Doodling and being right when I was 8 years old

15 April 2013


Its September 1992, Im 8 years old I've begun year 4 in primary school.

Me and my young class mates were given a task to write a short story. Although I dont remember, we appeared to do this quite regularly. In that time I wrote stories about Jurassic Park, witches and wanting to be a stunt man. The other stories have faded from my mind but the one in the photo above really stuck with me. I knew exactly what I wanted to write about I was excited. I didn't want to forget my idea so I drew the story at the bottom of each page planned to write what was happening in each drawing. One day the Navy found a gloomy…. I obviously never finished this story. Part way through the task my teacher picked some peoples work to show, one of them was my work. She berated me in front of my class for drawing when I was meant to be writing. She didnt ask me why I had done this must have assumed I was not doing the task that was set.

Even now its difficult to understand what benefit would be gained from publicly shaming an 8 year old in front of their friends. She was a poor teacher and a bully who had no understanding of creativity, boldness or thinking outside the box. What I didnt know at this point was this wouldnt be the last time I faced issues with doodling, 'time wasting' and spidery handwriting.

Fast forward to secondary school: My history lessons in year 9 would usually involve either watching my teacher write whiteboards full of text that we were meant to copy or listen to her talk about something at length, take notes write what we remember. I used to doodle images of what was being talked about, far removed from the accepted 'list' or 'spider diagram', but for me at the time it was how I listened and remembered. This would regularly be picked up on. Messy handwriting, doodling was not ok. Not ok at all. Looking at my later writing in history other subjects, there was much less doodling. Im sure they thought this was better. I had given up, learnt to be compliant. My GCSE grades would illustrate the affect this had (not positive).


Above: Some early type experiments from 1995/96, long before I ever knew what typography was.

At university, no one ever questioned process. They were way less concerned with what tools you used to understand. I recovered from my secondary school education doodled with my bad handwriting because it worked well. No one cared about what I was doing because my work was good, it got me where I needed to get to. The messy, non-linear way I threw words onto a page was the reason I remembered, much less than the actual words I was writing. Yes, no one else could understand what I had written, but this note taking, right back to my childhood, was only ever for me to understand. It worked very well.

It would take another few years to notice others doing the same thing. Looking around me at the OFFF, Reasons To Be Creative conferences from 2007 onwards, people in the audience were making notes in all kinds of ways. The point was creative thinking and comprehension, not doing as you were told. This was a world opening up for me…


Above: A January 2013 article from Metro by Ross McGuinness.

Fast forward to 2013. I recently discovered Sunni Browns 2011 TED Talk: Doodlers, unite! She shows evidence that 29% greater retention of information. “Doodle: To make spontaneous marks to help yourself think.”

I almost cried the first time I watched this video. It sounds silly but to be so comprehensively vindicated from years of being told I was wrong is powerful a huge middle finger to the people who were so very wrong about what I was doing.



Above: Notebooks, lists design ideas from this year. This full circle, 20 year journey ends well: I still have messy writing, I doodle in meetings, talks member understand what Im listening to. I believe the skill of doodling has help tremendously in getting me where I am today. I guess there are many people out there who will tell you how wrong you are about what you're doing or the way you are doing it. This is probably the clearest evidence that you are very much going in the right direction. Keep going.