? She responded that what it brings to mind for her is having an ambient sense of who is available for shared attentional proximity, and when. She’s thinking of signals like we might see with Skype icons (available, busy, offline, grumpy, what have you), but “embedded in the surfaces of the environment in subtle ways that impact your actual experience of the space as a remote worker.”

She also sees a trend toward micro-collaboration, where people work together for very short periods of time and need to be able to shift in and out of collaborative relationships quickly and easily. This implies a need for indicators of trust (as in, how much of the company’s IP is this person trusted with) that could be supplied by some of the same technologies that deal with attentional proximity and ambient prompting.

Question 2: What do you think about the term copresence? Do you find that it opens possibilities for how we think about working together at a distance, or do you have a different view?

Reframing Virtual Meetings

I was struck by Rachel’s idea about reframing virtual meetings partly because of a response that came in to The Grove’s Five Minutes on Working Virtually survey last May. One of the respondents expressed the view that virtual meetings can’t be improved, and it got me thinking. Attempting to recreate face-to-face meetings in virtual settings isn’t a long-term strategy, I have to agree. While high-end video conferencing is a great option, I don’t think it’s the right solution for most people because I really feel that it should be possible to fully participate in virtual meetings right from your own desk. Virtual reality and holograms may eventually provide options for avatars that are even better than ‘being there,’ but right now, they just don’t.

I think we are still working on this, and I see two big groups of technologies that will help virtual meetings come into their own: hardware-based tools and software-based tools. The hardware-based tools take advantage of affective technologies by giving us physical objects that convey some of the cues we would normally get in other ways, like the ambient collaborative prompts Rachel mentions in her article, or wearable devices that signal the user with vibrations or other sensory information.

The software-based tools don’t require any additional objects and include programs or apps that support activities that can be done online as well as or better than they can be done in person. These include tools for using sticky notes card boards, collaborative drawing, polling and voting, and the like. Right now, most of them are aiming for the ‘as well as’ category by reproducing activities that would be done in a face-to-face meeting, maybe adding a few extra features, but not really breaking totally new ground. I think there’s a lot of room for really new ideas about what we can do online to support collaborative work that is simply different from what can be done in person.

Question 3: What do you think? What would you love to do in a virtual meeting that would support your work, but can’t be done face to face?

Rachel’s Seven Shifts

Rachel’s article, From Telepresence to Copresence, concludes with a list of seven shifts we should make if we want copresence to be the norm in 2025. I asked her which of the shifts she thought would be easiest to make, and which the hardest; and I asked her to say which one she felt would have the greatest impact. Here are her thoughts:

RS: Which shift will be the hardest?

RH: The first [“as if” you were there to better than if you were there] or last [pre-structured days to emergent, just-in-time calendaring] would be hardest. The calendaring thing is so deeply embedded, how we relate to time is so deeply embedded, it’s the substrate of everything. This one will be the most challenging in traditional business contexts.

RS: Which will be easiest, in your view?

RH: Ambient signals of availability might come on line pretty quickly because of the pace of change around the internet of things and networked smart objects. We’ve seen a lot of Kickstarter campaigns for things like the TapTap bracelet and so on, and I think social norms will come along quickly. It’s an intermediate step; once you see these things everywhere, you start to ignore them after a while. Where it gets interesting is if the design of the experience can convey an energy; a spectrum, a different set of colors, something so we know how you’re feeling and not just whether you’re there.

RS: If we could universally, magically, make just one of those shifts right now, which one would be the most impactful?

RH: Shifting from physical to attentional proximity. It would unleash so much productivity! Imagine ‘just-in-time dream teams,’ where you can capture someone’s attention just at the right moment of a project based on their location… You could grab their attention for half an hour, take advantage of those efficiencies and just in time interactions.

Question 4: Looking at the seven shifts in Rachel’s article, which one grabs you? Why?

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , .

