Supercharge Your Notes with Visual Note Taking

by Marcia Hoeck on April 13, 2011

I think I’m in love. Through a wandering route* on my blog-reading journey this morning, I came across this post on Mashable featuring the visual note-taking done by Ogilvy artists at SXSW this year. WOW WOW WOW!

Visual note taking at SXSW 2011 by Ogilvy

I started out life as an illustrator. Well, maybe I wasn’t actually born as an illustrator, but I did work as an illustrator for many years. Here’s a sample:

Okay, so maybe it’s sort of a painting, but it’s done in an illustrative style. And my illustrations are all packed away and I don’t exactly know where right now. I haven’t been an illustrator in a long time.

But! I love the idea of illustrated notes! I doodle on my notes. I do mind maps. I circle things, block things in, and draw arrows. Sometimes I color code. But I’ve never taken notes like these!

Here’s why I’m excited: everything we do today is so digital, so computerized, so hands-off, it’s sooo refreshing to see these hand-drawn illustrations. And more than that, the fact that they’re hand drawn makes them very tactile and inviting — making you want to study them.

But here’s the really cool part: They’re notes! The person who took the notes, by the mere fact that he took the time to translate and add to the concepts with drawings, will remember and retain the content much longer than if he had just written words, or not taken notes at all. It got him out of the linear thinking mode and opened up different parts of his brain. I’m betting money on it.

Forget the fact that Ogilvy did this as a promotion, to offer to attendees of SXSW as overviews of some of the more critical sessions. Think about what could happen if you took notes like this.

Do you take notes? Do you doodle on your notes? Have you ever taken visual notes? Does the idea inspire you? Do you think it would help you capture what you’re learning better?

And what if you say you can’t draw? Who cares? Who’s going to be looking at these notes? Certainly not the visual note-taking police. You can draw any way you want, just so it gets you out of the linear thinking mode.

I’m going to incorporate visual note taking into my note taking routine, for sure. More doodling in store for me! How about you?


*(My blog-reading journey this morning started with a note from my awesome pal Melanie Kissell, saying she featured my tag line in an active conversation on her blog, to a click on one of the other blogs mentioned in her post, Marcus Sheridan’s very interesting Sales Lion, where I putzed around awhile and read this post on getting more comments on your blog, which sent me to this post at Gini Dietrich’s ultra cool blog, Spin Sucks, and there it was! The illustration that led me to the Mashable post with all the amazing Ogilvy illustrations. I think there are 42 of them in all.)

Leanne Chesser April 13, 2011 at 11:20 am

Fascinating and so much fun! I love these visual notes :). I absolutely think that it can help with retaining information.

Marcia Hoeck April 13, 2011 at 11:43 am

Thanks Leanne. Don’t they just make you want to read and absorb all the content? Otherwise, who wants to go back and read their notes? Thanks for weighing in on the retaining info stance.

Ed Roach April 13, 2011 at 11:56 am

Marcia, I love these notes but I have to ask myself, How were they able to actually listen when putting so much effort into each note. Your first example especially. They’re comprehension and is recall is remarkable.

Ed Roach April 13, 2011 at 11:57 am

opps – wrong “their” – sorry

Marcia Hoeck April 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Ed, I thought the same thing. But I’m assuming each session the notes are for was at least 45 to 60 minutes, so they had lots of time to capture major themes and doodle around them. I’m smitten with the idea, and itchin’ to try it. Makes me want to sign up for a workshop just to take notes!

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur April 13, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Glad you just said that to Ed, Marcia — I want to sign up for a workshop, too! :)

I’m sure everyone is already aware about 90% of adults are visual learners. And that definitely includes me. That’s probably why I’m much more inclined to register for a webinar versus a teleseminar. Don’t get me wrong — I love teleseminars and it’s one of my goals to start hosting them soon. But adding “visuals” to any presentation really helps to capture and hold the attention of your audience. Have you ever downloaded an e-book that’s minus visuals, Marcia? I’ll be honest. I get as far as maybe page four or five and then I can’t read on — too boring.

You’re a darn good illustrator! I don’t think I’d keep that talent hidden away in a closet anymore. I’m hoping you’ll locate your illustrations and share more of them with us here. I envy anyone who has the gift of art and design. And then there’s me — I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler! :)

Thank you graciously and kindly for the mention today. I’m blessed to have you in my life.

