Gini Dietrich

Learning through Visual Note-Taking

By: Gini Dietrich | March 16, 2011 | 

I spoke last night at the Lake County Social Networking event that’s put on every month by Tim McDonald. If you live in the Chicago area and don’t already know about these events, check them out. Tim does a phenomenal job of making it fun and relaxed, but also informative and valuable.

Not my point. My point is that we talked a little bit about what we were hearing coming out of SXSW (not a lot, other than Holler and Google Circles) and it reminded me of something I saw that I think is pretty incredible.

First, enter Len Kendall. Len is a friend IRL and on Facebook and, as he was getting ready to go to Austin, he posted a photo of several moleskins and felt tip pens and I thought, “Huh. He still takes notes.”

What I didn’t know is this: He does more than take notes. He is super, super talented. So talented, in fact, he draws his notes.

Is that not the coolest thing you’ve ever seen?

THEN. I happened to see a link from Ogilvy pass my tweet stream. They, too, were taking visual notes (in fact, they were distributing copies of the notes at attendee’s hotel rooms so they were there when they got up the next morning – waaaaay better than USA Today!).

THEN. You know the red car syndrome? You never see a red car until you buy one and then, suddenly, EVERYONE has a red car? Well, that’s what is happening to me right now with visual note-taking.

Lauren Fernandez posted a link to recipes that are illustrated. Not in a Cooks Illustrated kind of way, but in a very visual, fun kind of way.

I’m reminded of the conversation we had during the live recording of Inside PR at PodCamp in Toronto last month. An audience member asked if we thought podcasting was going to explode, as we once thought it would, or if it’s going to remain where it is.

My thinking on that is that, as human beings, we’re very visual. We either learn visually or by reading (which, I suppose, in a way is visual) so it’s difficult for us to not only find the time, but pay attention, to a podcast. Now these drawings prove that thinking.

Isn’t it way more fun to learn about the sessions this way than to receive someone’s notes?

For more of Len’s (doodles, as he calls them, though what I do is doodle; what he does is so much more) and for more of Ogilvy’s illustrations, check out Posterous and Mashable, respectively.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • lesmckeown

    I love these. My TBW, Julie, does a wall sized one every quarter showing all her goals:

  • ginidietrich

    @lesmckeown HOLY COW that’s cool! She is my hero!!

  • jgwhitt

    Wow – that beats my underlining and asteriks! We need an app for those of us who are less artistically inclined.

  • My stick figures would be far less inspiring. 🙂

    –Tony Gnau

  • ginidietrich

    @jgwhitt You should invent the app! You’d make millions! No…billions!

  • ginidietrich

    @T60Productions I don’t know, Tony. It might be kind of cool!

  • NotEasyToForget

    I love that you wrote this today, and I love the topic. I’m not as talented, but know that my own notes…when scribbled on, serve me well! I wrote a post last Feb. titled “Conference Notes – Viva La Moleskine!” that may be of interest to you. Thanks for bringing this up today!

  • jgwhitt


  • 4thGear


    I love the note pages. My pictures aren’t nearly that nice when I draw them.

    The population consists of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. So their preferred style is either seeing, hearing or doing. It doesn’t mean that we can’t lear other ways, just that we lean toward one way that we learn fastest. The visual learners will absolutely gravitate toward this kind of solution while the auditory learners will prefer the podcasts.

    That’s my contribution from way too many years in a career associated with adult learning.

  • Gini, I love this method of note taking! It’s kind of like note taking and studying all rolled into one because the visuals would make it easier to remember the material.

    And what @lesmckeown said – using this method to make a vision board of your goals – pretty cool idea!

    Thanks for sharing this!


  • ryanknapp

    Awesome resource! This is why for me, I can’t get used to evernote for daily activities. While I may not be the best artist in town, my mind works visually, illustrated by my always full 5 ft whiteboard in my office at the NSCAA.

    Once I pick up a pen or marker and write I am more likely to be able to recall it later.

    I love the vision board idea as well!

  • DaveMoley

    Funny. I do this. Never thought anything of it

  • y0mbo

    Mike Rohde (@rohdesign) coined the term “sketchnotes” for this.

    I take all of my notes like this. You can see mine (not of SXSW, though) at

  • I wish I could both analyse what I heard and then draw beautiful mind maps of the lectures.

    Regarding paper and pen I still use them. I have to map out on paper, I tried many mind mapping software but I feel they really kill my flow.

    Thanks for these amazing work of arts Gini, you do know some very cool people.

  • thewhalehunters


  • ladylaff

    As I read your post I was just finishing up a colourful little drawing of my own that mapped out a plan for a new business meeting. For all the mindmappers, I can highly recommend Mindjet’s Mind Manager software (not a client, I’m just a fan).

    Pictures are definitely the new black!

  • janbeery

    Holy right brain dominate! What I love about visual thinkers/learners is our ability to be such visionaries.

    Katie was explaining to someone in our office how they are learning to speak “Jan.” I LOVE filling a page! This is great!

