24 January 2006

Visual thinking practice: Memory

Whether or not you are an artist, you can use drawing as a method to record and recall things that you think are important. The very idea that you might draw something will cause you to notice more about it, just like the idea that you might teach something will force you to pay attention when you are taught.

Remember the adage "a picture is worth a thousand words?" A drawing -- especially when enhanced by your written notes -- can capture more information, and more meaning, than words alone.

Learning to draw from memory can help you improve your visual note-taking skills, and can also enhance your visual memory. When I was in grade school I set myself a mission to draw a side view of the bus that took me to school every day. I hadn't learned to carry a sketchbook yet, so all my drawing materials were at home.

Every day when I got off the bus, I would look back at the bus and try to remember as much information as possible. There is a lot to remember about a school bus: the number of windows, the words on the sides, the details of the wheels, and more importantly, how all those things lined up with each other.

When I got home (about a five minute walk), I would erase and adjust my picture to incorporate the new things I noticed -- and I would also discover new "unknowns" -- things I hadn't noticed but needed to know to complete my picture. Those items would form the list of things I wanted to notice the next day.

This project went on for weeks, and in the process I honed my visual thinking skills.

Visual thinking is the practice of using pictures to enhance your ability to solve problems, think about complex issues and communicate effectively. Are you ready to work on your visual thinking skills? You don't have to be an artist. Pick up a pen or pencil and try the following exercise:

1. Choose a subject:
Find something that is sufficiently complex that you have a hard time remembering all of its details. It can be anything, but it should be in a different place than the place you typically sit down to draw or work. It could be something you see out the window on your drive to work in the morning. It could be something in the cafeteria where you have your lunch. It could even be your neighbor's dog.

2. Observe your subject carefully:
Whenever you see your subject, try to notice something you hadn't noticed before and hold it in your memory. Some of this will be details, but some of it will also be proportions: the relative sizes of the various elements, and how they align.

3. Record your observations:
In a time and place where your subject is not visible, record your observations. Keep a record of those "unknowns" -- questions you have that you intend to answer the next time you encounter your subject.

4. Iterate:
Continue to observe and draw in an iterative fshion. Over time you will become very familiar with your subject, so that you can draw it completely from memory. You will also find that your powers of visual observation will become more acute and refined, and you will notice more of what's around you than others do. This can be a helpful skill in life and business.

For more about visual thinking, visit visual thinking school or please consider joining our visual thinking group on Flickr and showing us your drawings!

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Anonymous said...

So where's a copy of your bus drawing? :-)

Unknown said...

I'm sure it's in a pile of childhood drawings somewhere! If I ever find it I'll be sure to post it.