Drawn in: how one designer turned 150 colleagues into artists

Ida Malene Jacobsen didn’t expect much when she asked if any colleagues would be interested in joining her drawing class. Six classes, 150 students (including one company CEO) later, her story is becoming something of a legend in Telenor.

Written: Mar 2020

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The suggestion posted on Workplace sounded so modest it was almost apologetic: “Maybe you’d like to learn how to draw?” That afternoon, when Ida Malene Jacobsen asked an entire company if they would like to learn the basics of ‘draftsmanship’, she expected no more than 20 responses. By the evening, her phone had buzzed, beeped and plinged with more than 500 comments, likes and shares. It appeared that her colleagues would very much like to learn how to draw.

The Reluctant Artist

It’s fair to say that, as an early student of product design, Ida Malene didn’t envision standing in front of hundreds of colleagues teaching the fundamentals of drawing. “I straight up sucked at drawing perspective drawings and drawing in 3D,” she tells us. “I figured I wouldn’t make it as a product designer. If I’m honest, I thought it was kinda boring.”

Luckily for Telenor, service design found its way into her studies; boredom waned, and interest grew. She was hit with the realisation of how limiting service design can be when articulating processes with words alone. Thankfully, a fellow student was on hand to show her the light. “I studied with a really artistic girl who often used drawings to explain problems and solutions both in meetings and in presentations. That inspired me to do the same.”

I studied with a really artistic girl who often used drawings to explain problems and solutions both in meetings and in presentations.

Since she caught the drawing bug, Ida Malene says, she found herself understanding concepts better and faster. These days, she’s a true convert, speaking passionately about how simple drawings can be so effective in communicating problems and solutions. As it turned out, she wasn’t the only one.

The student becomes the master

With a bachelor’s degree in Product Design from Oslo Metropolitan University, and a master’s degree in Service System Design from Copenhagen’s AAU under her belt, the next stop for Ida Malene was Telenor, joining the Service Design Team where drawing isn’t just something on the side; it’s critical to her work. “I think drawing is super important for companies that work with complex systems that need to communicate with a lot of different people with different skills, which is basically every company!”

Though drawing was integral to Ida Malene’s day-to-day at Telenor, the same can’t necessarily be said for everyone at Telenor. Overflowing with inspiration after a “visual facilitation class”, she shared what she had learned with her co-designers in the Service Design Lab. Their response? Train Telenor. One post on the intranet later, and the rest is history.

“I hoped maybe 20 people would show interest”, she remembers. “The thread exploded, and suddenly over 200 people wanted to learn how to draw at work. Even Petter-Børre (Telenor Norway’s CEO) wanted to participate!”

Class is in session

Participate he did, along with folks such as Marte Bakke, who, instead of listing bullet points, used her newfound artistic prowess to represent a complex customer persona. Today, Ida Malene’s students share their drawings in her Draw It group, living proof of how her teachings are changing ways of work from Marketing to HR.

“I wanted to teach them what would be relevant for their work, so I built my own 90-minute drawing class from scratch, and set up 6 classes, with 150 participants in total. I even got someone to live stream it, so now it’s on Telenor Campus (Telenor’s internal learning platform).”

As much as the whole experience awakened Telenor’s passion for drawing, it made Ida Malene even more passionate about something else: sharing.

“Knowledge sharing is SO important! In a company like Telenor we’re so many people with vastly different areas of knowledge I would love to learn more about. The worst thing you can do is to think you know everything or underestimate your own skills. Sharing knowledge is much more than just helping a co-worker learn new skills. It’s about creating a culture where continuously developing, improving and exploring is part of the DNA. If someone can help you live or work more efficiently, then learn it! Be curious. Stay humble. Explore. Always improve.”