eLearning Blog

Why Instructional Designers Should Draw

According to graphic designer Von Glitschka, his industry (graphic design) has: “become creatively lazy over the last 20 years when it comes to the creative process… Instead of spending the necessary time working out concepts by drawing out the ideas and thoroughly exploring the visual possibilities in a drawn form, they instead immediately jump on the box.”

Hearing Von Glitschka’s assertion made me wonder about the instructional design industry. Certainly, instructional designers have a creative process. I wonder if we have also become creatively lazy? Are we doing the best work we can be doing? Can drawing save us?

In a previous blog post, we explain why designers will rule the world. I believe that the best among those designers—including instructional designers—will be those who draw.

“We can’t call ourselves designers if we don’t draw. Drawing is the language of design. Putting pen to paper opens up cognitive challenges and innate problem-solving skills that mouse and keyboard do not. (In fact, the argument can be convincingly made that reliance solely on keyboard and mouse automatically inhibits our most important designer abilities.) All designers should draw all the time, for precisely the same reason that storytellers should talk.

Drawing is the way that our hands talk, and our hands – just like our mouth – are our outward-facing tool for expressing what we see in our mind. Drawing is how we explore the visual. