THE "bachelor of graphic recording" doesn't exist...

The roles I’ve had, and what I’ve learnt along the way

One of the questions I’m asked the most, after what the heck is Graphic Recording, is how did you find this work? Let me say that it took some searching! But when I reflect I can see how so many of the roles I’ve had have helped me do the work I do.



Did you know I was once a hairdresser? I started an apprenticeship when I was 19 on the Gold Coast. What I learnt in that role is how to survive week to week on barely any money – my first-year pay was $145.05… but I also learnt how to listen – hairdressers spend a lot of time in listening mode.

Working in a plastics factory in Brisbane after this I really learnt the power of teamwork and how many moving parts contribute to a whole. I also learnt that I don’t want to work in a factory.

After the factory, I somehow found a job working for a group called Corporate Achievers as a kind of Girl Friday – I was 21 and basically did whatever was asked of me. Meeting clients, taking photos, typing up notes and using a IBM Pentium computer running CorelDRAW we would layout fancy looking resumes for clients. Here, I learnt how to be flexible and wear a few different hats.

Next I worked at a computer bureau – remember back when not everyone had a computer in their home? And if they did, they certainly didn’t have the internet or a printer? People would come in to print out resumes or manuscripts, photocopy reports and surf the internet for $8 an hour… probably using Alta Vista. (gah!) There was another incredibly talented graphic designer working there at the time – he took me under his wing and gave me feedback and advice daily about balance, colour, all the things most designers learn at university. It was wonderful and I know that those two years gave me a great start as a graphic designer.

In 1998 I moved to the UK for a year and worked within the design studio of two of the world’s largest banks. Wow, the pressure of working on submissions for mergers and corporate takeovers worth millions of dollars was something else. This was where I learnt to handle pressure, and sharpen my attention to detail.

In 2000, back in Australia, after freelancing for a while, I finally found the courage to ask one of my clients at the Global engineering firm, Arup to give me a job… I think my words were to the effect of “When are you people going to just give me a job?” – to which he replied “Oh – do you want to work for us?” Two years with one of the coolest global engineering firms. I met some amazing people – including my husband – and learnt how to manage my time like nobody’s business. While I was at Arup, I started to learn about and explore the world of workshops, graphic recording and visual facilitation – I remember getting into meeting rooms and going nuts on the whiteboards. I can say hand on heart that I was not very good back then.

Next I ended up in the design studio at AXA, and for a couple of years worked as their proofreader. After my work in the UK I knew it was a strength. It was great because it wasn’t just about spelling and grammar here – it was also about alignment and placement and consistency in documents. I know all of these skills contribute to a beautiful and error-free graphic recording.

I left AXA over 15 years ago to have my first son, and for years worked as a freelance graphic designer for a range of clients while raising my two kids. It has been so great working across so many industries during this time. The thing about doing your best work as a graphic designer is understanding context – quality purposeful graphic design is always found with a strong connection to context at its heart – and because of the many industries I’ve worked across, purely by accident rather than design, it’s led to quite a breadth of understanding of our world and the way we all connect within it. This is the thing that I think brings the most value to my work over the past 5 years as a graphic recorder – and every project I’ve worked on since is contributing to this as well. Ideas and learnings from a workshop with Aboriginal communities one week will enrich a workshop two weeks later about ageing and eldership.

So no – I did not complete a Bachelor of Graphic Recording majoring in Listening. But when I look back over the roles I’ve had and the experience I’ve gained I can see all roads leading to the work I now do, with a very specific set of skills including deep listening, synthesis, design, lettering and illustration.

In a workshop this week there was talk of people entering the workforce now expecting to have 5-6 careers over 17 different jobs in their working life. That sounds about right to me!

Debbie Wood creating a quick turnaround illustration on her iPad Pro