The power of pictures; turning complex conversations into graphic images

Steve Keast, Strategic Visualiser @_keastie_

Let me first apologise by saying “sorry, but I have the best job in KPMG”. I turn complex conversations and topics into graphic images to make them easy to understand and easier to re-explain. On the plus side, I have a dream, and that is to turn KPMG into the “Company That Draws”.

Drawing has always been part of my life. One of my first memories is as a toddler drawing under my mum’s chair while she spun wool in her spinning wheel club. (The spinning wheel club still doesn’t make any sense to me so please don’t ask me about it). During my high school years, I was kicked out of class a lot for drawing and not listening. I would have to sit outside the room. I spent this time drawing. (This makes less sense to me than a spinning wheel club, but I’m still thankful for that time). I left school because all my mates were getting apprenticeships in trades and I felt the need to do this too. So got a job as a signwriting apprentice.

On your way home today, count the number of signs you see. There are so many I bet you lose count. The reason for this is that according to a study by researchers Dr. L.D. Rosenblum, Dr. Harold Stolovitch and Dr. Erica Keeps, 83 percent of memories are determined by what we see and 50 percent of our brains are involved in visual processing. A sign with only a simple icon of a bus on it means the same to us as something that says “The bus will stop here and pick you up and take you to where you want to go”.

Fast forward 20 years and I find myself working full-time within a team of three as basically in-house illustrators for one of the biggest professional services firms in the world. If only my high school teachers could see me now!

Last year, I was lucky enough to support an event on improving health outcomes in regional NSW by capturing key conversations and presentations in the form of what we call graphic facilitation. Part of the event involved several presenters talking about different aspects of the industry. The first three presenters stumbled over their power point decks, each slide having far too much information than anyone could take in during the 20 minutes each presenter was allocated. The audience they were presenting to were literally turning off (or in some cases turning on… their iPad and iPhone!)

The last presenter was a doctor whose presentation was on the different entities within the industry and how they interact. She walked up to the front of the room, apologised for being unprepared as she had spent the weekend camping with her family, and then she asked me if she could borrow one of my pens. She then spent 10 minutes drawing in simple stick figures and explaining the relationships between each entity.

People were instantly engaged. Questions were asked and parts of her model were challenged. When a relationship was agreed upon, she would edit her model by simply scribbling out a line and replacing it with another or adding in forgotten entities. Everyone was involved and in the end, everyone in the room either learnt or taught or both. I also got to sit down and have a cup of coffee. Everyone was happy.

The final model wasn’t a work of art but it was powerful with impact because it was engaging and memorable. Everyone in the room understood it and it had less than five words on it. This, to me, is the power of pictures.

I love my job, but I also love watching people do my job, and this is where I want my dream to come to life. I want to help everyone in KPMG have this power. The power to engage and the power to make a lasting impression through “visual art”.


6 thoughts on “The power of pictures; turning complex conversations into graphic images

  1. Very nicely described, Steve. I saw your work being shared thousands of times on Social Media when you draw the Social Good Summit Australia talks live earlier this year. It was a total game changer, everybody loved it!

  2. I love this article. It would be super awesome to do a rapid fire drawing class one day; I totally agree interactive, drawn presentations is much better!

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