Case Study

NASA Big Think: Graphic Facilitation

  • Any Experience
  • Commentary
  • Visual Design

Live-sketching ideas and solutions over the course of NASA's annual all-day Big Think workshop.


At the close of 2016, NASA held it's annual Big Think conference, a one-day, interdisciplinary workshop that pools the acumen and expertise of scientists, engineers, and other top industry minds to identify an innovation goal for NASA’s Frontier Development Lab over the course of the following year.

This wasn’t our first friendly engagement with NASA. In 2014, EchoUser hosted the Asteroid Hackathon, bringing together UX designers, citizen scientists, and programmers to work on an asteroid database in a day-long hackathon to address the issue of the presentation, relevance, and accessibility of the asteroid data itself.

At this year’s event, NASA invited experts from three key fields: space weather, asteroid hunting, and planetary defense. They also invited experts from a fourth field, machine learning, to establish a modern lens with which to help define the problem. EchoUser was brought in to supplement the day’s discussion with a human perspective, looking at solutions with consideration of the user experience. Our contribution was to think of the problem with the end user in mind — e.g. who are the humans who would participate?

We were joined by representatives from Autodesk, who partnered with NASA in hosting the event, Nvidia, who represented machine learning, as well as Miso, Seti, Deep Space Industries, and project RAMA, whom we collaborated with during the Asteroid Hackathon in 2014.

Our team proposed to graphically facilitate the session, recording the workshop in a live drawing to deliver at the end of the day.

At the end of the day, we delivered a visual artifact that allowed NASA and workshop participates to not only share and digest complicated pieces of information, but relive the entire workshop experience.


Equipped with colorful markers and fresh notepads, our illustrator captured the day’s presentations, presenters, notes, and conclusions in a colossal sketch. At the end of the workshop, we were able to present the paper artifact to NASA and participants as a physical asset and graphic recording of the workshop.

You can view a high resolution version of the live drawing here.

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Unique Value of Live Sketching

Graphic facilitation is an emerging practice, one that companies are starting to recognize for its unique value in documenting and transferring information, as well as visualizing information during meetings to help with understanding and retention.

In our graphic recording of NASA’s Big Think, we were able to accomplish several key outcomes:

  • Promoting active listening: Watching someone else take complex information and distill it into note form helps the audience understand and retain what they’re seeing, and helps humanize complex data. The concepts presented at NASA’s Big Think workshop dealt with highly nuanced, complicated concepts, but processing information and actively translating it into another medium helped our illustrator better understand the subject matter.

  • Visualizing information. For our illustrator, it was a matter of translating data-centric ideas from engineering and physical sciences into readable, digestible visuals.

  • Revisiting information: After a full-day workshop strung with back-to-back presentations, it can be difficult to ensure the retention of all the information shared during the course of the day, especially when sharing complicated yet critical pieces of information. Graphic recordings are a way of travelling back in time to remember when people talked about what, capturing the day’s proceedings in one fell swoop.

  • Summarizing findings: At the end of the day, the live sketch captures conclusions and critical next steps, documenting the thought process behind how ideas were formulated and conceived.

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Participants were enthused by the end result, and snapped photos of the graphic recording with their mobile devices to refer to at the conclusion of the workshop.

After receiving such critical acclaim, our team plans to continue to promote and introduce graphic facilitation in future meetings, both internally and with client partners as a valuable tool for not only understanding, sharing, and recollecting important information, but re-living the workshop experience.

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