How to Make a Movie with WorkVisual Exporter (Alpha Version)

Even if you don’t have access to the original Brushes app, you can make movies of your iPad drawings and sketchnotes again thanks to the new WorkVisual app. As the developers say in no uncertain terms, the Exporter tool is in alpha release. It’s not an easy process, but it’s possible!

A lot of the setup only needs to be done once, and after you get your workflow underway it goes faster. Keep in mind that these instructions will only be useful until the alpha software changes. Also note that the WorkVisual Exporter only works on the Mac at the moment.

THE DEMO MOVIE

I used an old diagram I drew a while ago so that I could test a movie with tracing for this demo. Read on for the long and detailed instructions on how to get your iPad drawing into a file you can open in your favorite video editor.

After following Steps 1-4 below, I imported the .mov file and still frame into Final Cut Pro X, sped the movie up, and added the title that looks like a piece of tape.

A. THE EASY PART: Drawing on the iPad

  1. Open a new drawing in WorkVisual and set up your layers.
  • Create 3 layers and don’t reorder them. This is very important. Because of a bug in the Exporter, the movie will show layers in the order they were created, so if you reorder them, your movie will not look right.
  • Import a picture if you are tracing. It gets placed on a new top layer. Drag it to the bottom. Because of a bug that this time works in our favor, the imported picture will be invisible to the Exporter, so it doesn’t matter that you reorder this one layer.
  • Set opacity on the picture layer down low enough that you can see it but it won’t get in your way. (Ignore this step if you didn’t import a picture.)

The way the layers look at the end

What the layers look like when the drawing is finished.

  1. Start to draw or write.
  • Use the top layer for your outlines, text, and other top-level content.
  • Use the second layer down to color in shapes you have drawn.
  • Use the third layer down to add shadows or airbrushing under the colors and shapes.

Detail of the drawing

Detail of the drawing. The outlines are on the top layer, the colors on the next one down, and the shadows on the one under that. The bottom layer is the tracing (set to 0% opacity and invisible at the moment) and the other one is a rogue layer that sneaked in there.

  1. When you’re done, go back to the Gallery to send yourself the file you need.
  • Tap the Share button.
  • Choose Export for Mac Tool.
  • Mail it to yourself (mail needs to be set up on your iPad and you need a wifi or cell connection.)

The Share button in the gallery

Gallery and share button.

 

B. THE HARD PART: Creating the Video File on the Computer

There are four main steps: Install the WorkVisual Exporter; install or identify a program to handle your image sequence; export your image sequence; turn the image sequence into a video file.

Step 1. Install the WorkVisual Exporter.

  1. Download the WorkVisual Exporter in exchange for leaving your email address for update notifications.
  2. While you’re there, you may wish to look through the workflow description on the same page. It’ll help the rest of this post make more sense.
  3. The download link gets emailed to you, so check your email, click the link, and save the file where you can find it again.
  4. Go find the file and double-click to open it. It’s a .zip file, so this will unzip the Exporter.
  5. Double-click the Exporter to launch it. If your computer asks you if you really want to open it, search your soul and do as your conscience dictates. If you decide not to open it, you’re done but you can’t make a movie. Otherwise, read on.
  6. If you wish, you can drag the application icon to your Dock, or place it in your Applications folder so you can find it again later.

Step 2. Install (or identify) a program to handle your image sequence.

Leave the Exporter alone for a moment while you get the second piece of software you need: the one that will turn the image sequence into a movie. There are a lot of choices for how to do this, ranging from free to expensive.

Things to know:

  • Beware of the free tools you might find by doing a web search. Image and video converters are notorious for containing malware. Not all free tools do, but use common sense when making your selection, and do a search on the name of the tool to find reviews and comments.
  • Photoshop can apparently convert images into video, but each frame becomes a new layer. The Exporter generates a LOT of frames. I don’t know how many layers Photoshop can handle before it goes nuts, but I’d be careful.
  • Adobe Media Encoder can also do this, although I found it frustrating when I tried it and eventually went with QuickTime Pro 7.
  • I gather that Adobe After Effects can also do it, though I don’t know how to use it.
  • It’s possible that Final Cut Pro X does it, which would save a step, but I haven’t figured it out yet. Final Cut Pro 7 used to do it but that was a while ago.
  • Most tools want you to only open the first image in the sequence. Don’t select and open all of the images, or it won’t work.

