It says ‘Transformcartoonist‘ on the badge that hangs from a cord round my neck. I think it’s a brilliant title: Transformcartoonist. I never would have come up with that, but here at the Municipality of Genoa’s Department of Smart Cities they did and gave it to me. I wear it with pride surrounded by other badges bearing more ordinary titles such as Senior Urban Planner, Engineer, Consultant, Chief Officer, Mayor, etc.
It was a good title, not only because it gave me something to talk about during the lunch buffet here at the Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, where a Smart City -meeting was held this spring. It’s a good title because it doesn’t beat around the bush and unequivocally names what I do. If you don’t know what a transformcartoonist is then you probably don’t know that transformations can be accomplished using cartoons either. This is, however, precisely what I do.
Imagine, six European cities joining forces to enable their transformation into future-proof cities with acceptable electricity consumption and CO2 emissions. Experts and stakeholders meet in each other’s cities to intensively collaborate on concrete plans. These transformers originate from municipal bodies, companies and consultancies. They have multifarious backgrounds: technical; cultural, institutional, historical as well as five different languages on the basis of which people speak English with varying degrees of success.
It’s a small miracle of human civilisation and communication skills that these very different groups of transformers are capable of discussing, expanding upon and innovating such complex matters. What helps greatly is that all of them – there are truly no exceptions – are incredibly passionate about what they do. This enthusiasm is contagious and simultaneously crucial to enabling the intended transformations to take place. It’s great to be around and collaborate with people who are so driven. As a cartoonist I get to participate in these transform meetings.
Basically, as a transformcartoonist does the same as a cartoonist at a newspaper. He or she listens to what’s going on around them, then tries to understand and draw this. I show these drawings during the meetings to provide a moment of reflection. It also gives the highly varied group of transformers a communal visual language they can use. People who want to explain something complicated often call me over. I listen and draw. Together we create an image which represents the idea.
After the meeting I not only leave a drawn report of the working proces behind, but also provide a stack of images and depictions that visualise the main terms, concepts and ideas. The transformers use those to explain what they are doing to their companies, agencies and municipal organisations. There where the transformations are to take place. These subjects are complex and moreover demand ways of thinking and acting that people are not accustomed to. The transformers lead their organisations towards the unknown. It helps if you have pictures. Preferably a cartoon. From now on I’ll be referring to myself as ‘Transformcartoonist‘.