  • TimBramer

    I’ve used mind mapping for years. Got me through college with minimal extra study time. Color and images make a huge difference in learning. I’ve used mindjet mindmanager for years in interactive planning and client meetings. It paints a really nice picture of things for people. Way better then an outline. I still keep a notebook handy for non digital notes.

  • HowieSPM

    I have Mashable blocked on my computer so sadly can’t access the link. 8) But Len Kendall rocks. In fact for a long time I was sad he wouldn’t follow me back on the Twitter when he is friendly with a lot of my personal posse. I think it took like a year and I remember it was a very sunny day when that following email showed up. Coincidence? Very, very smart. He isn’t as talented an artist as @joeystrawn but he does wonders with visualization.

    Put it simply. A picture says a 1000 words. And 1000 words say 1000 words. Which would you prefer?

  • Janna Polzin

    Those are beautiful notes!

    I take notes in this manner as well, but they are sketchier and not a pretty to look at! I’ve just always done it this way. Maybe because I see an idea laid out visually before the words and details come. I think I should pull out some of my kids’ colored pencils and try to make my notes look as artful as these. 🙂

  • Janna Polzin

    @lesmckeown Amazing!

    Gini’s post has inspired me to grab a few colored pencils, and the pic you posted has inspired me to up my game on the office whiteboard. There are some very creative people out there!

  • These notes are simply incredible – especially the one that @lesmckeown shared below! Wow!

    I’m still one of those that takes notes and has to write things down with a pencil (yup – not pen) so it can sink in. Actually – most of the blog posts I write – I’ll scribble on to a paper first aka my little black blogging book! And I doodle a lot too! But alas…my doodles/sorry looking stick figures and unidentified objects look like crap so I won’t even bother compare them to these.

    Okay – off to see more of Len’s doodles to see if they’re traceable lol ;).

    Cheers Gin

  • Hi Gini,

    I’ve seen this type of note taking before, and always thought it was for the ‘artistic’ people. I haven’t passed much beyond stick men! However, I think in pictures and already use colour and arrows, bubbles etc in notes, so am going see if I can make note taking more fun with drawings.

  • ginidietrich

    @kategroom I think that’s a great idea! Buy yourself some colored pencils, too!

  • ginidietrich

    @Griddy Are they traceable?! You goof! So, um, why pencil?

  • ginidietrich

    @Janna Polzin Aren’t they gorgeous?! I think using the colored pencils is a great idea!

  • ginidietrich

    @HowieSPM I don’t know. It seems like you and @Griddy like 1000 words.

  • LOVE these examples! I so wish I could ‘doodle’ like these folks. I am very much a note-taker and even when I try a new system via my laptop (i.e., evernote) I find I’m doing double duty and quite possibly writing one note in my moleskin and one on Evernote and bam, something falls through the cracks. So, I am working on merging the two, but definitely know that for something to sink in (like @Griddy said below), I have to write it down. I’m visual that way because I can usually ‘see’ something that I’ve written by hand way more than I can ‘see’ something on my laptop that I’ve typed.

    I also love mind-mapping and have used that to ‘map out’ a blog post or two. Thanks for sharing…very cool stuff.

  • ginidietrich

    @EricaAllison I’m like you – I write everything down. But I’ve really found, with Evernote, I’m much more productive because nothing falls through the cracks. I woke up yesterday morning battling a migraine so I worked from home unexpectedly. In the past, not having my to-do list at home (because it’s sitting on my desk) would have made a day full of Twitter and FB. But I was SUPER productive because I could pull up my task list on Evernote and get to work. This morning I was in a meeting so I opened Evernote on my iPad, took notes, created tasks, assigned tasks, and emailed everything to my team when we were finished. No transferring lists or losing anything. I know that’s more about Evernote than this blog post, but I think you’ll get used to using the tool and be less reliant on your post-it notes.

  • ginidietrich

    @TimBramer I get the mindmapping – I’ve downloaded a few apps on my iPad for it. But I’m just not good at it. Any tips?

  • ginidietrich

    @janbeery So send us a page of your notes!

  • ginidietrich

    @ladylaff I want to see your drawing!

  • ginidietrich

    @johnfalchetto I am going to try and analyze and draw (or at least color in bubbles of thought) and see what happens. Who knows if I can do, but why not try?!

  • ginidietrich

    @y0mbo These are so freaking cool! I wish I’d had your sketches when I wrote the post. I totally would have included one!

  • ginidietrich

    @DaveMoley I didn’t know this about you!

  • ginidietrich

    @ryanknapp HTFU and use Evernote already.

  • ginidietrich

    @Lori AND it’s so easy to share your notes with others because they totally make sense!

  • ginidietrich

    @4thGear Do you know how many people are visual vs auditory? And what about someone like me who learns by reading? Is that considered visual?

  • ginidietrich

    @NotEasyToForget Dang! I totally would have included one of these in my blog post, too! How hard is it to pay attention AND draw?

  • @ginidietrich Ouch, migraine! My husband gets those and they stink big time. Glad you’re back in the saddle today!

    You’re right, it will take practice and I’ve even gotten my assistant on it now. Just need to put into action! Thanks for the encouragement on that end. And yes, without my notes and to-do list, I’d be camped out on FB and Twitter all day long.