I chose to use QuickTime Pro 7, which is very old but still available and still functional. Please note that although QuickTime is built into OS X, the function that we need isn’t. You can have QuickTime 7 installed right along with the one that comes with OS X. If you don’t have QuickTime Pro already, you can buy it for $30.

Installing QuickTime Pro:

  1. Check your Utilities folder to see if you already have QuickTime Player 7. (Look in Macintosh HD > Applications > Utilities).
  2. If you don’t have QuickTime Player 7, you can download it here (free and necessary in order to upgrade to Pro).
  3. Double click the download file and follow the instructions to install it.
  4. Once you have QuickTime Player 7, open it by double-clicking it.
  5. If you already had QuickTime Player 7, check to see if you have the Pro version by choosing Registration from the QuickTime Player 7 menu (upper left, next to the Apple menu). If you see a code in the box, you are good to go. No code? Just installed it? Read on.
  6. If you need to get QuickTime Pro, you can buy it here.

Here is a good, if old, QuickTime overview for your reference.

If you prefer to explore other options, try searching on ‘convert image sequence to video’ or look at the article Convert an Image Sequence to a Movie by Andrew Noske.

Step 3. Export Your Image Sequence.

Now you’re set up, and you don’t have to do Steps 1 and 2 again for your next movie. From here down is the repeatable part.

  1. Go back to your email and look for the one you sent yourself with the drawing file attached.
  2. Download the attachment and save it in a new folder somewhere. Don’t skip the step of making a folder. You can thank me later. Also, don’t change the .workvisual part of the filename. You can change everything before the dot if you want.
  3. Go back to the WorkVisual Exporter that we launched and left running while we installed QuickTime Pro 7.
  4. Go to the File menu > Open, and navigate to the file you just downloaded. Open it.
  5. The image shows up in your WorkVisual Exporter window.

The Export button

My drawing in the Exporter window. The Export button is highlighted.

 

  1. To export the image sequence, click the Export button in the top right of the Exporter window.

Video options in the Exporter

Video export options. Use the Standard one.

  1. The top three options will export a nice JPG for you, but that’s not what we want.
  2. The bottom three options export the image sequence for video. That’s what we want. Pick the standard definition. NOTE: Your computer can run out of application memory and crash if you use the large or high-def settings. Even a nice, new computer. USE WITH CAUTION. This is a bug and they’re working on it.

 

Out of memory alert

This is what you’ll see if you run out of application memory.
Force quit the Exporter, shut everything else down normally, and reboot.

 

  1. Make another new folder inside the other one and name it Image Sequence or something equally memorable. You want all your images to go into one folder that has nothing else in it.
  2. Save the file with whatever name you want but MAKE SURE YOU ADD .jpg to the end of the name. If you skip that, this will not work.
  3. You’ll see a “Saving Image” progress bar. Let it do its thing, go get some coffee, whatever. It’s best if you don’t try to do anything else with your machine while it’s exporting.

 

The progress bar

There it goes! Don’t mess with it. Just walk away.

 

  1. When you get back, there will be a bunch of .jpgs in the new folder, all neatly numbered in order. Don’t change the filenames.
  2. It’s useful to export a still frame at the same size as your video, so go ahead and do that now using the first Standard setting. Remember to add .jpg to your filename. You’ll use this still frame in your video editor, adding it at the end of the video so that you have a nice hold for a few seconds when the drawing is done.

 

Image options in the Exporter

Choose the same size for the image as you did for the video.

 

Step 4. Turn the Image Sequence into a Video File.

