Six Golden Eggs of Graphic Recording

May 28, 2015

The article below was written for ArtsHub, published 28.05.15

Golden Goose

“Graphic Recording” describes the process of visually capturing and organising information in a meaningful and engaging way (using drawings, typography, shapes and text), in real time.

While Graphic Recording can be useful pretty much anywhere people are talking, it is most often used at conferences, workshops and consultations.

More than just pictures, the process is a powerful tool for analysis, dialogue, problem solving, decision-making, brainstorming, and planning.

It also creates a common understanding and sense of ownership for participants, and enhances their comprehension during and memory retention after a session.

In his NY Times Bestseller “Brain Rules”, molecular biologist Dr John J. Medina describes the power of combining words and images: “We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.”

There are countless other statistics, studies and articles I could quote on the proven benefits of Graphic Recording and it’s all-round-awesomeness, but in the five years I’ve been working as a Graphic Recorder, there’s one question I get asked at every single event – without fail: “How do you do that?”.

Unfortunately, like most things, the best answer to that is practise. Lots and lots of practise. Scribe the news. Scribe TedTalks. Your meetings. Your neighbours fighting… and you will improve with every attempt. However, there are a few “golden eggs” I’ve picked up over the years that will help start you off in the right direction:

1. In the ear, out the pen
As good and nice human beings, our natural instinct is to listen to content through the lens of understanding, remembering, perhaps participating… But when we are practising Graphic Recording, we are listening only with the intention of capturing. In the ear, out the pen. I find this thought can help liberate me from becoming flustered or trying to store too much information in my brain at one time. In the ear, out the pen.

2. Pan for gold
A common mistake is to start drawing as soon as the speaker or session begins. Don’t let nerves take over. Sit back for a moment and allow the content to wash over you a little. Get a handle on the pace and tone of your speaker. Let the nuggets of gold rise to the surface – listen out for great summarising soundbites, lists (e.g. “I’m going to share 4 insights with you today”), take aways, repetition, and big statistics (don’t get bogged down in these too much though – they’re great to illustrate a point, but don’t bend over backwards to get every number down!).

3. Make connections
One of the most important parts of our job as a Graphic Recorder is to capture information in a way that is meaningful and useful. Use ‘containers’ (e.g. speech bubbles, squares, circles, starbursts) to group information that belongs together, and ‘connectors’ (e.g. arrows, lines) to show the relationship between groups of information. You can also use colour to show how things are grouped, or to denote positive / negative ideas.

4. Draw people
People love people (no matter what they say!). We understand the world best when we see it through a version of ourselves. Play around with anthropomorphising things. Have a quick ‘go to’ character you can draw – stick figures are welcomed. Learn how to quickly draw facial expressions: happy, sad, angry, proud, embarrassed, calm, bored. All these can be achieved with a few simple lines within a circle, but they play a key role in your audience quickly downloading the sentiment behind an idea.

5. Use metaphors
A good metaphor can re-imagine how people see, think and discuss an idea. Use metaphors that make sense, are relevant, and resonate. Use the words of the speaker/s. DO NOT use a football metaphor because you like football, or because you can draw a football field. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it.

6. Everything speaks
As much as it possible, make every line with intention. The way you draw a word, or the colour you choose, can make it look serious, fun, important, scary… Play around with how you use typography – it’s not all about drawing. Sometimes you’ll just need to write a sentence for clarity – this is fine too! Know what requires detail, and what’s ok to stand alone.

Of course, every Graphic Recorder brings their own strengths and weaknesses. Leverage what you’re good at, know and work on what you’re not. Your own experience will give you your unique style and process for Graphic Recording, so be kind and gentle on yourself. Graphic Recording is an wonderful skill to learn, but you will need to invest some time into feeling comfortable. Particularly for artists, the ‘quick draw’ nature in front of an audience can be quite confronting at first.

So take these eggs, add your own special ingredients of choice, and you’re on your way to an awesome, sparkly, Graphic Recording omelette!


There are still 2 SPOTS left in Think in Colour’s Graphic Recording and Whiteboard Mastery course in June, if you’d like to learn more.

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Creative Mornings May: ROBOT with David Johnson

May 18, 2015

I was a bit excited about this month’s Creative Mornings Melbourne theme: ROBOT. David Johnson (Creative Technologist at Whybin\TBWA Melbourne)’s creative approach on the subject did not disappoint.

In science fiction, the robot’s struggle to learn about itself, its environment, and the people are around it is a common narrative. It is a narrative that reflects the human experience. We work hard to learn and adapt to our world and each other. In what could be described as The Wonder Years meets The Discovery Channel with a death metal soundtrack, David created a rich and diverse presentation on the art and science of learning.

Creative Mornings May. Theme: ROBOT
Creative Mornings May. Theme: ROBOT

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