#btconf Düsseldorf, Germany 08 - 09 Nov 2021

Eva-Lotta Lamm

Eva-Lotta Lamm is a designer, author and visual thinker. After a 15-year-long career as a UX / digital product designer working in Paris and London for Google, Skype, and Yahoo!, she shifted her professional focus to her life-long passion of visual thinking.

She is now based in Berlin, running her own business designing (physical and digital) products that teach a global audience to use sketching as a tool for understanding, thinking and communicating more efficiently. Her mission is to empower people to make the complex problems they face in their work and daily life visual so they can ‘see’ them from a fresh perspective and solve them with more confidence, creativity and clarity.

Eva-Lotta is a sought after expert in her field. She is regularly speaking at international design conferences on the topics sketching, sketchnoting and visual thinking and has been teaching her craft both in-peron and online for over a decade.

In her spare time, Eva-Lotta practices yoga and improvisation, loves travelling, languages and learning new things. These passions have inspired several of her books capturing her experiences in the form of rich visual notes.

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Pragmatic Sketching

You might have heard the sentence that sketching is all about expressing ideas, not about making art. Right on, but sometimes that’s easier said than done. How do we move away from the artistic approach we have been taught in school (if at all) and actually sketch in a pragmatic way, making quick but clear visuals that support our thinking?

Sketching is a decision making process. Good sketches are the results of a series of good choices we make with every mark we put on the paper (or whiteboard). With each stroke we need to answer a series of questions in our mind: How can I draw this? What is the shape? Where should I place my mark? How big should this part be? Which details should I leave out? Where should I start? How do I get the proportions right? How do I make this look clearer? How do I emphasise the important parts? …

In her talk Eva-Lotta will share some foundational principles of sketching pragmatically that will help you answer these questions (or at least some of them) with your pen. She’ll share practical tips that will make your sketches clearer – on a formal, structural and conceptual level.

And because showing is more powerful than telling, this talk will be drawn live. If you’re curious and courageous you are invited to sketch along straight away to not only see, but also experience what sketching pragmatically is about.



[Audience applause]

Eva-Lotta Lamm:

When people ask me what I do... [Laughter] The screen goes black.

All right. [Laughter] Phew! Okay.

Usually, when I sketch, I do it for several reasons. This is me here with a big nose. Usually, I use sketching--

And I can also use it to actually get in contact with other people and start to explain my thoughts and the development. I can do that all at the same time (alone or with a group of people, which is really nice), and so this is always for a purpose.

What I do when I sketch is I make a series of choices. The question is, what do I need to draw? Where do I put it on the page? What are the different shapes? What is the color that I use? What is the size that I do these things in?


All right. [Laughter]

I just want to give you a few pointers about very simple things that you can do, and it might sound a little esoteric to you, but when we just talk about lines for a second, going back to the foundations.

When you draw a line, a line is a good story. A line actually does have a beginning. It has a middle. And it has an end. This is not as esoteric as it seems because when you want to draw a line, you should stay with your awareness from the beginning, through the middle, to the end that this line actually stands on the page confidently and clearly.

Our visual perception is amazing. When you read a little bit about visual perception and come across Gestalt theory, which talks about a lot of laws of visual perception, there is the law of closure. That says that when we perceive things, we always try to see the simplest shape possible. Although I drew four lines here, our visual perception closes that for us and sees a rectangle because that is built-in object recognition - blah-blah-blah.

Also, it becomes clear when we draw more than one object and layer them is that we can then use gaps with intention because now this gap is not just there by accident because I forgot to close it. But when I have intentional gaps, I can show that things are layered behind each other. Each choice we are making is a conscious choice to make the things clearer and be very deliberate about how we communicate.

Of course, the important thing is to keep breathing. If in doubt, slow down when you are drawing because it will make things clearer.

The second aspect of clarity, I call it structural clarity. This is the information architect in me coming through. I love structure. I love logic. I love taking things apart, putting them back together, and seeing the different categories.

What are all the elements and how do they sit in relation to each other? That is structural clarity, and this is a very different question from how do I move my hand across the page. This now is more about observation and what are the shapes, what are the proportions, what are the connections, all these kinds of things. A very different question from just the hand movement and the clear hand movement that I do.

If you have seen one of my talks before, you have probably seen that I construct things out of super simple shapes. If I want to draw a lightbulb, it is a basic shape, a circle connected to a rectangle. Then a few lines. Then my favorite shape, a rollercoaster.