To do this, we’ll use QuickTime Player 7 (even though we upgraded it to Pro, it’s still helpfully called Player). We just need to tell it which image to start with and what settings we want. If you chose a tool other than QuickTime Pro 7, you’re on your own here, but the process should be generally the same.

  1. Switch to QuickTime Player 7, or launch it if it isn’t open.
  2. Ignore the default window or close it if it’s in your way. Go to File menu > Open Image Sequence… and select the first image in your folder.

Opening an image sequence

Only select the first image, not all of them.

 

  1. Set your frame rate. I used 30, which is a standard frame rate. (24 and 29.97 are good too.) If you want to learn more, read this article on frame rate or play with this demo.
  2. Click OK, then wait a bit while nothing appears to happen. After a moment, your video will open. It’ll look like a blank white screen. Click the Play button at the bottom of the window to preview your video. You’ll notice it’s pretty slow. You can fix this in your video editing program later.
  3. Save the file as a self-contained movie and you are good to go. Ta da!

Using self-contained movie option

Choose self-contained movie.

 

If you want to fiddle with settings, you can choose File > Export… and play with different formats and different options for each one. The Save method described here results in a pretty large file size but you will get good quality.

The Other Part: Making a Whole Movie

I’m not going to cover this in detail because there are lots of great tutorials out there for making movies (one of my favorites is Izzy’s Final Cut Pro tutorial series).

  • Open your favorite video editing program (I use Final Cut Pro X, but iMovie, Premiere, or any other program will work too).
  • Import the video file and the still frame you created in the previous step.
  • Add audio, a soundtrack, still images, or whatever else you wish.
  • Adjust the timing so it’s faster or slower or whatever you need.
  • Place the still frame at the end of the drawing sequence to give people a moment to absorb the finished drawing.
  • Render it out and there you go!

If you try this process and discover something new, or if your experience with it is different, please share what you found!

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , , , .

The Art and Experience of Graphic Facilitation: Fireside Chat from Nexus4Change

On June 3, 2015, I sat around a virtual campfire with Steve Cady, Rebecca Bruns, John Spalding, and about 50 guests, and we talked about graphic facilitation as an art and as an experience. I was honored to be invited to think of myself as a warrior and an artist. The chat lasted a little over an hour and you can watch and listen to it here:

What I loved about this was the way Steve pulled in images from all around the web to prompt the discussion topics. I had a list of advance questions that I responded to, but the chat itself wandered in and out and around that list, so it was totally unscripted. It was a fun conversation, covering a range of topics, including the nature of virtual campfires, the New Media Consortium‘s Horizon Report, graphic facilitation and technology, my personal mission on earth, interpretation and reflection in visual practice, and the emotional aspects of taking visual notes.

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , , , .

A Digital Graphic Recorder’s Review of the WorkVisual App

Exploring WorkVisual

I admit I’ve been waiting for this app to be released ever since I first saw it demonstrated at EuViz 2014 by its creator, Holger Nils Pohl. I fell in love with the demo and instantly became BFFs with Holger (at least on my side). When the beta version was ready, I happily tested that, although I had to use a colleague’s iPad to do it. Now I’m thrilled to have the WorkVisual app on my own iPad and to have played with it enough to write up a review. (A long one.)

Lest you think that I am regarding this app through rose-tinted glasses, let me say right up front that it isn’t perfect. Read on to find out what I love, what I don’t love, and why despite its rough edges, this app is worth the $40 sticker price to me. But first, a video I created with the app yesterday:

See below for some notes about the video.

 

WHAT’S WORKVISUAL?

WorkVisual is a drawing app designed by a graphic recorder for graphic recorders. It’s optimized for digital note-taking, sketchnoting, and graphic recording. It isn’t a mind-mapping tool or a drafting tool. It’s designed for people who write and draw everything by hand. For those of us who know and love the original Brushes app, this is the first app that even comes close to reproducing the features and line quality of Brushes. Because it was designed by a graphic recorder, it adds some important features that even Brushes didn’t have.

