We all have computers, laptops, tablets and cell phones in front of us to serve as useful devices for documenting ideas and concepts. While these tools are essential, it’s been proven that putting ideas to paper is a powerful way to extend one’s memory. Back in 1972, Allen Newell and Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon studied long-term memory, short-term memory and — here’s where it gets interesting — “external” memory. They argued that representations such as diagrams and sketches serve our external memory and reduce the burden that we experience when recalling ideas and problem-solving.
As a print and web designer, I find that if I sketch out a rough layout or graphic element such as a logo before I start designing on my computer that the creative process is sped up immensely. When I am meeting with a client or amongst my team members I encourage them to sketch out an idea they have that they are envisioning for a particular design. Keep in mind, it doesn’t matter if you know how to draw. The goal is to simply outline visually what it is you are looking for. Here’s an example of a typical request:
“I need a sell sheet. It needs to have our logo, a headline, body copy, a side bar with a headshot and our contact info”
I drew this example to quickly illustrate the basic layout of the piece.
Once the client and I have decided the sketch encompasses everything he or she needs represented in the piece, I can take the sketch back with me and immediately start designing on the computer.
Sketching enables us to externalize our mental images and achieve something that Ilse Verstijnen calls “restructuring.” Verstijnen works in the Psychological Laboratory at the University of Utrecht and has co-authored several articles about the relationship between imagery, perception, and sketching.
Restructuring transforms one configuration into another, and in scientific studies, advanced hand-sketchers score highest at restructuring when they are allowed to sketch. In an experiment by Verstijnen, sketchers were shown to be better than non-sketchers at modifying their initial ideas and coming up with novel changes.
Externalizing our ideas on paper makes it easier to restructure them, transforming the initial structure into a new one. So as you sketch, the mental process of hashing through ideas makes it easier to eliminate the bad ones and develop the good ones further.
A group of scientists in the Netherlands, led by Remko van der Lugt, observed four idea-generation meetings in which participants used one technique that involved writing and another one that involved sketching. They concluded that sketching stimulates group creativity by enabling individuals to reinterpret their own ideas further and to facilitate other people’s access to those ideas once they are brought to the table.
Collaborating with others in generating concepts is easier when we share sketches that are flexible, unsettled and, thus, full of possibilities.
Not only does hand-sketching improve the idea-generation process, but it provides an effective, visual language that makes it easier for others to understand, comment on, and integrate your ideas. This might be even more important in cross-cultural groups, for whom visual sketches can bridge gaps of understanding.
So the next time you have an idea, try sketching out some rough thumbnails. I think you’ll find that by simply getting your thoughts on paper you can manifest better solutions quicker than if you bypass your pencil and go straight to your mouse.
Have questions about sketches and doodles, or how to get those good marketing ideas down on paper? Please contact a member of Skoda Minotti Strategic Marketing, by calling 440-449-6800.