The Doodle Revolution

Published August 21, 2011

Doodle revolution

Google has made doodling famous, but the practice of scribbling away when someone is talking is still considered rude and/or bad practice. I’ve never really pondered this fact until recently, when I became aware of the Doodle Revolution. Sunni Brown heads up the revolution, with an aim of changing the perception of doodlers from inattentive listeners to engaged ears, and reviewing working practices to make creativity a bigger part.

I heard a discussion with Sunni and Jeffrey Zeldman on The Big Web Show on the 5by5 network where she discussed the concept in more detail, and I really sat up and took notice of some of the things she said.

Sunni: Our brain is wired to be visual, so when you look at our senses, our most primary sense is visual. I’m going to make some generalisations but by and large, we’re programmed to be exceptionally visual. In fact, when we see visuals, we have a hard time forgetting that we’ve ever seen them. So sometimes people are like: “Oh my god, I wish you hadn’t shown me that.” Because it means you’re going to remember that indefinitely. Why would that be true about ourselves neuroscientifically, but yet we don’t necessarily leverage that in our learning environments?

People misinterpret the doodler. If someone is talking, like at the World Economic Forum and somebody will be doodling and people will be like: “Oh my god, he’s not taking it seriously.” I think that people just actually underestimate and misunderstand what’s happening when someone’s doodling. They usually think that if they’re talking and someone’s drawing, they generally think they’ve checked out completely, that they’re too smart for the material, and they’re bored out of their mind. I think the very posture of somebody doodling is off-putting to the person speaking. I think in classrooms, for example, that’s probably one of the biggest things. They’re like: “Billy, focus!”

Zeldman: Even when you’re drawing and you’re not doodling what the teacher is talking about, you’re multi-tasking. If someone was doing yoga while listening to you, you wouldn’t say: “Pay attention, stop sitting cross-legged, this is serious.” There’s this sense that you can’t use multiple parts of your brain at the same time, or that if you’re being visual just as a kind of emotional relief or a way of exercising, it’s like you’re exercising while you’re listening. You’re giving yourself some visual pleasure while you’re listening, and that’s frowned upon.

Sunni: People think you’re not paying attention but there was a really interesting study that came out of the university of Plymouth in the UK, and what she did was she tested the retention rates of people who were doodling against, you know, model students… the doodlers had a 30% higher retention rate of really boring content. They were just drawing, they were scribbling in circles and squares, they weren’t even drawing images, they were only keeping their hand busy.

You can listen to the full conversation here. I just love the concept. Why should doodling be frowned upon when it is such a natural thing. Didn’t cave people scribble all over their walls? Why shouldn’t we do the same? Anything that challenges the hideous enforced standards in education is good in my book.

There are some excellent videos of talks (including a TED!) on the Doodle Revolution site, a fascinating manifesto, plus I really liked these slide show captures. I think I’m more of an audio learner than a doodler, but I’m going to try and be more open to doodling in the future.

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