Totally fun post!
Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur recently posted..The Agony and Victory of Taglines

Marcia Hoeck April 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Hey Melanie!

I think you’re right about teleseminars vs. webinars — I got the same feedback when I did my webinar series a few months ago. We have enough on our minds today, we need all the help we can get! And as a designer, one of my favorite quotes (when involved in the art vs. copy debate) has always been:

“When was the last time you started reading something before you looked at it?”

Sorry, don’t remember who said it, but it makes a good point — draw in attention visually, and you can then get them to read. I love words too, though, so I can also argue the other end of the beast: you can’t convince or change minds or influence as well without words!

Thanks Mel. You’re a dear, dear friend.

Heather Bestel April 13, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Love this post Marcia,
I agree with Melanie ~ I need to be aware of all my students’ learning styles and even have them take notes this way. We love mind maps in my classes and I even accept work in ‘pictures’ (some of my students are much more comfortable communicating this way).
And I notice that when I’m explaining something verbally and people are giving my that look that says “I don’t understand” – I find myself with marker in hand heading for the white board to get my point across.
Just loving connecting with you guys again.
Heather x
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Marcia Hoeck April 13, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Heather, we must all be related! Accepting work for your classes in “pictures” is very cool, I’ll bet your students love you. From now on I am picturing YOU with a marker in your hand!

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur April 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm

Hey Marcia — I see “Comment Luv” has arrived! Way cool. The “visual” part of me scanned the page and noticed something new. :)

Doesn’t matter whose quote it is, I love it! And truer than true. Just like meeting someone in person for the first time. We all do it. We look the person over and make a mental note about their general demeanor and how they carry themselves. Body language speaks volumes!

I cherish your friendship, too, Marcia.
Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur recently posted..The Agony and Victory of Taglines

Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion April 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Marcia, wow, what fun I’ve had stopping by here and was shocked to see you mention today’s journey (for you) with my site mentioned. That was really, really kind…so thank you.

And I must also say, I thought your illustration was amazing. I really mean that. I’ve always wanted to have that talent– of drawing, but instead I have to attempt to make art when I communicate with people. Oh well, guess it will do ;-)

I’ve never done illustrated notes before, but I think the concept is a great one. In fact, when I’m at blog world in a month, I’ll give it a go. BTW, you’re not going there by any chance, are you? Gini Deitrich will be doing a panel there as well. Should be great.

Well thanks again for the connection today and hope we get a chance to chat some more.



Marcia Hoeck April 13, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Hey Marcus!

Small world dept: No, I won’t be at Blogworld, because I’ll be babysitting for my grandkids while my son is speaking at blogworld! That’s what mothers are for, I guess. If you see his gig, wave and tell him I said hi! :)

BTW, the illustration in my post is him, many moons ago. Those familiar with his brand will notice the pure coincidence of the apple, in his hand even then!

Marcia Hoeck April 13, 2011 at 9:26 pm

And Marcus? I want to see your Blogworld notes!


Sharon April 13, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I LOVE this… Marcia, thank you SO much.
First, I’m so intrigued about the visuals you posted here, and what they have to say, that literally, I’m gonna have to go back and ‘study’ them… Second, I love that you shared your ‘blog reading journey’ … that in itself is SO inspiring cuz that’s how things happen to me too… one thing leads to the next and before you know it, you’re having an explosion of something really good! And third, I just love this post and gotta tweet it out, right now! :) ~ Thanks so much for the great energy boost… AND the total confirming moment that says: “yes! doodling note-taking, is right ON!” … as a very creatively tactical person, I am lovin, that!
All my best to you,

Marcia Hoeck April 14, 2011 at 3:43 am

Hello Sharon!
You are so welcome. I’m so glad you like it too — click on the notes/drawings and you should be able to enlarge them a bit. Or go back to the original Mashable post and look up all of them. Just gets the juices flowing, doesn’t it? Sometimes we just need to step away from our computers, as much as we love them — that’s what I’m getting out of this. How had I forgotten that??
And thanks for the tweet!
PS Let us know if you get any “ahas” when you study them, k?

Rick Bailey April 14, 2011 at 6:02 am

Hey Marcia.
Fun post. Amazing, the power of the aesthetic. Are you familiar with RSA ( They have some great presentations using visuals that are in the same vein. You can find their videos on YouTube. Think you’d like them.

