The humble doodle: The home of focus, learning and creative thought

Like many a sticky fingered whelp, one of the first things I reached for as a toddler was a pencil. For many children, drawing is a very personal form of communication and self-expression that words cannot match. (Scrambled egg flung at the wall, maybe, but not words).

If you try to describe it, it's possible that no one will understand the genius of your automatic dog-walker, consisting of levers, pulleys and a Lazy Susan. But, as Edward De Bono demonstrated in his fascinating book, The Dog Exercising Machine, if you draw it, its genius is instantly recognisable.

When our soft little brains are still soaking up the new world around us - car, tree, dog, frightening shadow, petit filous – we're plucked from the freedom of the living room floor and thrust into the education system, as four-year-olds the country over discovered last week. Over a relatively short period of time, our crayons and colouring pencils are replaced with pens.

And as this recent article in The Atlantic notes, for most of us, the question isn't "when did you start drawing?" but "when did you stop?". But, all too soon, the inviting canvas of plain paper is replaced with lined, or even worse, GRAPH paper. The lines tell us to contain our thoughts; to do our thinking within these barriers; to keep it strictly relevant; to express it with letters and numbers that fit neatly in the spaces provided. Meanwhile, drawing is confined to specific periods of time, and heaven help you if you are caught doing it when you are supposed to be working.

“Doodling” is a word we have come to associate with idleness. If you’re doodling, you are not listening. You are focused on drawing, and your drawing has no greater purpose than entertaining you. But contrary to its poor reputation in the classroom, drawing has recently been proven to help us learn, and in fact focus our thoughts?

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, doodlers find it easier to recall dull information (even 29 percent more) than non-doodlers, because the latter are more likely to daydream. Doodling can keep the mind focused on one visual activity (doodling) and one aural one (listening), delaying the onset of mind-numbing, ear-blocking, thought-stifling boredom. 

And that's the theory behind books like The Human Body Colouring Book (Dorling Kindersley), which, its creator say, offers "a tried and tested, interactive method of learning" by better enabling students to commit the complex parts and processes of the body to memory, while colouring them in. Makes sense to us - maybe this is our chance to master the basics of biology that passed us by at school!

One of my tutors at University insisted that playing with Lego helped her to concentrate - though I've gotta say that as she beavered away at her miniature Lego Taj Mahal, she didn't exactly boost my confidence in the complicated third year project I was attempting to explain. I guess I know how my Maths teacher must have felt when he caught me focusing on Pythagorus' Theorem through the medium of comic strip heroines painstakingly rendered in biro. (Honest, Sir.) 

But, what is perhaps even more useful about the art of doodling, is its purpose as a medium for the unconscious expression of ideas. Whatever random line or shape or squiggle comes out of your pen has fallen directly out of your head with no argument or logic behind it. Nothing is too silly, too meaningless, too fanciful, too abstract, too impossible to be doodled, and as a result, a doodle can be the space in which the spark of a really good idea is born. It's what we preach in The Academy and, these days, it's what I practice, too. 

Now, when I start any project - at work or at home - there is a period in which I produce ideas; hundreds of little unresolved fragments made of things I’ve seen, heard and made before. There's such satisfaction in putting pen to paper and shedding those ideas; only when they’re out of your head can you begin to play with them, sculpt them into something else.

That goes for artists and non-artists, alike. As Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolutionsays: 'The perceived skill has absolutely nothing to do with he quality of the learning experience for the doodler." 

If a doodle is a little like a spa treatment for the mind - leaving it relaxed and receptive to new information, then perhaps visual note-taking, sketch-notes, graphic facilitation or scribing are more like a really effective workout; an exercise in making the information you receive easy to understand. 

When you take visual notes, you listen, digest, and reproduce the information in the form of descriptive drawings that represent what you have heard. They force you to understand what you have been listening to, and if you do forget, they serve as a visual aid to help you to remember.

I was still at University when I started working for Scriberia, and immediately, I noticed how what I learned here transformed the way I thought and studied. I realised that my love of drawing could - and should - be put to use, as an aide to learning and thinking. Why had I spent so many years making reams of written notes in lectures, when instead I could have been letting pens run wild with the information I was trying to absorb?

I started experimenting  with sketch-noting lectures and project meetings. I went from being a slack-jawed, barely conscious audience-member, to being a fully "present" note-taking machine. Sharing those visual notes with my peers allowed them to benefit from the way I had learned. Brownie points a plenty and I guess I found my calling, too.

So, today I see drawing not just as a thing I've always loved to do, but as a tool for so much more; communicating, designing, exploring, explaining and thinking. And when you use it to discover and learn, all you are really doing is going back to when you were first gripping a crayon in your fat little fist, and absorbing the world around you by recreating it on paper.

Uggie: 2002 - August 7, 2015

How could we resist the opportunity to honour Uggie with his very own scribituary?

This sparky little Jack Russell stole scenes and hearts when he took a starring role the multi-Oscar-winning film, The Artist. Hollywood has been home to a few four-legged legends over the years, but dear old Uggie, who died at the age of 13, was the first to have his paw prints immortalised on the Walk of Fame.

Our tribute to Uggie received a lot of love on Twitter, most notably from his Oscar-winning co-star from Water for Elephants, Reese Witherspoon. 

