Doodling, the spontaneous act of making marks with our minds and bodies, is a phenomenon that’s been misinterpreted by casual observers for centuries. When a person doodles, she unlocks new creative and intellectual pathways within herself. In fact, doodling and its more sophisticated sibling “infodoodling”—my term for the tight integration of words, shapes, and images—are profoundly useful tools available to all of us.
Read on to find out five reasons why doodling is such an enriching exercise. You might also be surprised to learn which famous figures have used it in their work. Finally, learn how you can harness the power of doodling in your daily life starting immediately.
Doodling opens doorways into the imagination
There’s no such thing as a mindless doodle. The physical act of producing a doodle necessarily engages the mind, opening doorways into the imagination, the intellect, and the oft-hidden centers of insight. A moment of insight in the brain is the simultaneous firing of previously dissociated neurons. The act of doodling—as deceptively simple as it appears—gives us the opportunity to ignite more remote relationships among the data in our minds, thus accommodating solutions that are creative and new.
Doodling elevates focus and concentration
In today’s hyper-digital environments, there seems to be a near-universal sensation of fractured attention. For many of us, sustained focus and concentration have become increasingly rare, with the productive, psychological, creative, and emotional consequences not looking pretty. Doodling is one of the easiest, most accessible, least intimidating, most relaxing ways of being present, as it slows the mind and allows it to breathe. Our brains need space and quiet to regenerate and integrate new knowledge.
Doodling allows for deeper learning
Human beings are multi-layered learners. We take in and process information through a variety of channels, becoming aware of our world via sensory stimuli, emotions, interactions, and experiences. To doodle is to start a rich conversation between multiple parts of our learning selves, including the auditory, linguistic, visual,and kinesthetic. When we doodle and infodoodle, we dive beneath the surface into our neurological and physiological depths.
Doodling isn’t just for artists or “creative types”
To be visually competent doesn’t mean being “good” at drawing: It means being able to display a system, process, or concept in the world. By doodling, we demystify complex subject matter by mapping it in simple and rudimentary visual language. You need not be an artist; anyone can learn and apply visual language. It’s an opportunity for non-artists and “left brainers” alike. Developing doodling and infodoodling skills can transform understanding in any work or school setting.
Powerful people doodle
Many people assume that world leaders—presidents, visionaries, Nobel laureates—do not or should not engage in trivialities such as doodling. In fact, the opposite is true: intellectual people who are responsible for making difficult decisions rely on doodling as a device to support their thinking. It’s a fun little secret among some of society’s most celebrated intellectuals, innovators, and game-changers—just ask director Ron Howard, who uses doodling to clear his mind before storyboarding; theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, who relied on doodling to get to breakthrough scientific conclusions; and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who doodles to stay focused in long, complex conversations.
Here’s how you can elevate your own skill at doodling and infodoodling:
Learn what I call your “Doodler DNA”
We all have a doodle that’s native to us. Find your instinctive starting point and add more sophisticated marks and meaning as one way to leverage visual language you already know, rather than feeling you have to start from scratch.
Learn the visual alphabet and practice it
The visual alphabet is composed of 12 forms and fields that together allow you to produce a representation of any object or concept in the world. Approach visual language as you would learning a new language and just engage it one element at a time.
Credit: Sunni Brown
Explore and apply the 12 Devices
To arrive at the more sophisticated skill of infodoodling, use your visual alphabet coupled with the 12 Devices provided. An entire world of understanding, communication, and display has just become available to you. So keep calm and doodle on.
Sunni Brown was named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business and one of the 10 Most Creative People on Twitter by Fast Company. She is a consultant, an international speaker, the coauthor of Gamestorming, and the leader of a global campaign for visual literacy. Her TED Talk on doodling has drawn more than a million views on TED.com.