Take Better Notes: A Beginner’s Guide to Graphic Recording

Have you ever seen a visualization like this one?

Example of Graphic Recording
Image credit: See Your Words

Be careful not to confuse this sketch with an infographic, which is designed to distill information in a quick and simple way – much like a blog post.

Graphic recordings, while similar in appearance, actually serve a completely different purpose – one that’s extremely significant for any workplace.

Before we get into that, let’s quickly go over the idea behind graphic recording.

What is graphic recording?

A graphic recording is a visual representation of a meeting or discussion. The artist creates it during the meeting, as people are speaking, on a whiteboard or large flip chart.

The artist captures spoken word and turns it into something visual.

Outcomes vs. Outputs

Graphic recordings are most often used in the corporate environment, such as in large meetings or presentations.

(An infographic, in comparison, distills already captured information into a more digestible, consumer-friendly format.)

Why should you care about graphic recording?

Graphic recording, or graphic facilitation, is a fantastic tool. Once you’ve seen a graphic facilitator in action, you will wonder how you ever accomplished anything without him (or her).

Here are a few benefits of graphic recording:

Increased engagement

Are you tired of people using their cell phones during meetings? Do you use your phone during meetings? Wait… are you reading THIS during a meeting? Tisk tisk.

Everyone knows that smart phones are a huge problem for meetings. Most of us are completely addicted to our phones and, whether or not we are looking at work related material, they definitely distract us from the matter at hand.

See also: 5 Data Visualization Blogs You Will Fall In Love With

According to Atlassian, it takes an average of 16 minutes for us to refocus after handling incoming email. No wonder half of us consider meetings a complete waste of time.

One of the best ways to combat the tyranny of meetings is with graphic recording.

Not only is it incredible to watch, but it’s collaborative. Everyone can throw ideas at the graphic facilitator and see them visualized in a simple, colorful, and powerful way.

Fewer people on their phones. Fewer people taking notes. More people listening. More people communicating. That’s the power of graphic facilitation.

Increased Memory

Have you ever finished a meeting and realized that you were only listening to half of what was said? Maybe you don’t remember anything at all? If you’re the boss, maybe this doesn’t happen often. But there’s a good chance this is happening to your employees.

We all know that pictures stick better than words. There’s actually a name for this, it’s called the Picture Superiority Effect. People are way more likely to remember information when it’s been presented in a visual format.

When they collaborate in the creation of that visualization, such as in a graphic recording, the effect is compounded.


We love to facilitate this sort of collaboration everyday in our office, on site with clients, and at events like DC EXCOMM.

A secret of great musicians is to practice immediately after a lesson. Most wait a bit, thinking that since they just had a lesson, practice can come later. This is a mistake.

Immediately recalling something from you memory is like adding rebar to your brain. (You know, rebar, the metal bars they put in concrete to make it a million times stronger.)

When we recall and analyze things immediately after we learn them, our memory increases exponentially.

Graphic recordings allow us to recall entire meetings immediately without getting bogged down in tedious meeting notes.

Reflection & Shared Outcomes

The average employee attends 62 meetings a month. How do you categorize all of that information? How do you separate and distinguish each meeting?

With graphic recording, you don’t have to. Each meeting will have a beautiful drawing, one that tells the entire story of what was said.

The best part? It’s super shareable (and share worthy).

Let’s say someone couldn’t make the meeting.

Sure, you can send over the meeting notes. But how many people are actually going to read through those? And not to mention, notes are completely hidden from the group and dependent on the notetaker.

A graphic facilitator is much more efficient because they won’t miss anything.

It’s collaborative. Everyone contributes. It tells a complete story.

Plus it’s fun to look at!

Where can you find someone to do it?

It takes a special kind of person to create graphic recordings. These people aren’t just artists – they are storytellers, craftsmen, and facilitators. They often function as consultants, mediators, and advisors.

In short, graphic recording isn’t a task for your assistant who has a knack for drawing. You’ll want to hire a professional.

An Example of Graphic Recording
Image credit: See Your Words

Finding an individual or firm that provides this service isn’t hard. A quick google search for “Graphic Facilitation Your City” will do the trick. One trait to look for in a graphic facilitator is industry experience.

If they speak the lingo, is will help to keep everyone on the same page. Some companies have gone as far as to hire or train internal graphic facilitators, a practice we definitely recommend.

Design to Connect: DC EXCOMM 2015 Recap and Review


Last Thursday, we hosted the first annual DC EXCOMM: Design to Connect Executive Communications and Visualization Conference.

Congregating in a room with beautiful views of Georgetown and the National Mall from across the river in Arlington, our guests were treated to two phenomenal keynote speeches from bestselling author Dan Roam and renowned communications expert Vincent Covello.