 

WHAT I LOVE

In no particular order, these are the features that make me giddy with delight:

  • Presentation modes: WorkVisual has two modes for projecting the screen, Full and Follow. Set it to Full, and the projector keeps your work at 100%, showing the entire screen no matter how much you pan and zoom on the iPad itself—perfect for digital graphic recording in front of an audience. Set it to Follow, and viewers see what you see—perfect for teaching.
  • Gallery tags: I create a lot of drawings. WorkVisual has a tagging feature so that I can add the subject, client name, location, event name, or other labels to a drawing. Later, I can search on that tag to pull up all the related drawings.
  • Four spots for brushes: Access three custom brushes and an eraser with one single tap. This means a lot less fussing around in the brush menu.
  • Clean interface: The UI is incredibly simple and light. I had actually done two different graphic recordings before I realized that there’s no way to dismiss it. I simply stopped noticing it was there, except that all of my tools were always available.
  • Transparency lock: I love this, just love it. You lock the transparency of a layer, and then you can color over places you’ve already drawn, but nowhere else. Great for fixing mistakes where you wrote or drew in the wrong color accidentally.
  • Layer access: Switch to any layer with one tap. I switch layers a LOT and this makes my work so much faster.
  • Set as default: This hidden feature is super handy. In the Gallery, you can choose a drawing to set as the default, which means that any new drawing will start with that as the base. Great for setting up the titles and basic frames for a series of graphic recordings at an event.
  • Brush presets: Get your brushes just the way you want them and save a preset. Then, modify them for a custom job and save a different preset. Switch between them with a couple swift taps. Awesome.

And there are the features that are must-haves for graphic recording, for me at least:

  • Zoom: zoom way in, and double-tap to zoom out instantly. I use this all the time. Because the zoom is a double-tap and not a single one, you can tap-to-dot for punctuation, lettering, and so on.
  • Layers: Up to six, which is enough for me. They have the standard features of merge, transform, normal & multiply modes, opacity, duplicate, add a photo, clear, fill, and hide.
  • Undo: Just like the original Brushes, if you undo something, it won’t show up in your movie. Yay!
  • Export options: From the Gallery, you can mail a drawing as an image, save it to your Photos, or export the image sequence for the WorkVisual Exporter Mac tool (alpha).
  • Brush options: The brushes are customizable to just the right amount—enough flexibility to be useful without being confusing.
  • Color palettes: Create up to five swatch palettes of 15 colors each, plus you always have access to a custom color picker.
  • Eyedropper: Tap and hold anywhere to pick up that color, just like the old Brushes — yay!

 

WHAT I DON’T LOVE

Of course, there are a few things that aren’t ideal. Some of these might be bugs, and some are purely my preferences. I’ve shared the ones I think are bugs with the app’s creator, who is super and very open to feedback (thanks, Holger!). Again in no particular order:

  • Double-tap to zoom: This is a plus and a minus. It’s a plus because, as noted above, I can dot my i’s and punctuate properly. But I find that most of the time, the app reads my double tap as a single short stroke. The workflow looks like this: double-tap, double-tap, double-tap, double-tap, zoom, undo, undo, undo. I imagine for someone using a stylus, this would be difficult too.
  • Current brush shape doesn’t highlight: When editing a brush, it would be nice to know which brush shape was currently selected without having to look down at the brush button.
  • Brush sizes reset in between choices: If you set up a custom brush and change its pixel size, then use that same button to select a different brush temporarily, when you go back to the first brush it will have reset to the default pixel size. Creating and loading presets doesn’t help. This gets in my way because I have six common brushes and there are only four brush buttons, so I have to change to the other two when I need them. My basic brush keeps resetting from 3 pixels to 30. (Then again, maybe the app is just trying to tell me I write too damn small.)
  • ‘Undo brush’ notification: Every time you tap Undo, which for me is often, a little box pops up to let you know the brush is being undone. I have to wait for it to vanish before continuing. It doesn’t stay up long, but it breaks my flow and I would love to be able to turn it off.
  • Layer order in Export tool: There’s a bug (I assume) in the exporter tool that reorders layers when you export a high-res image or video. Since I usually create the text & outline layer first, then create the color layer when I need it and drag it underneath the first layer, this means that in the exported video my color is on top of my outline, which looks bad. You can see it in the video if you look closely enough.