  • ginidietrich

    @EricaAllison Ha! We’re such creatures of habit. It’s scary.

  • AndiFisher

    I have always been a huge fan of this type of note-taking and journaling, I even have one that I have carried around in my notebook for years. But as someone who can barely draw a stick figure I sadly cannot create my own! They are very powerful and quite effective in communicating.

  • ginidietrich

    @AndiFisher I’m with you…though some of the sketches I’m seeing from comments I think I could do. It’s less drawing and more shapes.

  • Lisa Gerber

    @HowieSPM why do you have mashable blocked on your computer?

  • Lisa Gerber

    these sketches and the one @lesmckeown posted boggle my mind. When I was younger I wanted to be artistic more than anything. In high school our art teacher sat us down in front of paper and played a piece of music and asked us to paint it. I couldn’t do it.

    I am much too linear in thinking and I wonder if that is what a lot of people here (those of us that are blown away by it) have in common. I have lists with bullet points and lists next to lists. I wouldn’t even know how to start a sketch like these, but I LOVE them!!

  • ginidietrich

    @Lisa Gerber Who the heck tells you to draw music?! I’d be stuck, too! I think our next meeting we should try this. I’ll bring my 80s Glam Sharpies!

  • Brainzooming

    I loved the SXSW notes Paul Soupiset was doing throughout:

  • @ginidietrich I like being able to erase when I mess up lol. Not sure though – still have these little habits – plus if it’s a mechanical pencil it has to be the thicker 0.7 lead. Strange – I know!

  • @Lisa Gerber @HowieSPM Di you block Mashable or did they block you ;)? lol Kidding of course – have they ever replied to a comment by the way?

  • @ginidietrich @HowieSPM No clue what you mean. I generally have posts that are no longer than 400 words tops! muwahahaha

  • @y0mbo Oh wow! These are amazing! What an incredible talent you have :)! I’ve come across your Corporate Blogging Tips one before – just had no clue it was you :).

  • Frank_Strong

    That is pretty cool. Do you know short hand for hand notes? — what’s the short hand for visual notes? Will stick figures suffice? ’cause that’s about all I can draw!

  • HowieSPM

    @Griddy @Lisa Gerber

    That is a link to my old boring blog. I didn’t know of Spin Sucks or the Nitty Griddy then so please don’t be upset you are not on my blog list as you are on my current one.

    I have a Sales/Finance background so I hate Spin (now you know why I love you all). Mashable has zero critical thinking. @ginidietrich and I have had some funny banter in the past and actually bonded over mashable LOL Whenever someone links on twitter an article that I click to by accident I always read then get upset then write a comment changing their name to Bashable. THOUGH every so often when I read a proper reporting job I acknowledge this. It seems they publish Press Releases a lot when I read their stuff.

  • karensnir


  • karensnir

    I like this a lot. It’s easier to remember the things you took notes on when you have a visual aid. It makes the note-taking process fun and worth sharing with others. Notes like this could maybe even be given to anyone who attends SXSW. I’ll definitely be looking for notes that use drawings.

  • Pingback: Visual Notes for Digital Course: Info Management Strategies | Angela Maiers Educational Services, Inc.()

  • ginidietrich

    @Frank_Strong I think stick figures definitely count!

  • ginidietrich

    @Brainzooming I checked out Paul’s notes, too. SUPER cool!

  • ginidietrich

    @karensnir I’ve started taking notes this way. I’m not great at it (yet), but hopefully I’ll get better with practice!

  • ImageThink

    Thank you for posting our team’s graphic recording from SXSW! It was great to be sponsored by OgilvyNotes! If you are interested in learning more about graphic recording feel free to contact us or read from our website!

  • Pingback: Abaton Consulting » Learning through Visual Note-Taking | Spin Sucks()

  • ginidietrich

    @ImageThink I think you guys are the coolest ever!

  • Pingback: Supercharge Your Notes with Visual Note Taking()

  • Pingback: Link Bait: 20 Best Of The Best For All Eternity()

  • RajSohmshetty is an online visual note taking system.  It is easy to use and free.  Check it out at:


  • RajSohmshetty is an online visual note taking system.  It is easy to use and free.  Check it out at:


  • RajSohmshetty is an online visual note taking system.  It is easy to use and free.  Check it out at:
    More info on visual note taking:

  • It’s good to know my habit of breaking into doodling and drawing pictures during meetings isn’t strange. It’s obvious that compared to my colleagues my brain isn’t as linear, or maybe doodling helps me focus. The picture below shows notes from my last meeting. Thanks for this post on visual notes, it was interesting!

  • Juliwilson789

    desired to thank you for this exceptional read!! I absolutely enjoyed every
    single small little bit of it. I’ve you bookmarked your internet site to look
    at out the new stuff you post.

  • amyryan

    It’s worth pointing
    out that MVC is the MVC that we know from desktop apps and can be applied to
    client-side easily.

  • philipshaun

    is very helpful for all the people on the web.I wanted to say that it’s nice
    to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the
    same info elsewhere.

  • Visual note-taking is what I love to do as well. It is better to remember everything when you do visual note-taking.