Dan Roam DC EXCOMM Presentation

Within minutes Dan Roam had our crowd drawing stick figures, and showing them the powerful impact that simple communications can have on their thinking and communications through materials from his book Back of the Napkin.

He shared stories of some of the most important doodles in history, from the development of Southwest Airlines business model to the conception of trickle down economics.

Scott Williams and Dan Roam

After the group had caught their collective breaths (and snagged a quick bite to eat) Vince Covello launched in to the second keynote speech.

He introduced the rules and techniques of high-concern communications, and walked the participants through a variety of case studies including his first hand experience working with the World Health Organization during the Ebola crisis.

DC EXCOMM Graphic Recording

As impressive as the keynote speakers were, our guests in attendance matched them. They were all decision makers and executives from across different industries, inside and outside the federal government and military fields.

DCEXCOMM Attendees

We saw just how quickly they picked up the tricks of the trade during our interactive workshops. In short order they visually developed solutions to deal with hypothetical cyber attacks, figured out ways to lower the cost of space exploration, and even explored the structural societal pressures that led to the rise of the “free range” parenting style.

“Who here thinks they are good at drawing?” Dan asked early in the day. At that point, only a couple of people raised their hands in the affirmative (and that may have included one of our designers).

Yet despite the modesty on their artistic ability, all of our participants were eager to learn.

DC EXCOMM Challenge

Throughout the day, the pens and markers were flying across the page as doodles, drawings, and message maps took for.

Were they all beautiful? Of course not, and that was never the point. Too often, design, communications, and visualization are seen as tasks handled by only a select few. Instead, as DC EXCOMM showed, these tools can be used to help any person confront any challenge.

To all who attended, thanks for being a part of a great day. To all who couldn’t make it, we hope to see you next year!

5 Data Visualization Blogs You Will Fall In Love With

If you work in graphic design or any sort of visual communication field, you’re intimately familiar with terms like data visualization, information design and big data.

It’s easy to forget that most people don’t really know what this stuff is. Truth is, data visualization is still a new discipline.

But it’s working its way into a bunch of different fields, and the world of information design is getting more exposure everyday.

That’s why we love any blog that’s dedicated to sharing data viz tools and tips – or just beautiful examples of data design in action.

There are so many awesome information design blogs, but these are our five favorites (in no particular order):

1. Flowing Data

Why We Love It: This blog goes way beyond posting pictures of infographics. It’s full of awesome data-driven projects like multivariate beer brewing and mapping the most popular races by country.

Favorite Post: The Subway sandwich map takes the cake (or hoagie). It shows just how much Subway is dominating the sandwich game in America.

Subway Sandwich Domination

Nothing against Subway but, for the record, we’re partial to the sandwiches at So’s Your Mom (not just because it’s across the street from our office).

2. Visualising Data

You might be thinking that we spelled “visualising” wrong, but this is how they spell it across the pond in the UK, where freelance data guru and blogger Andy Kirk resides.

Why We Love It: Andy uses a bubble chart to display his top 100 most popular posts. Talk about practicing what you preach!

Visualising Data top posts

Favorite Post: It’s hard to pick just one, but this post about using grey in your visualizations is a must-read.

3. Information is Beautiful

Why We Love It: Because, like founder David McCandless, we think that information should be designed in a way that is useful – above all else. We don’t share David’s hatred for pie charts, although we do love pie.

Favorite Post: We’re fans of the Best in Show dog data chart. It uses orientation, size, shape and color to pack a ton of data in a small space.

Best in Show dog infographic

Plus it confirms our belief that Chauncey is, in fact, a “hot dog”.

4. Cool Infographics

Why We Love It: Truth be told, we think the term “infographic” has lost its luster over the past few years, mostly because the web has been flooded with infographics that often leave something to be desired.

But, Cool Infographics is a very cool blog run by a guy who loves data viz just as much as we do – Randy Krum.

Our Favorite Post: Randy recently posted an infographic from Tabletop Whale that teaches you how to make animated infographics (meta, we know). In a saturated market, bringing your infographic to life with animated GIFs is one surefire way to stand out.

Animated Infographic

How cool is that?

4. Infosthetics

Why We Love It: First off, Infosthetics is an awesome name for a blog. Second, this site has a vast archive data visualizations, from charts about dissapearing amphibians to urban math art.

Pi visualized

Our Favorite Post: We think that Carlo Zapponi‘s interactive GitHut map is fascinating. It shows the relationships and range of programming languages “used across the repositories hosted on GitHub”.


We’re still dissecting what exactly that means, but this visualization sure is fun to play with.