A scribituary is, of course, Scriberia’s own take on the obituary, and they give us a chance to do what we do best. As a specialist animation, graphic facilitation and illustration agency, we believe in the power of pictures to tell stories and connect people to content and its context.

A life, illustrated in a way that balances fact with feeling, and story with style, is the ultimate challenge for us as visual storytellers. 

Lessons from the scribing wall

As an illustration agency, of sorts, we have a bunch of exceptionally talented freelance artists, from London and beyond, in the Scriberia stable. Every now and then, we get them all together to share stories from the inky coalface, and knock their creative heads together.

It’s like a mini-conference, held in the workshop space of our Kings Cross studio. We present, we listen, we play around with new ideas, and, of course, we give it the old graphic facilitation treatment with a glorious piece of scribing, to be shared with all of the attendees afterwards. We practice what we preach, you know.

In any given year, our team will scribe the four corners of the world, in a huge array of weird and wonderful circumstances. Jack recalled scribing in a dark basement; Rachel in a glass box surrounded by flamingoes; Clarice, Mathieu and Somang threw themselves and their pens into an immersive theatre experience in an ice grotto with fortune telling and singing chefs. There really is no such thing as a run-of-the-mill job for us lot. 

Studio staffer and super-scribe, Matt, gave his critique of three recent pieces of work - giving us all a valuable chance to learn from the best amongst us, and progress together. At Scriberia the ability to critique our own work, and each others’, is a highly valued skill; one that's critical to any creative business intent on maintaining the highest standards under pressure.

Next, creative director, Chris, challenged us all with a workshop in character creation. When you’re striving to create a bespoke piece of scribing that is bursting with energy, the characters that live within it can help you achieve just that. We looked at some beautiful examples of character drawing from the world of illustration and animation, and discussed ways of making characters fit for purpose. It will be great to see how this feeds into the practice of our talented team, when their finished work arrives back at the studio.

Our gathering concluded with a quickfire character drawing exercise – with only a minute to design and draw a character the results ranged from the profound to the concerning. After the obligatory gathering drinks, one by one the scribes peeled away to their corners of the city. It’s always a privilege to gather such an array of talented artists under one roof, and we look forward to the next meeting with great anticipation. 

Marguerite Patten: November 4, 1915 - June 4, 2015

It is hard to think of anyone who had a greater influence than her on British cooking and culture in the 20th century, than the late, great Marguerite Patten, who died in June at the age of 99. 

With her help, Britain bravely battled to feed itself on rations throughout the war. And when the war was over, she found herself at the vanguard of modern home cookery, where she remained until she retired. 

We were absolutely delighted that Marguerite's daughter, Judith, gave our work her seal of approval. 

A scribituary is, of course, Scriberia’s own take on the obituary, and they give us a chance to do what we do best. As a specialist animation, graphic facilitation and illustration agency, we believe in the power of pictures to tell stories and connect people to content and its context.

A life, illustrated in a way that balances fact with feeling, and story with style, is the ultimate challenge for us as visual storytellers. 

What is graphic facilitation?

... And what isn't it?

Perhaps you’ve heard of graphic facilitation, but you don’t know what it is. Perhaps you’ve seen it, but you don’t know what it’s called, or what to type into Google to find it again. Believe us, we know that the terminology surrounding what we do can be hard to pin down.

Graphic Facilitation

Graphic facilitation is probably the most established of the many phrases that (loosely speaking) are used to describe an artist capturing information in visual form. But there are a lot of alternatives - scribing, graphic recording, infodoodling to name but a few – and, if you’re being picky about it (we are, it’s our job) there are subtle but important differences between them.

So, graphic facilitation usually refers to the use of graphics to facilitate a conversation or process.  For instance, if you and your team have a problem to solve or need to make a plan, you could thrash it out with the help of a graphic facilitator (you might want to take a look at our InkTanks). The aim of graphic facilitation is to use images to prompt productive conversations, offer fresh perspectives, and pick new pathways through problems. It’s a technique that, when done well, can change the way groups think, communicate and collaborate.

Graphic Recording

The term graphic recording is sometimes used interchangeably with graphic facilitation but, if you ask us pedants, that's something a little different, too. 

A graphic recorder doesn't try to influence the conversations around them, as a facilitator does. Instead, they aim to keep pace with it; documenting its content with speed and visual clarity. Some people call this 'visual minutes'.

Graphic recording doesn't allow time for interpretation. It simply documents discussions as they happen, providing participants with a focus and an orderly record of what has been said. Sometimes, graphic recording is all that's required and, of course, your wish is our command. But at Scriberia, we can offer something more than that; something that we believe has a lot more value for our clients.


Scribing might look a bit like graphic facilitation or graphic recording to the uninitiated, but the thinking behind it is very different. Rather than acting as impartial recorders, we believe there are real benefits to allowing our scribes the freedom to interpret the content they work with.

We choose our team, not only on the basis of their artistic ability, but on their ability to think. To be a great scribe, capable of producing work that is consistent, highly original, meaningful, and rich in content and context, these skills are of equal importance.

Many practitioners in this fledgling field believe that interpretation has no place in it. But we disagree. Our ability to interpret content is what gives our work the strength and depth our clients need. So, if you’re looking to bring all the benefits of a first class creative mind to your next meeting, pitch or live event, then what you’re looking for is scribing.