Masters of all trades

I’ve been thinking about an event I scribed at a while ago. It was two day conference; a huge gathering of different departments of a steel production company. They discussed new types of stainless steel, how the steel was produced, how it was doing in the market... I think there was time for an anecdote at one point, but mostly it was steel.

More than a couple of times, delegates came over to the scribing wall, and after looking at the drawings for a while, asked:

“Do you work for the company?”

“Oh, no.” I replied. “I work for a company called Scriberia.”

“So… How do you know so much about steel?”

This is an interesting situation to be in. I know nothing about steel, stainless-steel, or any other steel related product. I got an E in my Chemistry GCSE and thought I’d better leave the periodic table well alone. (Hang on. Steel isn’t an element, is it? No idea.) Anyway, what I’d drawn on the wall was a detailed beginners guide to steel manufacturing.

It’s not obvious to everyone how someone who knows nothing about a subject can communicate it effectively. It can be challenging enough to communicate something you do know a lot about. But this is what I said in response:

“At Scriberia we listen to content and interpret it in the form of illustrations, so we get to learn about a huge variety of different subjects.”

That’s it, really. We train ourselves to listen to the content and filter it as it’s happening. We learn to be receptive to what is important to the client, picking and choosing to find the key information. As illustrators, we can then add emphasis, creativity and our own interpretation of the information as an outsider.

I would argue that Scribing is far more effective than ordinary note taking: because we’re coming fresh to the information – we have to break it down, so it’s simple and clear. Besides, we can capture the tone of the day: a joke, a look, a face. They can all be recorded just the same as the detailed facts and figures. Our lack of inside-knowledge is actually an asset.

While, we’re confident in that fact, not everyone is. The idea of trusting a stranger, with no prior experience in your field, to understand the complexity of what you do can feel a bit risky. Imagining it the other way around, I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be with someone from the Steel company grabbing a pen and getting stuck in to the scribing…

But we’re pretending we know everything. We couldn’t possibly be experts in every business we work for. But what we are experts in, is communicating what we hear in the form of drawings.

I couldn’t count the amount of events I’ve been to where the agenda changes half an hour before, and all the research you did becomes instantly irrelevant. But in the end, it doesn’t matter, because we’re there in the moment - listening hard and learning fast, and seeing the whole picture.