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Learning to think in pictures

How many of us can remember drawing as children? Colouring on walls, making shapes in the mud, in the sand, and basically scribbling on anything and everything around us. As children, we weren’t judges to our own creativity. We drew instinctively. As instinctively as we talked, walked, played.  Yet somehow, drawing, unlike speech and many other activities, has managed to attain a superlative status, restricting it to the art world. It seems the older we grow and the more ‘educated’ we are, the less we feel confident in drawing, if our drawing isn’t considered ‘good’.

A few months ago, the Yuvabe team tried to unlearn what we have been told about drawing and bring it back into our daily life. The two day workshop on visual thinking, led by designers Atul Saraf and Annora Saraf, aimed at reintroducing and encouraging us to practice visual making in our day to day work.

Image of Yuvabe's youth interacting in a design workshop in Auroville

But why is drawing so important? A study at the University of Waterloo found that drawing has been more effective in making any information more memorable. According to the study’s lead author, Jeffrey Wammes, PhD candidate at the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, drawings help create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information. And for anyone out there concerned that they cannot draw, the study also found that the quality of the drawing did not matter.

Annora Saraf taking the Yuvabe team through the basics of visual notetaking

During our workshop, we learnt that with basic sketching elements, anything can be represented. It is the act of putting your thoughts, ideas into a simple drawing that is important, and that also gives the idea or information clarity and focus. Ultimately, drawing increases our own learning potential, as it increases comprehension as well as retention. In a linear text you follow the reading direction, whereas in a drawing you can choose different directions for thinking, and our eyes move around the paper. This eye, hand, mind coordination increases understanding multifold.

Sunil, Vigneshwaran and Vasanth drawing out a story they created as part of the workshop

The workshop took us out of our comfort zone and pushed us to draw… a lot! Using quick games, including drawing a self-portrait, playing pictionary, sketching our team members, making human icons and activities of narrative drawing, we got our hands, eyes and brain to start working together, and creating our own little visual toolkit. But like any other language, learning this visual language needs practice. For this, our team has decided to start drawing our daily task lists at work and use drawing more and more in our note taking.

The visual note-taking workshop at Yuvabe was a huge sucess!

Drawings are also known to be a great tool to communicate better and faster with others. Our brain is highly visual, with approximately 30% of the entire cerebral cortex devoted to visual processing, In fact, a team of neuroscientists from MIT has found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds, making visual communication more effective than textual or auditory. 

Visual thinking or drawing is not just for artists or designers, rather a way for anyone to understand and communicate better. As designer Ralph Ammer points out in his Tedx talk, drawing is much much bigger than art, and should remain a part of our life, the way speech continues to be. Afterall, the fact that our conversations aren’t poetry, hasn’t stopped us from speaking! So, let us put our drawings out there and start using them!

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