Visual Note-Taking

This week we had a workshop on Visual Note-Taking (VNT) with Nynke Kuperus from the Impact Measurement and Knowledge Team. The core idea of VNT is to instead of taking dreadful and timeconsuming notes you instead visualize your notes with drawings and symbols. By doing so, it is believed that you process the content better by focusing only on the most essential material. In that sense VNT can function as a ‘bullshit filter’; meaning you can easily sift through the most critical information which enables you to ignore information that is of less importance.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor the visual alphabetSo how do you visualize then? It is up to you! But we were introduced to something called ‘The Visual Alphabet’, which is a kind of tool that allows you to draw anything with these 12 simple shapes.

Studies have shown that people who utilize VNT are 30% more likely to snap up the most important bits and pieces of information, and hence become better listeners in the long-run.

After an introduction into the essential logic behind VNT, we had a few exercises in which we could put our recently gained knowledge into practice.

First, we watched a short snippet of a TED talk video by Jamie Oliver, and were told to visualize the central message (regarding increasing obesity rates in the U.S.) he tried to convey. Some of us found the exercise easier than others, whereas others found it hard to draw something which could just have been easily conveyed linguistically with letter and words. Here I noticed how easy it is to just rely on words and numbers, and that one really must practice before being able to use this technique. Interestingly though, many of us visualized the same words similarly (e.g. a hamburger representing food).

Afterwards we continued with another exercise, in which we all were handed a piece of paper with a noun written on it (computer, plant, shoe, alarm clock, house, photo camera, and skirt) each and then we were asked to visualize the word and pass it on to the colleague on our right. This was repeated seven times until the paper you started with was back in front of you. The challenging part was that you were not allowed to visualize the noun in the same way as someone else had already visualized it on that paper, so as one can understand it is quite difficult to visualize a house in more than a handful of ways. The results were quite creative, but also very amusing!

Up until then, all our exercises had been quite concrete. Now, on the other hand, we were asked to visualize something a bit vaguer. Nynke read out loud a sentence about a project in Uganda which had had no impact on empowering women and because of its lack of impact, a smaller number of women had actively participated in other project activities. Here we saw a greater variety regarding the results, with many various ways the same message was visualized.


Takeaway from the workshop is that VNT can be a quite useful technique to visualize attention-grabbing information shared during meetings, conferences, and events. It can also be a great tool for people who are visual learners – as opposed to verbal learners – who wish to remember something in a greater detail than they otherwise are able to.

Want to learn more about visual note taking? Watch the TEDtalk by Rachel Smith.


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