They say a picture is worth a thousand words and, with that in mind, one of my goals at SXSW 2015 was to make my note-taking a thousand times better. In her excellent workshop, Sketchnoting 101, Kate Hayward explained the many benefits that come from recording thoughts visually and how to feel more confident in illustrating one’s notes.
We started off with some brain science, learning just how much better we are at processing images than words. Compared to the million connections between the eye and the brain, there are only around 30,000 dedicated to auditory signals. Among other things, this leads us to process images 60,000 times faster than words and retain information presented visually up to six times better than the written or spoken word.
What’s more, you can communicate certain ideas much more accurately by drawing what you mean instead of trying to find the perfect words to describe it, since those words may end up meaning something different to other people anyway.
But whether you want to draw or not, the idea of abandoning words for images can be intimidating. Perceived lack of artistic talent often stops would-be visual thinkers from ever putting pen to paper. To get started, Kate gave us some great tips to ease into the sketchnoting method:
Let go of perfection. Sketchnoting is about communication, not art. You don’t need to draw like Da Vinci to get across the idea of a person; all it takes is a stick figure.
Don’t draw faster than the speed of thought. By staying mindful of each stroke, one’s drawings become much better.
You only need 100 images to communicate more visually. By simply taking some time to develop a small visual vocabulary, many seemingly un-drawable concepts become easy to put on the page.
We spent the rest of the time working together to come up with creative depictions of abstract ideas that we could all add to our arsenals, learning Dave Gray’s visual alphabet and other drawing tips and tricks, and practicing the technique over and over by taking notes on TED Talks.
While I am still far from a sketchnoting master, I definitely saw myself improve greatly over the course of the 4 hour workshop. I even continued to practice while taking notes in subsequent SXSW sessions. And by forcing myself to ignore minutiae and to look for the main points that were worth spending time to draw, I actually felt like I internalized much more of each talk and captured a much better summary in my notebook.
Though I’m not sure I’m ready to give up traditional note-taking completely just yet, especially when in a pinch to jot things down, I definitely plan to be much more visual in my everyday record keeping from now on.