Experimenting through illustration

I’m a designer.

I’m a designer that does not move pixels everyday.

In fact, I was reflecting with my colleague on how much we “design”… and it is in fact minimal in comparison to how much time we spend designing the product development process. And I love my job. I love helping people be more human-centred and helping teams collaborate more to get different perspectives and build a vision together. However, I truly miss illustrating. So… I asked myself:

How could I include more illustrations in my everyday life?

As any challenge I encounter, I started experimenting with small prototypes. Experimenting on how and where to include illustrations and what would that do to my motivation. Below is a list of 5 of the experiments I have done in the past 2 years. I hope that it inspires you to experiment as well.

  1. Enter the diet culture
  2. Learning a new language
  3. Getting close to people
  4. Dealing with boring meetings
  5. Hate writing, love presenting

1. Enter the diet culture

Every year, around New Years by no surprise, I start thinking of my resolutions. One of the recurring resolutions is to lose weight, do more exercise, love yourself more, or anything else related to body positivity. And it’s really hard to keep myself motivated knowing that I have failed this so many years in a row. However, I decided this time it was going to be different. I would illustrate my way out of it.

Body goals, By SketchyLinus

And thats what I did. One of my first experiments was to draw this ↑ and place it everywhere around me. Apple watch, computer background and even a printout on the fridge. The reason there is two people is because I also intended to affect my partner and motivate him as well.

Now… I bet you are dying to know if I accomplished my goal. But sadly, no. Instead, I achieved a new one: I loved seeing my illustrations everywhere and it was just making me want to draw more personal goals to try to understand myself better.

2. Learning a new language

I have lived in Sweden a total of 6 years. It has now come to the point that if someone asks me if I speak Swedish, I have to embarrassingly say “no, but i understand it.” And maybe I’m lying to most people or maybe my illustration exercises are starting to pay off.

For this experiment I was much more diligent. I would draw 1 new idiom once a month. I started very low key. Out of memory and with little inspiration. Just kind of drawing what I knew what to say, even in Dutch.

First iterations, By SketchyLinus

Then I got a gift from my boss, she gave me “Sail in on a shrimp sandwich” by Anita Shenoi and it completely changed the course of how much time I would put into this. This book just opened the door to so many fun idioms and Swedish funky traits that I thought I should put a bit more effort into them. And this ↓ came out.

Monthly lettering continuations, By SketchyLinus

All of these illustrations didn’t only help me learn new words in Swedish, but also helped me be super funny in Swedish (it is hard to develop a personality in a new language) and it also gave me so much inspiration to try out lettering. And of course some of these suck, some of them I love, but they are just for me and my Swedish journey.

To make a run for it, By SketchyLinus

3. Getting close to people

I have recently started reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain and I cannot tell you how much I relate to it. I am a true introvert and I love all the people in my life, but sometimes they are too many for me to spread my energy on. It might seem obvious for you that you would illustrate things that you love for people you love. But it has never been like that for me. Illustration has always been my secret weapon to dwell in my head.

So the next experiment was to feel closer to people in a new “Lina-way.” For this experiment I tried 2 different routes: getting close to colleagues & getting close to friends/family.

Getting close to colleagues was a very obvious and easy one. I had a group of people that I spent 8-hours locked in a room with (yes, it was another experiment at work). They had become my life, ate together, designed together, planned together, etc. So I thought that to make a remembrance of this time I could illustrate us and what we had learned from each others personalities. Believe me, 3 months in one meeting room is a long time.

This became so important for our team as an image of who we were and what our team stood for. Eventually…some of our new colleagues felt left out and wanted to be included as well. So I illustrated them as well… these little things really made us feel so much closer and important to each other.

New team members, By SketchyLinus

Getting closer to friends/family is hard, specially when I need time to recharge. So in order to connect with my friends I have tried making illustrations for them. I do this on special occasions but mainly when I need time to be by myself but still show them they are in my thoughts.

Random selection of family drawings, By SketchyLinus

I think this experiment has helped getting close to family and friends successfully. Not only because I give them stuff for free but because there are a lot of details in the illustrations I make, details that only we would understand and tell a story about our relationship. Another positive thing that has come out is that they now see me in a different light, they understand a bit more how my brain works.

4. Deal with boring meetings

Uff… this has been hard. Specially now in pandemic times. Meeting sickness is a real thing and most of the companies I have worked with have had it. During these badly planned or just monotonous meetings, I always get the feeling like I need to draw out my frustration.

It is hard to multi-task and pay attention. But there is one area I have found with illustration that is actually a perfect balance: doodling with a purpose.

First times I was exploring drawing in meetings, By SketchyLinus

I started making random doodles that I kinda liked. But soon I saw that if I threw them to the trash, my meeting frustration would just rush in again. So, instead I opted for continuing on my drawings after work hours to develop that doodle further.

Started by making creepy things, By SketchyLinus

And that seemed to work wonders. I even made a collection of people I enjoyed drawing in meetings as you see below. And although they are not used for anything else, they are just one of the ways I deal with meeting frustration.

Purposeful doodles, By SketchyLinus

I now have evolved from post-its. I guess not being in the office gives me less access to post-its so I end up purposefully doodling in my notebook or clean sheets of paper. And I love it just equally.

5. Hate writing, love presenting

Seems weird to say I hate writing while writing this article. However, I hate writing for presentations, having to summarise into some bullets, writing notes below the slides, etc. This whole process just seems like such a big step… so I had to break it down.

I started by building presentations where I would use other people’s gifs or images (which I think is a very common thing to do). But it was not satisfying enough. At this time, I happened to see one of Pablo Stanley’s talks and thought it was brilliant. No more text, only illustrations. And I did just that.

I loved illustrating 52 slides for this presentation and animating them. Unfortunately only having animated illustrations like I did below was a bit too much for the audience. It was memorable, but my message got a bit lost. So I had to find something that worked better with the content I am sharing.

Sample slides “The story of a Design System”, By SketchyLinus

In order to build a presentation now I just collect objects that represent the thing I will talk about. And fill in the slides only with objects. After I have finished placing all objects, then I go back and start illustrating one by one. And as I am illustrating… I think of the things I want to communicate. Then write those bullet points and notes and match them.

Sample animated slides “How to slay a corporate dragon”, By SketchyLinus

These illustrations have really made me change my mind on building presentations. I enjoy illustrating to make presentations because it has become a meditative way of handling the content. Making sure I’m entering quality content and not just saying things to fill up the 30 min. slot.

Dealing with presentations in this way has also allowed for some sort of reputation at my current job. Always having quality presentations with a good storytelling quality to them.

I hope all of these experiments inspire you to make your own. I keep on experimenting in other aspects of my life as well, and love learning everyday something new about what keeps me motivated to be a more creative and inspiring designer. It just happened that illustrations are the most tangible and easy to package.

Thanks for reading.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Lina Alvis

I'm a UX designer with strong passion for illustration and highly motivated in driving change via user insights.