Meet Thy Marker

Sketching 1

Reluctantly I was ushered into a stinking, long forgotten and oppressive room. There were signs of trouble everywhere – I sensed imminent demise – despair overtook me. I’ve only been in prison once before – this didn’t look as good.

Wake up. Wake up. Oh crap I am awake.

You’ve been there…

A blood stained meeting room from hell. Engineered on purpose by a fascist to drive you insane. Built to keep you from the real world – eventually dissolving any belief you ever had in yourself. The space is utterly soulless – surrounded as you are by frosted glass, fluorescent lamps and badly painted plasterboard. Designed by an idiot. An afterthought of a space – a space left behind in the overall scheme of things.

I’m going to go on sorry…

It was fitted out by a team of trained sadists – one of them some cheese-ball felon – fresh from a sweet deal on token broken white clocks and useless and equally broken stationary items. Another of the squad handpicked because of his lust for those vomit inducing ‘inspirational posters’ – in ‘seriously-hard-to-find-rank-hideous’ frames – the kind of decor that makes you enquire after a glass of battery acid.
And on…

That snake-pit of extension cables from another technological age. They await (with some venom) the opportunity to snag the only wheel that works on your coffee(?) stained chair. (Ironic as actual coffee has never been in this room – unless carried in from miles away by an inmate)

Several less fortunate and hideously disfigured chairs are lined up ready for the firing squad against the wall. Why are they all in here? There’s that sign reminding you where to meet in the event of a fire – a helpful can of kerosene to make sure that with luck this fucking room never makes it out alive. (It’s an imaginary sign)

Someone please tell me when the law got passed saying that all meeting rooms had to have 3 dried out marker pens (Pens that 4 years ago were feint blue, dusky orange and brown) That same law that insists on permanently damaged (already fully used) block of flip chart paper. (Are they purchased fully filled in?)

This mess is incredibly attached to a distant member of the Zimmer frame family – the bastard child of a methamphetamine fuelled shopping trolley and wire coat hanger? There’s a spoiled paper plate with a spoon on it. The top of a biro. Ok – enough.


A Riot

For me to spend my time inside in any way that’s useful I would have to redecorate every wall and start drawing.

Drawn To Run

There’s definitely something going on.

Everywhere I look people are far more drawn to the ‘visual thing’ these days. I’m not sure we have quite got to the bottom of why it’s growing as a business tool. Novelty? Time It Takes To Bore People To Death With Power Point? Suicide Rate? God forbid – value?

People are now actively promoting sketching – capturing everything that moves in a drawing or a photograph. Using drawing to tell the story or their idea more accurately. Meetings are starting to be just that little bit more engaging – getting closer to their purpose of actually achieving things. Great.

Did somebody finally realise the purpose of a meeting was to actually do something of value?

Sketching 4

Let’s Draw

Are we now any less capable of drawing than we were? I doubt it. It’s an innate skill right? We have opposable thumbs so that we can walk up to a whiteboard grab a marker and go crazy. Oh how we laugh.

We just lack a little practice (100 years) and the occasional person telling us we are any good. (1)

I hear it continually – “Yeah we stopped drawing at school. We were told it was for kids or weirdo’s and to get ‘proper jobs’ we needed maths and science.” Rubbish.

Look where that amazing education system has got us.

Stand And Deliver

Well I’m hopeful that now there’s enough of us that give a rip about the idea of drawing we can keep the revolution going. My hope is that we can build on this wave of interest going and really make it the natural way stuff gets done. I’m pretty sure we will all stand up for what we know works and make even more of a fuss. Shout about it. Draw on everything that stands still long enough for us to get our markers out!

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso



Drawing is the physical expression of thought – an emotional representation. Other people watching someone draw cannot fail to be engaged one way or another. It’s a gift.

Drawing, that includes well chosen words and phrases, amplifies that emotional charge – provided that the words are indeed well chosen.

Never forget that drawing is entirely symbolic.

Like words (and their cousins hieroglyphs) this is how mankind has always shared its stories. The simple act of watching someone draw may be a proxy for some (who feel they just can’t do it) but drawing is an immensely powerful way for our inner body and mind to expresses its ideas.

Even the humble doodle is powerful.  You don’t have to be a consummate maestro. The chicken scratch is quite a beast. Any kind of free drawing is a seriously impressive way for our brains to work – causing them to think, imagine, play, conceive and create ideas. The act of it releases so much value in the process whether alone or in teams. It should become compulsory.


Other perspectives

There is a truly well crafted article on Medium called the The War on Wordsmiths by Ali Eteraz and while I agree with pretty much all of it I struggle immensely that we can ever do away entirely with the quality application of words. And there is no need.

