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Graphic Recording, the Design–Thinking Method that Gives Shape to Ideas

Artistic Communication Recommended by a Rakugaki Coach

Graphic recording, which is commonly known by "Grareco," refers to a method of using drawings to record events. However, its purpose and effectiveness go beyond this simple definition, and the method has lately been a focus of attention. Why is hand-drawn graphic recording useful in an age where advanced IT is utilized in generating innovation through co-creation between companies and organizations? We talked to Tamura Kai, who uses graphic recording in business settings and is an advocate of the method.
(Interviewer: Haruka Mori, freelance reporter)

Tamura Kai
Graphic Catalyst/Rakugaki Coach
Service Integration Design Group
Fujitsu Design Limited

A Catalyst for Enhancing Communication through Drawings

-- Tamura Kai, are you really a Fujitsu employee? (Laughs)

I joined Fujitsu in 2003, and have been here for 16 years, so yes, I'm a full-fledged employee. (Laughs)

-- May I call you by your nickname?

Sure. It's Tamkai.

-- Tamkai, please tell me about your work.

My work involves wearing polka dot shirts every day. Everyone calls it the "business polka dots" style. (Laughs) All joking aside, the focus of my work involves facilitating the communication needed in co-creation and creating programs for it. The term "Co-Creation" is used a lot in Fujitsu. Communication is the key to engaging in co-creation, generating ideas or doing anything else.

-- You hold titles I've never heard of before. Tell me about what a "Graphic Catalyst" or a "Rakugaki Coach" does.

I coined the term "Graphic Catalyst." Saying "Graphic Recorder" makes it sound like all you do is record things, so I decided to use the title "Graphic Catalyst" as someone who is sort of a catalyst for communication through the use of drawings. A "Rakugaki Coach" is someone who helps people who aren't confident about their drawing skills understand that using drawings really changes how we communicate. I tell people that you don't need to be able to draw well; you just need to doodle (rakugaki in Japanese). I coach people on doodling through workshops and lectures.

A Catalyst for Sharing Visions and Ideas, Not Just a Minutes-Taker

-- What made you decide to incorporate this graphic recording method?

I didn't make a conscious decision to incorporate it. I was always the kind of person who's constantly doodling, even while taking work-related memos. At first, I was taking memos for myself, so if it looked like I was drawing irrelevant things; people didn't understand that these drawings had meaning. I was reprimanded often for that. I thought about what I can do to make them understand and decided that I just had to draw things that were relevant and had meaning. When others saw this, I received positive feedback, saying that my drawings were very easy to understand.

-- That's wonderful! So, can you describe what exactly graphic recording is?

This is something I drew on the spot in real time during the frontline session held at Fujitsu Forum.

I wrote the self-introductions of each of the presenters based on the keywords that emerged. Although phrased differently, some of the statements seemed to express the same concepts, such as "AI and the use of data are methods, and they require a purpose," and "Put the true objective into words." In order to record something in writing, it's necessary to sift through information. One of the functions of graphic recording is identifying the ideas that are shared by all speakers.

-- It's like a user's manual that you can understand with just a glance.

Actually, there is this problem where this method makes you think you understand something, while you can't convey the entire content of a session. There's less information contained, so there are aspects of it that make it inadequate as a full record of proceedings. However, you can use this method as a way of recording what left an impression on you, and what you thought was important. This becomes a catalyst for communication when having discussions with others. I believe that this kind of method is very effective for presenting your vision through communication, and for everyone to share their ideas.

The Power of Drawing Human Expressions—the 100 Methods of Emography

-- I feel like this would be too hard. I mean, I can't draw as well as this. I like drawing, but I can't say I'm artistically gifted…

I'm talking about the ability to appreciate art. Everyone has that ability, they just lack drawing skills. So, when someone says that they can't do it, I tell them they have that ability and can do it. That's how I start my doodling lectures.

-- Can you teach me some tricks?

I thought you'd never ask! I even brought a marker pen and a sketchbook. I racked my brain over what is the most effective thing to learn to draw for the purpose of communicating and reached the conclusion that learning how to draw human expressions is the most powerful. People instinctually respond to human faces more than anything else, so being able to draw human expressions allows you to communicate a great variety of ideas.

All you need is three things to draw human expressions: a mouth, eyes and eyebrows. For the mouth, just learning how to draw the "a," "e," "i," "o," and "u" shapes allows you to reveal certain expressions. That's how much our brains are conditioned to perceive faces. For the eyes, you can draw black eyes, white eyes, closed eyes facing upwards, closed eyes facing downwards, or tightly closed eyes. For the eyebrows, you can draw them straight, arched, pointing up, or pointing down. That's five times five times four, a total of 100 combinations for drawing expressions.

-- Wow!

Design Thinking that Gives Shape to Ideas through the Catalyst of Drawings

I call this method emography, by combining the word "emotion" and the suffix "-graphy." In a business setting, you might want to express the fact that the customer is worried about something. You can use drawings to easily communicate just how worried they are, and to what degree. One of the important elements of design thinking that is being talked about a lot lately is revealing in detail what it is that the customer is thinking and perceiving even the feelings that aren't communicated through words. Emography uses the single catalyst in the form of a drawing of facial expressions to put oneself in the customer's shoes.

-- What are some of the potential applications of graphic recording?

If you can learn how to draw simple illustrations, similar to how we write words, I think it can totally change the way we communicate with customers, as well as with friends and family.
In the past, if something was lacking, you just had to create new things. But today, we live in abundance. What is truly needed today can't be put into words but exists within our hearts. I believe that extracting those ideas and giving them shape so that we can see them is the essence of design thinking. Graphic recording and the act of drawing are effective methods for achieving this.

The World Can Become an Even Better Place—Together We Can Break Down Barriers

-- What do you think about the future of communication?

When you're communicating with friends using a smartphone, you might think that you're getting your thoughts across, but when you're talking to them face to face, some things are revealed through small changes in expression. As our lives become more and more convenient, I think we lose sight of a few things. To me, the future of communication is to once again shine a light on the things we've lost that were really important, and to realize again just how important they are.

-- What are some of the challenges you want to take on going forward?

Lately, when I'm asked about what I do for work, I tell them that I break barriers. I think the future is located beyond the place where everyone thinks there is a barrier. I want to transcend those barriers that everyone is afraid of. I think the world can become an even better place, so my goal is to break down barriers together with everyone.

-- Thank you so much for your time.