Marcia Hoeck April 14, 2011 at 10:08 am

Hi Rick,

Small world dept AGAIN! I did see an RSA animated video recently, about, of all subjects, ADHD! So funny. Loved it! It was also about what public education is doing to our kids, and I passed it on to my son.

The thing is, watching that video, I really got his point — I was paying attention as the animated video was being drawn. Thanks for pointing me to the website.

Theresa Bradley-Banta April 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Hi Marcia!

I love this idea of visual note-taking. I hopped over to the Mashable post. How fun that this was done as a sort of court reporting. I heard a radio program that said ‘doodlers’ have a higher comprehension and retention level than non doodles. The act of doodling actually helps the mind to focus on what’s being presented. You know how it is… if you listen to a speaker or audio recording, your mind can wander. Something reminds you of something else and the next thing you know you are no longer listening in the moment.

As a ‘former’ graphic designer I can so relate to your comment about being an illustrator. And wondering where your illustrations are. I keep thinking I’ll pull out my old paints and pastels and/or colored pencils and start creating artwork again. Here’s an idea. I CAN warm up with visual note-taking.

Who knows where that might lead? Thanks for the inspiration!


btw – I have my friend Melanie Kissell to thank for sending me over here. Glad I paid a visit!
Theresa Bradley-Banta recently posted..The Interaction between Seeming and Being

Marcia Hoeck April 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Hi Theresa!
Ahh, a kindred artist spirit! Then these “notes” must really tickle you, too — especially if you went to the Mashable post to check the rest of them out.

Here’s an idea –> maybe I’ll run a post in a little bit with all of OUR notes, collected from those of us who try our hand at it. Wouldn’t that be fun?

And Melanie’s a dear one, isn’t she? I’ll have to thank her for sending you, and I’m so glad you came by.

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur April 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Marcia and Theresa,

I had a hunch you two had something very special in common. What can I say? I’m an intuitive. :)

So happy you made it over here, Theresa, and may I suggest another destination for you? Marcia answers business conundrums here:

You two shine … big time!

Marcia Hoeck April 15, 2011 at 4:15 am

My picture of the mellifluous Melanie:
The world is your cocktail party, and you flutter around welcoming people, starting fascinating conversations, introducing us all to each other, finding interesting things about each guest to polish up and showcase to the rest, and making everyone feel good about themselves. And then you go around and do it all again. I’m so glad I got invited to your party! :)

Melanie Kissell @SoloMompreneur April 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm

And just wait till the music begins to play!

We’ll be dancin’ the night away! This party is just getting started. LOL


P.S. Attendees are here by “exclusive” invitation only. :)

Paula Lee Bright April 18, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I was as blown away by these gifts from above as you were! I couldn’t believe how absolutely cool they were, and how well they captured the essence of what each presentation covered.

Unlike you, alas, I am zero in the art department in the big brain in the sky. Ze. Ro. I have so many things I want to do, so many things I am doing, that would benefit from this type of skill.

Now that we know you’ve got it—use it, lady! A talent in art is pure bonus wonderfulness in the blogworld! I can’t wait to see your next posts, after you’ve had a bit of time to cogitate on it. I think we will see wonderfulnesses!
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Marcia Hoeck April 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Hi Paula,
Well, I see a challenge in your comment, for sure! But also an invitation, so thank you — I’ll definitely be paying more attention and seeing what I can add, that’s for sure.

I’m so happy you loved the notes — did you attend SXSW? It would be interesting to know how well they actually summarized the presentations. Did you?

Thank you so much for adding your insight!

Sanjay Shetty January 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Hi Marcia,

Came across your site via a link on
Just thought I’d drop a note as most of what I write, I draw :-)
I think it’s a great way to capture the essence and provide yourself a completely new perspective and understanding of material your’re reading and learning about.
Btw there is a science to it, you might want to read up Dan Roam’s classic book, The Back of the Napkin. It’s a treasure trove on visual thinking.


Sanjay Shetty
Sanjay Shetty recently posted..Social Media Enchantment: The Guy Kawasaki way

Marcia Hoeck January 17, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Hi Sanjay,
Hey, thanks for the book recommendation — I’ll check it out for sure. Love to read up on the science of it. And thanks for coming by!

Michaela August 22, 2013 at 5:06 am

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