The issue is education and valuing language properly. We need to get back to identifying and using the right words and deploy them in the right way. I’m beginning to loathe many words in common use because they have mostly been hijacked. But in the right hands words can conjure serious mojo – give out a very powerful magic.

In my own practice – drawing and writing has to be in balance – it’s right at the heart of why any of it is valuable. I cannot imagine a drawing without words. Nor words without the drawing. It just would not have the utility.


Drawing To Conclusions

We sketch, doodle, draw and create this way so as to become creative – to get our ideas across to others. My crusade is to make the skill of drawing so natural and important that it’s taught in schools, accepted in business, and access to it improved in whatever way technology can enable. But never to the exclusion of words or the education that’s required to put the tools of words and images to proper use.

For me the real power of both the visual and the written combination comes from the meaning of each element that’s created within a bigger frame.

Putting it simply, whether it’s an abstract or a real interpretation of something, I don’t get value from it unless it can speak to me. For it to speak to me there has to be some sense in it – it has to tell me something. A story.
I focus on the frame and the tension in that frame and then each of the elements deep within all of that. I call that ‘structure’. And it’s incredibly powerful when the result stands up and quite literally speaks for itself. Truly magical when that structure reveals that combination of meaning, purpose and creativity that wasn’t there before.

For many years now my medium has been the wall, electrostatic paper and dry erase markers. Im very open to new innovation in this area but they would be very hard to beat. Like the meeting rooms I get arrested in they cover a multitude of sins.

  1. To transform corporate dirt with electrostatic paper obliterating any trace of the command and control is a sheer joy.
  2. To dismantle the paraphernalia of ‘torture’ – (zero output office furniture) delivers huge pleasure.
  3. To draw structures and frameworks that takes teams of people on a journey to their dreams on those very walls is – well it’s a privilege.

meeting Rooms

We see movement

I stumbled across a great article – it raised some of the simple truths and put everything I believe in really well. 

  1. A sketch, sketched publicly, is persuasive. When you draw in front of other people, they get to “go along for the ride”, and this helps them feel some degree of ownership in the output. This means that they’ll be more likely to advocate for your ideas and support them, because they feel a personal connection to the process that spawned the ideas.ac4d
  2. “Owning” the whiteboard is one of the fastest ways to gain control of a room. It establishes focus. It forces an agenda (“We’re talking about this and not that, see?”), and more importantly, allows you to deliver on that agenda.
  3. Holding the pen is to hold the power of most rooms - it is to hold the definitive source of truth, or the “last word”.
  4. Sketching is the fastest form of visual thinking – I can create a sketch of a complex system in the amount of time it takes Adobe Creative Suite to complain about needing to be upgraded; pen on whiteboard is a medium that allows ideas to be captured before they dissipate, before they have a chance to be judged as “not worth it.”
  5. The ability to sketch what someone else is saying is fundamental to participatory design practice. As we strive to integrate “end users” into our design process through forms of co-design, we often need to act as the output mechanism for people who are too shy or unwilling to be publicly creative. Sketching is a critical part of that process.



If these simple ideas were practiced by people in pursuit of thinking about the purpose of things then I would wager we would design everything on Earth far better. And I mean everything.

People would be able to contribute to more meaningful outcomes, value would be exchanged – the real meaning of things would be shared, issues would be dealt with openly. Creativity would be at the fingertips of everyone.

Meeting rooms – where great thinking was surely intended – would be creating rather than sapping our energy. You get my drift.

Drawing is one of the key skills humans require for progress – especially as we’ve become so hamstrung by our words – the semantic dance we play out and go to war about as a result.

Things could be so darned different. Even when we are designing meeting rooms.


  • Mathew August 26, 2013

    At last, something to point to when I ask for the biggest whiteboard in the catalogue and the beancounter asks “Why?”.

  • John Caswell August 30, 2013

    Ha! Yes get the word out there Matthew. We look forward to the days when meeting rooms are 100% blank canvasses for thinking and creativity. The writing is on the wall!

  • Alun Baker October 2, 2013

    John I guess in a similar way to meeting someone who is great at one sport but also excels at most others, you seem to have a poet inside the artist and visionary. You write visually and perhaps one day I will read the novel you publish. Hope all is well Alun

  • John Caswell October 2, 2013

    Thanks Alun and fine words much appreciated. I am not sure about the novel just now but you may well be write! :-)

  • Balaji Prasad November 24, 2013

    John, nice inspiring piece from the heart. Good to see that you have continued to share your talent and insights over the years! Hope things are great with you. Would love to see you again.

  • John Caswell November 28, 2013

    Thanks for all the comments and Balaji, great to connect again. It would be outstanding to hook. Maybe lets get on a call…

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John Caswell  @johncaswell
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