welcome

You have stumbled onto my (Sue Borchardt) corner of the interwebs. I am a sensemaker and animator who lives in Baltimore. I hang with the Quakers because I like their commitment to non-violence — it aligns with my aspiration to work for a more peaceful, just, and equitable world. My impossibly delusional vision for Baltimore (h/t to Chris Wilson’s inspiring book The Master Plan) is a city in which every person has opportunities to learn, earn, and get around. I believe this is a collective learning challenge and that this is a lifetime’s worth of work.

My latest animation shown below is the third part in a series of animations on the phenomena of cultural evolution, created in collaboration with researcher Michael Muthukrishna. If you haven’t seen parts 1 & 2 you can watch them in order on vimeo: cultural evolution animation series. If you’d like even more background — for instance, a bit of detail on what culture IS — you might want to start with a series of animations on adaptive culture that I made in collaboration with the members of the learning innovations lab (aka LILA): adaptive culture animation series

If you’re looking for animations they are mostly on vimeo. I’ve also taken passes at cataloging all the animations I’ve created using various tools like airtable and kumu.

If you’d like to hear a bunch of details on me and how I got here you can jump to about.

animations

Sometime in 2011 I started playing in the space of using animation as a way to make sense of the world. Every once in a while I try to take stock and create a catalog of all these animations. None of the catalogs is complete but they still give me a great sense of accomplishment. The image that comes to mind is Sysiphus pushing a boulder up a hill. From Sysiphus’ perspective (am I spelling that right?), all the animating starts to feel the same: an endless loop of research, script-writing, drawing, animation, editing, scoring, sub-titling, promoting,… and if the camera pans out you see that out of the side of Sysiphus’ mountain there is a spool of narrative, or garden crops, or software, or knitting… whatever it is that is his work in the world.
So below are two attempts at panning out and viewing “the knitting” that has emerged so far. In both of the catalogs below you can click on an entry and if the animation is publicly available (i.e. my contract does not preclude me from sharing) then a link is provided to the animation so you can watch.

I made a tabular catalog in airtable (a user friendly no-code database platform).

… and a more visually presented catalog created using the mapping platform kumu. One can create maps in kumu with no code but I found the learning curve steep. If you want to avoid creating an unusable hot mess, make sure you understand the (not-so-intuitive) architecture and terminology kumu uses. If you want to get fancy it helps to be comfortable with CSS at least.

about

Sue Borchardt Bio

As a freelance research artist, I create animated shorts that tell stories about ideas, research, and ways of making sense of things. I pretty much look at every challenge as a learning challenge — even our seemingly intractable political and social issues.

A bit about how I got here: My pre-professional life was almost exclusively focused on art, but a pivot in my early college years led to a professional life that was decidedly tech. I put a BS in Electrical Engineering to use designing and prototyping user interfaces for the first generation of color radar displays for the Navy, and later query tools and maps for the Human Genome Database as a software engineer.

After a fun, but perhaps not-so-fulfilling 15 years, I left software. A liminal era marked by twists and turns landed me at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE) to learn about learning, initially through the lenses of neuroscience, biology, and phenomenology. At HGSE, I was captivated by social and co-constructive perspectives on the question of why, whether, and how adults continue to learn and grow (individually and collectively) and ended up spending several years as a teaching fellow in a course called Group Learning. It was a wildly paradoxical context, focused both on how we as individuals learn IN groups, as well as how groups themselves are learning organisms – whether teams, families, communities, or societies.

I left HGSE in 2012 with a Masters in Human Development and Psychology, but I didn’t really leave. I joined the Learning Innovations Lab (LILA) where, for 7-ish years, I continued to explore the tensions between theory and practice. It was at LILA that I started using animation as a way to document the insights and puzzles that emerged as LILA members (chief learning officers and other organizational learning leaders) explored new research and practice. As a result, animation has become a core medium for me for putting sense-making into service — integrating art, ideas, technology, storytelling, and user experience.

Though I have fledged the LILA nest, I continue to deepen my skills in using animation and visual narrative as a means of revealing and deepening shared knowledge. My belief that most challenges are learning (or unlearning) challenges has only deepened over the years, sparking an interest in sensemaking tools, models, and frameworks like the cynefin framework, Wardley (strategy) mapping, polarity mapping, and design thinking tools.

While I’m a one-person shop (handling script-writing/editing, drawing, animation, scoring, and video editing) I depend on collaborators for the up-front sense-making that serves as the raw material. I have been shifting away from contracts as it results in limiting access to important knowledge and thinking on only those organizations with very deep pockets. Working collaboratively allows me to make my work is available online to anyone who wants to watch it (no pay-walls). This is made possible, in part, to folks who support my work on patreon.

Here are some nice things people have written about me and my animations

“I was impressed; the videos concisely depicted ideas and explained concepts in a visually engaging and were easy to understand.”

“I am WOWed by what you’ve done here!! I so appreciate how the visuals bring to life and offer more potential for a deeper understanding of the words.”

“Sue’s animations are a real boon. The writing is sharp and the visual vocabulary that she has developed combine to create a pithy, powerful experience.

“In the world of complexity Sue Borchardt is able to ease our paradoxical minds : being rooted in the science and looking for simplicity”

WOW!!  Seriously, I am thoroughly impressed and can’t wait for this to be shared.  Fantastic job Sue – everything: animation, voice, and music was engaging and thoroughly compelling.

“It was powerful to watch this video as I continue to reflect on our last session. Sue, you beautifully do sense making with your videos and it helps me cull for the deepest insights that cause me to see what next I can do. Thank you friend.

You seem to have captured a very focused and unique space: information design that works sequentially through a learning process in a decidedly unthreatening visual style. Beyond the technical skills required to make things move and a native drawing talent, the intellectual rigor involved in graphically simplifying complex concepts or clarifying data is enviable.

I marvel at your ability to take our rambling conversation and turn it into something that is clear and concise.”

“I really value the story told in this medium and how it was synthesized not chronologically but by insights and learnings. Bravo Sue, bravo and I will be sharing this with others.”

“This is BEAUTIFUL. Sue -your work brilliantly brings so many of these ideas to life. As an academic, this is really a gift, a reflection back to me in new ways of so many of the ideas that I’ve been working with.”

“You were the glue that kept us together. Thank you for your generosity, energy and creativity.