“If everybody sees what everybody is thinking, we could raise humanity’s collective I.Q.” Eileen Clegg, Visual Insight
We’ve all seen timelines. Yet some are so unique that they help us reframe the way we think about time. This is true of the latest work by graphic journalist and visionary Eileen Clegg. At the turn of this century Eileen took her 25 years of work as a journalist and author and reframed her working process. She began to capture her narratives with the tools of graphic facilitation: butcher paper, colored pens and a huge, long wall. Originally new to the field of Graphic Facilitation, Eileen was inspired by and worked with visual language pioneers David Sibbet, the late Michael Doyle and Bob Horn. She applied her new process to capture group thought in business and education thinktanks at IBM, Microsoft, the Institute for the Future, TechLearn and many others.
Eileen’s murals surround and immerse the brainstorming groups that she is capturing; she visualizes in realtime the subtext of group conversations, mind mapping the process of intensive collaboration. And she is a master at her craft. Her murals are not like any other in the rapidly growing field of graphic facilitation – rather, they represent visual journalism at its best, using a unique combination of artful listening and praxis to elevate the visual recording process to an insightful form of communication artistry.
Clegg’s visual taxonomies are timeless and are drawn from nature – the sun, idea clouds, star people, waves, spheres, pentagons – each image containing words and concepts that converge and bifurcate during the often chaotic group brainstorming process. She reclaims and reframes ancient symbols and harnesses a deep level of intuition in her artful combination of word and image. Finally she whips up the last iteration of each mural into a tightly interconnected, sweeping vista where, like the self-similarity of fractals, the colorful shape of the whole mirrors the rhythmic order of the parts.
When we first met a number of years ago, I knew Eileen had found the visual key – something as ancient as cave drawings and as emergent as the latest visualization technologies and virtual worlds I spent so much of my time designing, building and studying. We soon joined forces to ground our respective visualization work into a comprehensive history of visual language – but a book like that was nowhere to be found. We knew we would have to write the book ourselves. But that’s another story. Back to the Engelbart timeline mural…
Doug Engelbart is best known as the inventor of the mouse. However, as one of the true pioneers of 20th century computing, he made many other contributions that are known mostly to technologists. These have remained part of the inside story of the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and Silicon Valley and are just now being glimpsed by the general public as the vision we see everyday as we open up our laptops or sit at our desks enjoying the vistas of cyberspace.
In 1968 Engelbart demonstrated to a 1000 computer professionals in San Francisco a confluence of tools that are now as common as our fingertips yet none had yet been invented. This demonstration was called "The Mother of All Demos." SRI and Stanford just celebrated the 40th Anniversary of this prescient demo and Engelbart's contributions in December, 2008.
The Mother of All Demos, 1968 [100 minutes in 9 parts]
Engelbart saw yet a bigger vision that would be the result of a co-evolution in the past 40 years - that of collective intelligence - "Collective I.Q." Yet in many ways, this potential remains just that - a potential that we have yet to grab onto and use effectively. Eileen and interactive media producer Valerie Landau wanted to help him tell his story. It had to be told to more than just the technologists. It had to be easy to understand.
Working closely with Engelbart for four years on their newly released book, Evolving Collective Intelligence, Eileen and Valerie culminated their writing endeavors by embarking on a room sized mural to visualize the powerful understanding of the Engelbart vision six months ago. Drawing from the context she and Valerie had been outlining for the book, she began with the first version of what was to become an iterative mural process. Seeing the timeline as a narrative, with emotional peaks as well as great leaps in innovation she asked herself, “What is the shape of this story?”
She and Valerie brought their perspective of Doug’s work into the context of a lifetime of innovations in technology. They created the first iteration of the mural, capturing what they hoped would show the essence of Engelbart's ideas charting the potential of the conscious co-evolution of humans and their tools. After the first couple months, as Doug returned to the first iterations to give feedback, the visual details were becoming fleshed out. Iterations of the mural continued through the next few months, as a leading technology luminaries Alan Kay, Tim O'Reilly, Vint Cerf, Hiroshi Ishii and others offered to Eileen their perspectives and additions.
During the months that she worked on the “Co-Evolution of Human Systems and Tool Systems” mural, Eileen did far more than capture over 80 years of Doug’s life, his vision for augmenting human intellect, the evolution of technology and culture of the world around him, and his impact on the history of computing and collaboration. She also brought her own mural innovation process to a new pinnacle with the largest mural she has created to date.
In December’s Program for the Future conference, programming wizard Mei Lin Fung, her co-leaders and volunteer teams brought together a few hundred of the most interesting visionaries on the leading edge of communication technology, many of whom worked with Engelbart in the 1960s, for an experiment to galvanize Collective I.Q. Eileen’s 4-foot by 27-foot timeline mural surrounded a two-day swirl of activity. The colorful, sprawling mural felt as if it would come to life. I was reminded of the powerful centuries-old Bayeaux Tapestry, one of the most exquisite and important landmarks in the history of European art.
The Tapisserie de Bayeaux was embroidered in the 11th century to document the events that led to the Battle of Hastings - the Norman conquest of England in 1066. At almost 230 feet long, this historic tapestry fills a room and includes the auspicious sighting of Hally’s comet which, to the medieval mind, was thought to portend impending doom. Animation wizard David Newton’s recent media version of the tapestry is a vision to behold, replete with sound effects and music such as “O Fortuna” from the legendary medieval poetic work, Carmina Burana.
This type of animation is what I visualize co-creating with one of Eileen’s upcoming murals – hopefully for our very own mural now being visioned forth for our book Shape of Thought J