By: Isabella
Posted: 26/07/2018

Illustration as a shared language

Communicating through drawing to co-design services.

Everybody can find communicating in a workshop difficult. The strange surroundings, mix of personalities, and potentially contentious subject matter all contribute to a landscape that can be difficult to navigate. However, what if we didn’t even speak the same language? What if our fundamental way of processing the world was different?

What if the workshop participants spoke British Sign Language (BSL)?

It is a common misconception that BSL users “speak” a version of English – when BSL is a different language all together. As www.british-sign.co.uk writes:

BSL has it’s own grammatical structure and syntax, as a language it is not dependant nor is it strongly related to spoken English.

Designing accessible services.

I know you’re probably thinking: why I am telling you this? Well let me give you a bit of context.

Snook have been working with the User Centred Design team in the Scottish Government to discover how we can get BSL users involved in the redesigning of services. There tends to be a sense of apathy towards public services from the BSL community – and for good reason. The Scottish Government recognises that services are too difficult to navigate, aren’t accessible enough, and are not considerate of individual or specific needs.

In light of this, the Scottish government wanted to make a commitment to ensure that services are designed with and for people, in as inclusive a manner as possible. Snook were then brought in to establish the best way to co-design services as The Scottish Government recognised that being able to engage with the BSL community was an important element in designing effective, and most importantly usable services.

Through detailed research and exploration Snook developed a workshop framework that allowed us to get feedback on how we can make services better for the Deaf community.

Drawing not talking

And so we arrive back at my first question – how do we communicate between the two languages? Furthermore how do we record what was said in a shared way, so that we can both understand what has been discussed at the end of the session. There can sometimes be a  mistrust between BSL users and interpreters – are they representing and translating what is being said accurately?

Furthermore  BSL users often feel frustrated they are forced to communicate on a hearing person’s terms, rather than a hearing person trying to speak BSL, or attempting to find a communicative solution in the middle.

To address this we decided to experiment with graphic facilitation, the process of using drawings and words to create a map of the conversation. As the graphic facilitator for the session, I was the silent partner to the verbal facilitator and BSL interpreter. Not influencing the conversation but keeping pace, creating drawings of what was being discussed in real-time.

Workshop findings

Armed with a large notepad and inky pen I set about visualising what was being discussed to give both participants and facilitators an illustrated version of conversation. This allowed us to do a playback of the session at the end of the workshop. Furthermore, it engaged the participants in a creative process, and helped us fine-tune our findings. It also allowed us to have a shared language between BSL and English and helped us bring participants ideas to life,

On the other hand , the disadvantages of creating a “visual interpretation” to the workshop was that the images are open to interpretation by each individual viewer as, they are in their nature less specific than note writing. For example, during the playback one of the participants asked whether the door that the figure was stepping out of was a cape — which as you can imagine caused some confusion.

Inclusive facilitation

The use of graphic facilitation may only be a small bridge between the BSL community and government, but it’s a step in the right direction. Considering the what, how, and why of communication is an important part of research which will hopefully see us create accessible services that work for everyone, anywhere.

Our project with the Scottish Government see’s a shift in how we can start co-designing with participants to create services, by actually considering our differences in the co-design process. It’s an opportunity to explore how we can think outside the box, consider other perspectives, and create a fresh approach to facilitation. Furthermore we can have some fun with it along the way.

Interested in joyful facilitation?

Check us out!