I doodle. A lot.

In fact, I actually get paid to doodle. Creating fresh graphic representations of information is a huge part of my work life, and doodling is part of my early design process.

Doodling is one of the ways I brainstorm. I use it to communicate concepts and draft thinking to colleagues and clients. In fact, doodling has become my preferred form of expression, communication, and note taking.  It’s an integral part of my design process both at work and at home. These days, I think in pictures.

A (very) brief history

If you look up the word “doodle” in any dictionary or encyclopedia, you’ll find definitions such as: to scribble aimlessly, to fiddle around or absent-mindedly scrawl. As a true believer in the potential power and value of the doodle, I find them offensive.

The truth is, brilliant people have been creating meaningful doodles since the beginning of time. The innovative ancient Egyptians sketched architectural plans and practiced decorative painting techniques on limestone chips leftover from construction projects. Doodles have been found in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Edison and on the margins of manuscripts written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Fellow doodlers and creative thinkers like Sunni Brown are determined to change the age-old perception that doodling is for scatterbrained losers. In her article “The Miseducation of the Doodle,” she states that doodling is really a “highly functional technique with broad applications for the way we work and the way we think.” She also coins a new term, “strategic doodle,” which she defines as “to doodle to track auditory or text-based information and display it back to an audience (it can be an audience of one).” Amen, sister!

Your mean junior high teacher was wrong

Doodlers aren’t tuning out. They’re doing exactly the opposite. By sketching, they’re keeping their minds from wandering. In a study published in the journal Applied Clinical Psychology, psychologist Jackie Andrade discovered that “Doodling forces your brain to expend just enough energy to stop it from daydreaming but not so much that you don’t pay attention.” Her findings demonstrated that doodlers retained 29 percent more information than non-doodlers.

Doodles doodles everywhere or anywhere for that matter

One of the coolest things about doodling is that you can do it anywhere. It doesn’t require a desk or computer or internet access or fancy tools. All you need is something to write with and something to write on.

I recently visited San Francisco on my honeymoon and sketched a daily log of our adventures on a handful of blank postcards collected during a visit to SFMOMA. 

These “adventure postcards” (that I mailed back home on our last day in San Francisco) have slowly started to appear in our mailbox. Strangely enough, as I spent my first day back on the East Coast, preparing to write this blog post, I stumbled upon the genius of designer Mike Rohde.

Rohde’s “sketchnotes” concept for capturing travel adventures is a great low-pressure way to put your doodling skills to practice! As he advises, the right tools (a great notebook, good pens and a camera) will help you create a log using sketched pictures and words to serve as a vivid memory of your trip.

My sketchnotes were intentionally not very detailed, as I wanted a succinct record of our trip to supplement photos and jog our memories of such a special collection of adventures. And frankly, at the end of each packed with adventure day, I was really tired. So mine were just quick snippets sketched at the end of each day using a few of my favorite felt tipped markers that I happened to have in my bag. No special packing required though as Rohde suggests it’s good to be thoughtful and proactively pack a journal/good quality paper and markers.

Try it out…put your pen where your mouth is

You don’t have to be an artist to doodle. After all, “Doodling […] is beyond craft and criticism; it belongs to us all; it’s impossible to do it badly—or well.” So why not give it a try? (http://hilobrow.com/2009/08/24/in-praise-of-doodling/)

Especially now that you know there’s real research about its benefits that you can point to when you get scolded for doodling during your weekly staff meeting. Get offline and go impress your colleagues with the sketched out map of your company’s five-year strategy that you doodled during the last staff conference call.

Here are a few tips to get you started

  1. Gather the right tools. I like a good quality sketchbook/journal (like this one) and skinny felt tipped pens (these are my favorite). I admit, I’m a little old school but there are several iPad apps and styluses designed with doodlers in mind. Explore and see what works best for you.
  2. Start with something that interests you or you’re excited about such as a short day trip or a web-based lecture on a cool topic.
  3. Be confident (especially if you think you can’t draw). There’ s no pressure! This is for you and doesn’t have to be shared with others (though I bet you’ll want to!).
  4. Have fun!