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.“
“I think the way you present your insights – as academic and rigorous as they are – is totally non-threatening and readily accessible to even casual viewers who may not be totally engaged. The videos seem to have the capacity to almost stealthily change attitudes and perceptions for the better, and ergo greatly improve group dynamics of all stripes. Can you tell I’m impressed?”
“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.“