Or you could draw a coffee cup with half a circle and a line and another line and another C shape. If you have some waves, then the coffee even is hot, so you are lucky.

I also need some space for my head because I do have one and I want to look out of it, so I have another box that is kind of here. A space for my head and for the other passengers. Usually, I have a window in the front and a window in the back.

the parts and the relationships.

The first thing when you do a sketch and it looks dodgy, the most important thing that is probably wrong that you want to look at and try out is to look at the proportions and fix the proportions because very often that is what makes a difference.

Ah! Ooh! This -- when it comes back -- ta-da! [Laughter] It looks a little bit less childish, I think. This looks more like a grown-up car.

Or maybe I do more of a city car, you know, like a smart or something that is maybe a little bit shorter and a little bit higher. I can play around with the proportions and find something that I like.

I think this middle one is the one that I really like.

Now I can get one step more subtle if that is not quite good enough for me yet. It probably is for me, but if I wanted to get a little bit more subtle.

Now I can look at refining the shapes. Not everything is a perfect rectangle or a perfect circle. Maybe when I have my car, instead of just being a rectangle, I can taper it a bit. I can make it a little bit thinner in the front than it is in the back.

I can play around with the shapes and bend them a bit or round the corners and see what happens. This is actually my next step to refining my sketch.

This is already good enough - or I could angle the sides.

The last step is then thinking about, do I want to add some details? There are not many details that I need to add. Maybe I could add some door handles or I could also start doing different types of cars.

This is my approach for quickly refining something from a very childish version that you might feel uncomfortable sketching in a serious meeting to relatively quickly getting to something which is totally acceptable to communicate.

This is not about how your hand moves and what the shapes and proportions are. But this is all about what you know, who are you communicating with, and also about what you can listen to other people. It has a lot to do with knowing and listening to your audience.

I had this example of cars. Sometimes, we draw something and it might not be super clear. I draw something. Maybe I drew something like this. This is maybe a really bad sketch and the question is, what is this thing? Is it a car or is it a UFO? What is it?


If adding detail is all about zooming in and getting closer, showing more detailed things about the object, we can also, of course, do the opposite.

Roar -- zoom out.

If you translate that to a concept, this is adding context. Adding context is really powerful because, if I have my shitty little object there that I drew -- this is my shitty little object -- if I add some context to it, like for example a road and maybe another little shitty object, then it becomes a little bit clearer that it might be a car.

You can also manipulate the context. If I then decide that my shitty drawn object is not a car but I was right in the first place when I was thinking about the aliens attacking us and beaming up our cows and things like that, then I can turn my shitty draft into lots of other things. It is actually a really wonderful way of bending things and, through context, you can tell different stories.

I always say that words and images are like Batman and Robin. Here is Batman, and here is Robin. Robin has a little quiff thing like this. This is my Robin. Choo-choo-choo-choo.


Labels are your friend. Labels are great. They are not a copout. They actually work super well together.

There is also some science behind this. There is something called the Dual Coding Theory. This looked at how we perceive words and images and how we learn things.

When we have something dually coded, so if we have a word and a picture, we can remember more things and for longer. That is superior to just images or just words. Some redundancy is okay.

Then we can also be pretty simple with our vocabulary. This is then a bus. Then some other things with wheels, this is our scooter. We can just develop.

Once we define our vocabulary once, we can just use it because we are really good at now knowing, oh, this thing is a car. The advantage of images is that the recognition is super-fast.

Images are great for fast recognition and for showing relationships. Of course, this was Robin. Very good with that. Batman also has a purpose, so the words are great to give context, as I said. This is the fastest way of giving context.

This is the context of urban transportation. I already know which space I am in, and I can recognize these things easier.

Words are great to add context and to add precision. Together, images and words are the best friends, I would say, like Batman and Robin.

Or Beyonce and her partner, whoever that is right now.

[Audience laughs]


People can also point to things, which is amazing because, when you speak words, you speak them, and then the words are gone. The paper is still empty.

If you start making traces on the paper, you build an externalized, common memory that people can point to and add to where they feel heard. They can see their ideas. They can see it in relation to other things. This is, in my opinion, super valuable.


I also put together a little website with some resources and a few videos that also talk about this and talk about a few other things in-depth, more in-depth, that might be interesting for you. You can find it at evalotta.net/btconf.

I do have six months left on the clock, so I would take questions or request for things to draw. I can completely embarrass myself in front of an audience. Thank you.

[Audience applause]