How scribing can put you on the map

We act as our clients’ cartographers: through scribinggraphic facilitation, sketchnotes and rich pictures we create visual documents of the significant points in their landscape, enabling them to pick a safe path from where they are today, to where they want to be tomorrow.

But, ever since the first map was drawn, the task of deciding what should and shouldn’t feature, has been fraught with contention. Being ‘on the map’ has come to mean success and official recognition. And we’ve seen first hand, that being integral to the bigger picture and visible to the rest of the world (or even just to the rest of your company) matters to everyone. 

You could take for example the 1.2 million people residing in the 600 or so favelas of Rio De Janeiro. They make up around 20 per cent of the city’s total population. And yet, if you were to pick up an official map or guidebook, you might never know they existed.

Their omission from Rio’s cartography has real-world repercussions. As invisible communities, they have been denied legal rights and crucial services. Tens of thousands of people living in favelas lost their homes when land was cleared to make way for the Olympics, including a large number of the residents of Vila Autódromo. And, though they managed to save a sliver of their community from the bulldozers, they were wiped off the map anyway, and are now campaigning for their rightful reinstatement.

There are few more powerful ways of showing someone they matter, than by putting them on the map.

According to the developers of What3Words - a new global addressing system - 4 billion people in the world are invisible’, because there place in the world is not mapped. What3Words has divided the world into 57 trillion 3m by 3m squares, and given each square a simple three word address, giving everyone, everywhere an address if they want one. 

What difference does that make? In the case of Vila Autódromo, and anyone living in unmapped territory, the difference is both practical and symbolic. And we think the same can be said for people whose points of view are captured in a piece of scribing or in a series of sketchnotes. Once they're on the map, they become part of the bigger picture, recognised for their contribution to it and, maybe most importantly, reassured that other people know of they're there! 

Throughout history, maps – as consolidators of the status quo, or shakers of its very foundations - have played an important role in influencing social and political change. While cartography may be a scientific discipline, it’s not immune to subjectivity – often reflecting the point of view of the map maker. British mapmakers have depicted this tiny isle as a rather more significant landmass than the speck it is in reality. And in 1976, illustrator Saul Steinberg acknowledged the egocentricity that often shapes a map when he designed this cover of The New Yorker, View of the World from 9th Avenue. It presents the view of the rest of the world from Manhattan, with Manhattan at the centre, and unimportant China, Russia and India on the distant horizon, as a commentary on America’s self-centredness. 

Booth's 'Master Map' of poverty-stricken London

Booth's 'Master Map' of poverty-stricken London

When maps represent the typically under-represented, it can send a powerful message. Back in 1885, businessman Charles Booth was sceptical of a government claim that a quarter of Londoners were living in extreme poverty. His research found that in fact 30% of the city were living below the poverty line, and so Booth created the ‘Master Map’, which plotted the socio-economic classes of the city’s population. His study played an important role in raising awareness of poverty figures that had been down-played by the authorities, as well as putting pressure on the government to provide help.

Without Booth’s visual representation, who knows how long it would have taken the authorities to recognise the scale of poverty in London. And this idea, that ‘to be seen is to be heard’, is something our scribes have witnessed time again on scribing and sketchnoting jobs, where a diversity of voices and point of view find a place on the scribing wall.

Our creative director, Dan Porter, notes: ‘Whenever we’re working with a client to describe the organisation visually – whether that’s capturing a strategic conversation or depicting a future vision – we always feel it’s important that people can "see themselves" in the picture.

'It’s crucial that we draw characters that the viewer can identify with in some way, characters with shoes that are easy to step into. Because if people can make that connection with the characters they see on the wall, they’re far more likely to buy into the messages or stories they represent.

‘When this works well and people see the issues and challenges they wrestle with daily illustrated with care, sensitivity and imagination, it can be a very engaging, and sometimes even an emotional experience for them.’

So, sure, maps are useful in getting you from A to B. But their significance in all of our lives far exceeds that. Being on a map speaks to a very human desire for recognition, understanding, and inclusion. There are few more powerful ways of showing someone they matter, than by putting them on the map.