bikablo Technique

How does our visualization technique and our training methodology work? Brandy Agerbeck, one of our local hosts, graphic facilitator and co-editor of „Drawn together through visual practice“ interviewed bikablo founder Martin Haussmann on the idea behind bikablo.

Brandy: Can you tell me how in your two-day visual facilitation training sessions your students develop so quickly?

Martin: At the bikablo akademie we have a very strong design-driven approach. We call it the bikablo technique and we have it copyright because we want people to learn it “from the source.” Today our 20-person bikablo trainer-team offers basic, advanced, open, and in-house classes for over 2,500 people a year based on this methodology. For example, we simply ask our participants to write down the letters U, Z, M, and O. Without knowing, they have already drawn our UZMO lightbulb. The clue is to combine the letters in a specific way:

When they do it again, they remember the shape. They remember the steps. They remember the results, and they also remember that once they draw this and they look around the room they see 14 different lightbulbs drawn with the same system. Each one is unique.

This is on the one hand a basic example for our very technical and logic, systematic approach. And it enables the joy of creativity that is set free by fast learning success in a trustful training community. These are the basic pillars of our training concept. Let me explain the system behind the bikablo technique in a visual metaphor:
How can gliders get up in the air without an engine? I learned they use the thermal lift—the warm air that rises from the ground to spin up in gentle spirals.

 That is the concept of our training. It’s always doing small “iterative” circles of learning, moving you up quickly and gently. The thermal lift in our trainings is the group process.

At the very beginning, there’s a simple invitation:

We ask people to take the first step and learn how to use the materials: hold the pen properly and make bold strokes on the surface.

The second one combines moving lines into basic shapes. We take a lot of time drawing proper circles and squares.

The next iterative loop is to recombine the basic shapes to the visual vocabulary of icons, graphics, containers, and people. The UZMO lightbulb, the doggy-ear-document, or simple people—everything is drawn out of recombined basic shapes. At first, we only drew people with an O and upside-down U, now we have also our system of “emotions”-people to act as protagonists for visual storytelling. It took us over 10 years to select, refine, and reduce the unique bikablo® iconography, and it’s still going on. In this iteration, we also add color. We do our special kind of shading—which is very simple; anyway, we take a lot of time to teach people because they desperately want to know how to do it properly.

Adding text we recombine visual vocabs to senseful key visuals. Text information is very important to us. People frequently forget about it because they think of visualization as just pictures. We also introduce how to improve the handwriting.


Then, with some generative layout templates and imagery, we recombine key visuals and text to complex layouts and pictorial landscapes.

And after learning all this, people recombine these elements with their own work context to create presentation posters or templates for visual facilitation or graphic recording.

It’s like verbal language where you first have syllables, then words, then sentences, and then stories. Generally spoken the way we empower people is like running a foreign language class.

The clue is: you don’t need to invent your own words to express yourself. Just learn how to pronounce and use the existing vocabulary and grammar in your personal way and for your individual purpose. Visual language, like Bob Horn suggests, consists of and is about using vocabulary (text, graphics, and pictures), grammar, and rhetoric in a conscious way.
In our classes people learn in two days to design something that looks great, that they can use for their work, they did in a pleasant and sheltered learning atmosphere. Team building in our training is very essential. We get everyone’s voices in the room, we ask people to communicate and collaborate. Sometimes we also ask people to draw on one poster together to make it a team experience.


Anyway, I think most of our success is the right choreography to design a training as a learning process that offers an appropriate combination of logic and systematic rules, free ow of trying out, alternations between deductive and inductive learning strategies, appreciative evaluation of participants’ results, and free space to visually work on their own topics close to their hearts.

Brandy: The discipline with drawing proper shapes and working within rules really resonates with me. It’s strong because it’s systematic. And you cultivate a fun team atmosphere where everyone can celebrate their successes. Where do you find people resisting your process and how do you respond to it?

Martin: Usually we don’t experience any resistance to our approach. But sometimes people say their results don’t look like that way they want it to be. That is why we usually have two trainers in the room, to give people personal guidance and encouragement. The best way to empower people is to encourage them. I have an American friend. He can’t draw a proper line. But he loves to draw, because he found out he can express his ideas in his keynotes without being a great craftsman, but he knows that he receives standing ovations when he proudly says: “Even with a poor quality of my line I can deliver my ideas and insights, and I love to do it.” Visualization is, like Ben Shneiderman says, not about making pictures, but about creating insight. Communicating good ideas needs inspiration and a little bit of self-confidence, not perfect pen strokes.

This text is a shortened excerpt from: „The Thermal Lift of Visualization“ Martin Haussmann interviewed by Brandy Agerbeck, in: Drawn together through visual practice, 2016, an anthology edited by Brandy Agerbeck, Kelvy Bird, Sam Bradd & Jennifer Shepherd.

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