What’s up with all of the live drawing at Chicago Ideas Week?

By Ryan Robinson, Ink Factory Co-Founder and Chicago Ideas Co-op Member

We’ve all sat through a meeting or keynote speech where presenters read from copy-heavy slides, losing our attention and leaving us to nod off into our coffee cups. While this scenario is common in many professional settings, a shift is underway.

Recently, the CEOs of Amazon and LinkedIn banned such slides from executive meetings, opting instead to share stories in more engaging ways. At Chicago Ideas Week this concept is old news. Since it debuted in 2011, the week-long ideas festival has used visual notes to complement traditional presentation tools.

These visual notes are drawn by the team of artists at Chicago-based Ink Factory. Ink Factory artists create visual notes by listening to a speaker, filtering for key concepts, then drawing those concepts using images. If you’ve attended Chicago Ideas Week in the past, you may recall the large murals in the venue lobbies featuring visual notes from each session. These murals draw attention and keep the conversation going well after the event ends. Here’s how:

Appeal to how people learn best

It’s true that visual notes look cool, but their benefits go deeper. When you pair live drawing with a live event, you set the stage for more productive learning and collaboration.

Science points to multiple benefits of visual notes. For starters, they’re more accessible. This is because the majority of us are visual learners.

They also improve our ability to understand and recall complex information, which makes sense because humans remember 80 percent of what they see, but only 10 percent of what they hear.

And, perhaps most importantly, visuals forge emotional connections with viewers. When this happens, people are more likely to engage with the content, remember it and take action.  

Think beyond traditional settings and materials

Chicago Ideas Week is a hotbed of creative, progressive and poignant discussions, making it an ideal setting for visual notes. But we know live events come in many shapes and sizes, and luckily, visual notes can complement just about any of them.

Analog visual notes—those drawn on eco-friendly artist boards using refillable markers—are ideal for smaller, more intimate settings like meetings, brainstorms and strategy sessions. When an audience watches an artist live drawing next to a speaker, attendees can listen to the content and see it come to life simultaneously.

Large-scale events like sales meetings, conferences and trade shows lend themselves well to digital visual notes. These are drawn on a digital tablet and projected onto screens throughout the event space, making it easy for attendees to follow along.

Companies can get creative with materials and settings as well. For example, we’ve designed tradeshow booths using backlit LED panels that enable an artist to capture visual notes from the conference.

As always, Ink Factory will be on hand to capture visual notes at Chicago Ideas Week in October. Completed visual notes from each talk will be on display at the Harris Theater and shared on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #ChicagoIdeas. If you have questions about visual notes or want to talk about how to utilize them for your organization, stop by and say hi. We hope to see you there!


Chicago Ideas Week will take place on October 15-21, 2018. Learn more and see the full event schedule here.

Vanessa M. Buenger is the director of marketing & content at Chicago Ideas. She is passionate about storytelling and the power it has to change the world.

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