If you’ve ever passed the time by filling your page with hand-drawn pictures in a meeting or lecture, you were likely absorbing more information than other seemingly captivated attendees. Doodlers tend to get a bad rap for their lack of engagement, but according to a 2009 study by University of Plymouth psychology professor Jackie Andrade, doodling uses just enough of the mind to prevent it from daydreaming.

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Sunni Brown

No longer about zoning out, doodling can play an important role in creative thinking and brainstorming. It helps you to stay engaged, communicate more effectively, and better understand complex concepts. However, your flowers, spirals, and little house doodles might need a bit of an upgrade.

That’s where Sunni Brown, bestselling author and Chief Infodoodler of SB Ink, comes in. She’s already worked with organizations like Google and Facebook, helping them to grow their productivity and increase creative success from visual communication. We caught up with the international speaker, creative consultant, and master infodoodler to find out how you can make the most of your margin art.

Shutterstock: What is infodoodling, and how did your background lead you to pursue this idea?

Sunni Brown: I define infodoodling as the skillful integration of words, images, numbers, and shapes for the purposes of learning. My background is largely unrelated to infodoodling, as I was raised in a society, like the large majority of us, that does not support visual thinking or applied visual literacy in virtually any learning environment. What led me to pursue infodoodling and visual literacy was the realization that without it, my ability to think, learn, retain, comprehend, and be insightful with relevant information was severely curtailed.

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To some, doodling may seem like an act of boredom. However, in your TED talk, you refer to it as both a visual language and a creative way to solve problems in the workplace. How does doodling come to the rescue when faced with these problems?

Doodling is an act of cognition, which means that countless innovations and inventions are directly related to this time the mind spends in contemplation. One need only reference the notebooks of some of our most celebrated thinkers to begin to understand the role this universal behavior plays in the thinking and creative process. Richard Feynman, the theoretical physicist, actually used the term “scientific doodling” to refer to some of his breakthroughs.

Does doodling only help solve problems in the workplace, or does it have a place in our personal lives as well?

Anywhere that enhanced thought or creativity is required, is a place for doodling. To limit it to the workplace would be akin to limiting writing to the workplace. Doodling is a form of visual literacy and, as such, it is a literacy and a competency that can support all of us in a variety of ways.

What tips would you give doodlers wanting to make better use of their spontaneous sketches?

  1. Judge neither your style nor your skill at the beginning. Giving too much attention to the harsh critic in your head will often stop you from pursuing something that is extremely good for you. There is no “right” doodle. There is only the process and the freedom to explore that process.
  2. Keep it simple at the beginning. The highest level of infodoodling involves ninja listening skills, rapid visualization, a well-developed graphic vocabulary and a multi-colored landscape. It takes time and practice to get there. When you begin, be OK using one to three colors, or leaning toward that which you feel most comfortable with—words, fonts or typography versus images, visuals, and shapes. Think of it as learning any other language and go easy on yourself when you’re a novice.
  3. Find a doodle companion or two. Having a small community of people also interested in visual language supports your own growth toward infodoodling and inspires you to expand your horizons. We don’t always have to doodle alone, and working with another person to display an interesting topic or understand important information can be a wonderful experience.

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How can a person sharpen his or her doodling skills? Are drawing skills a must?

Drawing skills are not at all required to pursue the application of doodling. To doodle is to make spontaneous marks in order to support the thinking process and those marks need not be skillful, artistic, aesthetically beautiful, or even useful to an outside observer. There are various levels of sophistication when it comes to doodling (hence the term, infodoodling) and those skills can be sharpened by, for example, building a mental graphic vocabulary of ways to represent linguistic ideas or concepts, or by honing our listening skills to link auditory content we might hear in a classroom or a meeting to our visual marks. I also, of course, recommend reading (my book) The Doodle Revolution, as it has a visual literacy curriculum from A to Z.

doodle_revolutionIn the creative field, brainstorming new ideas is a constant. How can creatives employ doodling to help them be more innovative?

For effective brainstorming, I integrate infodoodling with game thinking. My first book, Gamestorming, describes 80+ strategies for using visual language and game thinking to blow your own mind. The takeaway here is that using only one mode, linguistic, to tackle a challenge really abbreviates the possibilities. Using multiple modes — linguistic, visual linguistic, kinesthetic, and gaming — suddenly arms you with a greater capacity for new ideas.

When teaching infodoodling to others, what are you surprised by and what are your students surprised by?

My students are consistently surprised by the deep value of something that is so seemingly simple and free. I personally have been teaching this work for so long that nothing surprises me. I’ve heard every possible myth, misunderstanding, fear, prejudice, and piece of misinformation about doodling. These misinformed cultural values don’t stop me, and I support my students in not allowing them to stop their learning process either.

Learn more about Sunni Brown and infodoodling at sunnibrownink.com and doodlerevolution.com. All images provided by Sunni Brown.

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