The power of working visually

Several hands rest on a tree branch in a blue image. Text over the image reads 'Be brave and be 100% human'
Image from 100% Human at Work
Cara Holland smiling
by Cara Holland
8 August 2018

Can you remember the last time you drew a picture?

Many adults get stuck on that question. Perhaps last Christmas the Pictionary came out, or maybe not since primary school? For lots of grown-ups, drawing = art and art is relegated to the museum wall or to little kids with bumper crayons.

I have a different view. Drawing is not about art, drawing is about thinking. Drawing is about solving problems, creating clarity and sharing information. Drawing can change the way you connect with content and with people, and along the way, drawing can change the way you do business.

Drawing is not about art, drawing is about thinking. Drawing is about solving problems, creating clarity and sharing information.

Back in 2006 I founded Graphic Change, a visual thinking studio, with a mission to get the world drawing again. We’ve drawn with some of the biggest brands in the world, uncapping marker pens everywhere from a muddy field to Buckingham Palace. I’ve written a book on the subject Draw a Better Business which is being published this Autumn, and we run the online Graphic Change Academy where we train individuals, teams and whole organisations to warm up their visual thinking brain and get the benefits of working more visually.

Graphics drawing of a person being catapulted from a catapult with the words "look back to move forward" with the caption "Big & Bold in the face of cgange" followed by " do good " then " do well" .
Image from Graphic Change

You’ll be forgiven if you think drawing at work sounds like a nice but fluffy extra, but I can assure you it’s much, much more. Here are some of the reasons why working more visually is something you’re going to get excited about:

  • It’s more engaging – You are more engaged when looking at visual communications, as it flips switches in all four lobes of your brain.

  • It’s quicker – It takes just 250m/s for a visual symbol to be processed and understood.  That’s seriously quick and much more efficient than text.

  • It’s stickier – You will remember content for longer. Research has shown a significant recall advantage for words that were drawn instead of written.

  • It’s more inclusive – Whether it’s literacy, language or dyslexia that makes a big chunk of text a challenge, working visually removes barriers.

  • It’s good for you – That’s right. Drawing has been shown to lower cortisol (the stress hormone) and strengthens neural pathways, which some believe slows down mental ageing.

Pretty compelling I know, but how do you harness those benefits at an event such as Virgin Unite’s 100% Human at Work gathering, which was held in London at the end of June? How do we turn your rich conversations into rich pictures? The answer is simple, we send in a graphic recorder.  

Cartoon robots with the text 'people should be educated in creativity, judgement, problem solving and humanity, not coding! Focus on solving the right problems with AI'
Image from Graphic Change

A graphic recorder’s role is to capture the valuable content and key messages from a session, turning them into engaging, useful and shareable visuals. But how do they do that? Well broadly we follow this process:

  1. Listen: Creating a graphic record begins with some seriously acute listening. Listening to both WHAT is said and HOW it is said.

  2. Synthesize: Identifying the sum of what is being said, spotting links and themes. 

  3. Translate: Taking that information and searching your mental ‘visual dictionary’ looking for contextually appropriate imagery to illustrate the point

  4. Draw: and finally, drawing the images and adding key text to really supercharge the impact

All that might sound complicated, but actually we’re so geared up to work visually, it happens almost in the same time it takes for the words to be spoken. At the 100% Human event, our graphic recorder Catherine listened and recorded live throughout the day, drawing onto large pieces of card, which were displayed along the windows, perfect for congregating around during break times. As the participants at the event can attest, it’s both powerful and useful to see the conversations they were part of summarised and captured in this way. 

Illustration of 'New Ways of Working' - a mind full of ideas: navigate, connect people, curiosity, mindset change, think.
Image from Graphic Change

Perhaps though the real super power of creating graphic records is that it keeps conversations alive and in mind long after everyone has gone home. You see visuals are super shareable, making sense if you weren’t in the room but also transporting participants back to the content, the emotion and the day, like nothing else.

Perhaps though the real super power of creating graphic records is that it keeps conversations alive and in mind long after everyone has gone home. 

Anna Gowdridge, Head of People at Virgin Unite fed back "I found the graphic recording a really powerful and impactful way of capturing the conversations during the 100% Human at Work Gathering. It is a medium that is far more engaging than simple note taking and really brought the conversations to life. On the day it was lovely having the images appear throughout the sessions, sparking further conversations, and since then they have been great tools for sharing the conversations with others."

In fact, I’ve known the visuals we create still be displayed, weeks and months after the event. Keeping those rich conversations and key messages front of mind and working hard. Not too shabby for a fluffy extra.

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