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Digital Savant

Posted: 7:20 p.m. Friday, March 7, 2014

Who are the people drawing out the keynotes at SXSW Interactive? 

Austin Kleon visual note SXSW
Courtesy of ImageThink
Sketch note from Austin Kleon's keynote speech at SXSW Interactive on March 7, 2014.


Visual Note taking SXSW ImageTHink 1 photo
Jackie Stone
Heather Williams makes a sketch note version of the SXSW panel Superfandom in the Digital Age at SXSW Interactive on March 7, 2014
Visual Note taking SXSW ImageTHink 2 photo
Jackie Stone
Visual Note taking SXSW ImageTHink 2

By Jackie Stone

If you attend any of the SXSW Interactive keynote or featured speakers at the Austin Convention Center, you’ll see a solitary figure just outside of the spotlights with a large white foam board (if you're not stuck in the nosebleed seats). Throughout the speech, the board will fill with words and images to reflect the highlights from the talk. Later, a crowd of people and iPhone flashes will gather around to snap photos of the finished product.

 Sketch notes, or visual note taking, are not new to SXSW. One of this year’s big keynote speakers, Austin Kleon, has been a big part of the visual note taking scene for several years.

 “At least since 2009,” said Heather Willems, who sketched out the drawing for Kleon’s appearance today as well as the other featured sessions in Exhibit Hall 5 on the first day of Interactive. “I was really honored to do Austin Kleon this morning.”

Was she intimidated? "A little bit."

 Willems is the co-founder of ImageThink, which is doing the sketches for SXSW Interactive this year, but said she did her first turn as a visual note taker back in 2010.

 Throughout a speaker’s time on stage, Willems is listening with one part of her brain, while another listens for audience resonance and still another focuses on translating the best bits of the talk into words and drawings.

 “I think of us as professional listeners,” she said. “Listening and condensing and focusing on the main ideas with the words and pictures. The content dictates the form. You're listening and having a sense of the crowd and whatever the crowd responds to, that's important to catch. The feeling, the mood and the expression.”

 Willems said she and her cofounder Nora Herting both have a background in fine art as well as photography, which she said is similar to visual note taking: "You're taking an important moment of life and turning it into art."

 This year, ImageThink has a team of seven artists at SXSW who should end up with about 50 works of note-taking art. During Interactive, the works will be on display outside of Ballrooms A, B and C at the Convention Center. The pieces also get uploaded to ImageThink’s Facebook page, and will be available later to download and print as PDFs on ImageThink’s blog.

 “I think the coolest thing about it is it helps people retain the moment longer better. It creates a link,” Willems said. “People are able to share the content in a meaningful way that they've connected to and engaged with. It's a conversation starter. To say, ‘I saw this cool talk at SXSW.’ They respond to what is on the page and tell their own experience of the story.”

About Jackie Stone

Jackie Stone is the social media editor for the Austin American-Statesman. She serves as the social media ‘voice’ for the Statesman by managing the paper’s official social media accounts, trains newsroom staff on social media and keeps up with the latest trends in tech and online communication.

Connect with Jackie Stone on:Twitter

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