5. Chart Porn

Last but certainly not least, Chart Porn is one of our favorite curated collections of beautiful maps, charts and graphics.

Why We Love It: Partly because it’s run by a fellow Washingtonian, Dustin Smith (yup, we’re biased, but at least we’re aware of it). But also because it helps us discover amazing visualizations that we might otherwise miss.

If you could only read one data viz blog, Chart Porn is a solid option.

Our Favorite Post: If we have to choose just one, this interactive Wizards’ shooting graphic from the Washington Post is it:

Wizards shooting graphic

Beautiful colors, clean design, data driven… plus it’s about the Wizards. Did we mention we’re from DC?

Now you know our top five data visualization blogs. What are yours? Leave a comment below!

Mental Models by Sheldon Reiffenstein

Mental Models

The Science of Seeing and Responding to Visual Stimulus

Family tree, barriers to free speech, time flying…in the time it takes you to read these three metaphors, you’ve very likely formed images in your mind that help you give meaning to them. We do it all the time, use “mental models” to orient our thinking, understanding and response to words and images.

“Mental models are representations that embody information about the structure, function, relationships, and other characteristics of objects in the world, and thus can help people explain and predict the behavior of things in the world around them,” wrote K.J.W. Craik in his 1943 book, The Nature of Explanation. Craik was an original thinker behind how the mind forms models of reality and uses them to predict similar future events.

This “science” of mental models plays a major role in how people view the world. When we see, the light reflects off an object, enters our eyes through our pupils, is inverted on the retina, then zips along the optic nerve to the visual cortex where the image is reconstructed and classified as to what it is. But images are not static in the brain. As the image moves along the optic nerve, other parts of the brain are stimulated as well. Not only do we see an object for its shape, its location in space, and orientation to the objects around it, other areas of the brain respond and light up based on memory, emotion, and the senses of smell, sound, taste and touch. A musician sees a musical score and the melody pops in her head. We greet a friend we haven’t seen for a year and remember the great time we had together at the county fair. A guy seeing a picture of fish and chips, starts salivating.

In a 1986 article “Cognitive Science and Science Education”, psychologist and Harvard professor Susan Carey wrote that mental models “help shape actions and behavior, influence what people pay attention to in complicated situations, and define how people approach and solve problems.”

In our business, Maga employs an understanding of mental models in designing our visual solutions. We construct our visualizations to reflect our customer’s mental models. How do they expect something to work and how do we capture that visually? This is crucial to being successful at using visualization to influence, educate, and change behavior among stakeholders. A graphic image that doesn’t accomplish this is simply a pretty illustration.

Mental models are catalysts for successful information seeking; thus are useful in situations where problem-solving behavior is required. This is a critical factor behind how Maga designs visualizations. The majority of our customers are seeking insight into highly complex business with no obvious solution at hand. Mental models are one starting point for our team of strategists and designers as they create visualizations that smooth out the impact of change management efforts, system introductions, or process transformations.



Taking mental models into account when creating new visuals can help diminish the concerns people have with a new initiative. Then with a powerful visual a new mental model becomes the new paradigm.


Carey, S. (1986). Cognitive science and science education. American Psychologist, 41, 1123-1130. Reprinted in Open University Press, Readings in the Psychology of Education and in C. Hedley, J. Houtz, & A. Baratta (eds.), Cognition, Curriculum, and Literacy. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1990.

Craik KJW. The Nature of Explanation. Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, UK: 1943.

Borgman CL. The user’s mental model of an information retrieval system: An experiment on a prototype online catalog. Int J Man-Mach Stud. 1986;24(1):47–64.


PopTech 2014 by Scott Williams, CEO, Maga Design Group, Inc.

59 minutes until PopTech 2014!!
It’s like traveling to see a long lost friend:  its been 3 years since we have made it to Camden, Maine for the annual PopTech conference.  I like to say it’s the one week a year that I’m truly glad to be a human being.  So many varied speakers from all walks of life, all intent on changing the world.  The conference, unlike Ted or any large conference in a major city, is focused on keeping the speakers and attendees in a continuous face to face dialogue.  The lunches, dinners, breakout sessions, and activities are all occurring where Camden-ers are living their day-to-day lives.  Maga has been a part of this conference on and off for over 10 years.  We have had the chance to be here with our clients (IBM, Nat Geo), and meet many friends – P&G, SpaceX, Dan Pink, Malcolm Gladwell – along the way.  In prepping for this year’s session about Rebellion – I am brought to mind 4 of my favorite presentations over the years.  All content from the conference is free – check these out !!!
More to come…. (we will be posting to maga’s twitter, facebook and instagram) throughout the week … #magapoptech