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The story of my first whiteboard animation

The CEN Concurrent Use Initiative

CEN Concurrent Use Video

Adding a human touch.

Between arriving back from Spain and moving to the south of England, I found myself working on a little project for the European Committee for Standardization (CEN).

The premise was to draw the initiative with a human touch. An original diagram provided a word heavy, technical perspective, but, if like me you’re not familiar with the terms and concepts, you would probably need a verbal explanation to understand it. My challenge was to create something different, something that would help people relate to the initiative. It needed to invoke feeling.

At this point, I was feeling confident. With a ruler, a pencil and a sketchbook I’m happy doodling and it wouldn’t matter if I needed to create a dozen or so drafts, I had a week or two.

Then came a minor twist. Something unexpected and leagues out of my comfort zone.

“Could you do it as a video, like one of those ones drawn on a whiteboard?”

Could I do it? No. It wasn’t that I was new to video. I’d just made five music videos whilst I was in Spain with a bunch of highly enthusiastic teenagers, and a couple of years before I’d recorded a series of video interviews during a university project. But there’s a big difference between recording a person speaking (or singing) and creating an animation. I didn’t even know what whiteboard animation was. I had absolutely no idea how to make one from scratch, especially not in under a fortnight.

However, I had two weeks before moving house and starting a new job. I had time, so I said yes, I’d give it a go.

Whiteboard animation can be done one of two ways. The first is to get a whiteboard and film yourself drawing the picture. I’m happy doodling in my notebook with a biro, but whiteboards and their pens are notoriously difficult to use. I’d just finished a university course in physics, where we were still using blackboards and chalk. The second method is to create the images as vector graphics and then have each of the lines draw out incrementally using the magical powers of software.

I had no idea what a vector graphic was.

What I learnt

1. I can draw under pressure

CEN Concurrent Use Video

Sometimes you just have to begin.

I can do this stuff. It’s really easy to say that we can’t do something. Again and again people tell me they can’t draw and it frustrates me. Is it really a natural talent or is it just that some of us had more time on our hands, parents who were willing to discuss art and access to the materials? Time and time again I doubt my own abilities. You would have thought that after many art classes I would know I can draw, but I’d ruled out giving art any significant role in my work because I’d stopped doing it academically. This is stupid. Academic qualifications are just an indicator of the time spent studying. What makes someone good is the time spent working. It’s the hours of practice.

My favourite sort of art requires you to roll up your sleeves. It takes over entire rooms. But drawing on a tablet is pretty nice too. You get to do it nestled in the corner of the sofa. The biggest benefit though, is that what create on a tablet is more malleable. With layers and erasers there’s much more forgiveness. With time I could refine and develop each of the images.

The suitcases were watching.

2. Vector graphics are beautiful

Vector graphics are a little different to what I’d created before. They’re beautiful because they scale. Rather than being stored as an array of coloured pixels, they’re a list of instructions that the computer reads and follows. Because the computer has the instructions to create the image from scratch, the result never looks grainy. If you want a logo that’s easy to scale and always looks good, you need a vector graphic.

I knew this, but didn’t really take it into account. When I drew the vector graphics, I drew them as if I was drawing in my sketchbook. You can see this if you watch the video and concentrate on how the images are drawn out. When I’m doodling I start with the head because whatever shape the head comes out generally dictates which way the figure looks. What you’re seeing in the video is the exact order I drew each of the lines. Watch the heads appear first.

Since completing this video, I’ve refined the process. Now when I’m creating vector graphics I start with a sketch on paper, which I scan/photograph and import into Inkscape or Illustrator to develop the vector graphic. I draw out each line, make adjustments and finally manipulate the order by editing the code of the XML file. Then I upload the images into VideoScribe. This summary is a somewhat simplified explanation, and only works for simple SVG graphics. But it’s enough to make a whiteboard animation.

3. The simplest tasks can be the most time-consuming

What might surprise you, when you watch the video, is that the most difficult part of the video was the circles. Vector graphics are lines, and what I wanted was a block of colour that would be the background for each section. The ‘fill’ tool doesn’t work when you’re drawing with vectors, so what you have to do instead is switch to using a normal picture layered over the vector image. My later whiteboard animations layer flat pixel images on top of the vector images to separate the colour from the lines.

Hence, if you watch the mess that is the pile of documents and the circles you’ll see that it doesn’t quite work. If you look really carefully, you might also notice that the top colour always gets drawn out, even if it’s the line behind that’s being drawn. This is an imperfection and it annoys me greatly.

4. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Or as Voltaire might have originally phrased the wisdom, le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. If I hadn’t had the pressure of the deadline and if I’d been expecting perfection then I would have stalled, procrastinated and been paralysed by fear. Whilst the project taught me to use various graphics design software and other technical skills, what I really learnt was that sometimes it’s worth trying regardless. If something sounds fun, if it’s something you want, then go for it. Do it and the skills come to you.

The Video

Since creating the video, I’ve also produced a version in Italian.

If you have any questions about how to do anything that you see in the video, drop me an email at

Video Transcript

CEN Concurrent Use Video

These healthcare standards affect everyone in Europe.

Hello. I’m Kate and I am going to tell you how three health information standards help me and my family.

This is my Nanna – she’s had diabetes for fifty years. This means she depends on the different parts of the health and care system working together so she gets the right treatment wherever she needs care. Most of the time she looks after herself, but sometimes things go wrong, or she has some additional problems so she calls on the professionals to help her.

Fifty years ago a family doctor knew everything there was to know, but today care is given by different people with different skills in different organisations all working together.

The first standard is particularly useful to her. It is the System of Concepts for the Continuity of Care. That’s a whole bunch of words to say it’s a standard with definitions of things that matter in health and care and how they relate to each other. You can think of it as a small dictionary for system designers with the bits which are understood across the world. It includes important things like those who need care, those who give care and those who pay for care. It also has some ideas which are about conditions, risks, objectives and goals, and how care is organised with care plans and clinical processes.

The second of the standards is the Health Informatics Services Architecture or HISA, or EN ISO 12967. It comes in three bits looking from the health and care enterprise, information, and computation perspectives. It provides the architecture for computers and devices to work together so that they can all help people care for me. An architect is the master builder, setting out the rules that other builders work to and how their parts all work together. A city has a set of hidden services we depend on, like power, water, transport and communication. They also have rules to make the city’s services work. For example, I have just come back from driving in France and Italy and working in Spain, and I had to learn to drive on the right hand side of the road and to use different types of electricity plug.

In healthcare, the rules are about things like who can access and share information, who can give particular types of care, and how information flows around the system and to the people.

CEN Concurrent Use Initiative Video

In all the original pictures you can tell that I’m right-handed.

The last standard is about sharing care records between people and systems. It is called the Electronic Health Record Communication Standard, EHR com or EN ISO 13606 by people who talk in numbers. This is a standard which has already helped me as I move around England for work or to go to university. Every time I change my family doctor the new doctor’s practice can take a copy of my collected doctors’ notes, since I was a baby, and read them in their practice system. The records are shared using an English system called GP2GP. It means I can move around my country and my life’s healthcare history follows me.

So that’s my summary of three health informatics standards, designed to work together for me and my family. You can use them too.

You can also use this short video or, if you want, change it so long as you attribute it to me and set this restriction on any other uses.

© Catherine Oughtibridge CC BY-SA 2.0 UK