 

WHY IT’S WORTH THE STICKER PRICE

At the time of this posting, WorkVisual sells for a pricey $39.99. I hear you. “For an app?! Are you nuts?” I know, I know. Here’s the thing. I’m a professional digital graphic recorder. This is a professional tool. It’s worth the investment. If your work involves drawing, sketch noting, or graphic recording with the iPad, this is the next tool you want in your toolbox. One job will cover it, you know it will.

When people ask me which app I recommend for graphic recording on the iPad, this is the one I will tell them to get if they are serious about it.

 

MY BRUSH CHOICES

It’s all explained in the video, but here’s a reference for my initial brush setup (click it for a readable copy):

 

Screen shot showing Rachel's brush settings

 

I think I’ll change the basic brush from 3 pixels to 5 pixels, because there’s a lot more variability in the line at 5 pixels. Plus, it really wouldn’t hurt if I wrote a little bigger. That will probably mean I bump the Color and Eraser brushes up a couple of pixels too.

 

MY TOOLBAR SETUP

This is how I have my brushes set up, and how I arrange the layers as I create them:

Screen shot showing brush layout

 

It’s a screen shot right out of the app, and all the lettering was done in WorkVisual. That’s its actual toolbar.

 

MAKING THE VIDEO

I’ll post a detailed step-by-step in a week or so once I’ve gotten the process smoothed out. For now, the short version is that it is possible but you’ve really gotta want it. Here’s a high-level overview:

  • Create your drawing. There’s a bug in how the layers are rendered out, so it’s best to set up your layers before you start and don’t drag any layers underneath any others.
  • In the Gallery, use the Export for Mac Tool command to email the .workvisual file to yourself.
  • Open the .workvisual file in the WorkVisual Exporter (separate Mac application).
  • Export it as described in the instructions on the app website.
  • Use your favorite tool to convert image sequences to video (there is a WORLD of sub-steps hidden in this one). I haven’t successfully rendered a high-res video from the app yet.
  • Open the video in your favorite video editor, add a voiceover and soundtrack, and render it out. Ta da!

You can see the result above. Couple things to look for in the video:

  • Since I couldn’t render a high-res one, it’s tiny (540p). If I render it larger (740p or 1080p) the lines are very blurry and look bad.
  • That, combined with my tiny writing, makes it difficult to read the text.
  • I made a couple of mistakes and erased them, so you’ll see that happening. Other mistakes I used the ‘undo’ command to get rid of, and you won’t see those.
  • The layering bug means that everything I color shows up on top of the outlines in the video. It looked right when I was recording it, but because I had reordered the layers, it comes out wrong in the exported video. It’s correct in the final still image of the video, which is a screen shot of the app.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

I’ll say it again: When people ask me which app I recommend for graphic recording on the iPad, this is the one I will tell them to get if they are serious about it.

I am thoroughly delighted with the app and ready to start using it as my primary digital note-taking tool. The initial release is a solid, robust app that does what it says it will do, with a clean interface and just enough features for graphic recording. I’m confident that it will continue to evolve and develop.

Because the Export tool is still in alpha, I’m not quite ready to kill Brushes in favor of WorkVisual, but I can see that happening down the road. This is good because my poor iPad is existing in a state of unstable limbo with iOS 7. I can’t upgrade to iOS 8, or I’ll lose Brushes’ ability to export high-res images and video completely. At the moment, Brushes is still the better option for creating video in terms of workflow and output.

With a little more work on the alpha Exporter tool, WorkVisual will soon be the app that I use most out of all the ones on my iPad.

 

Updated to add a mention of the Eyedropper feature that got left out the first time.

Posted in everything. Tagged with , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: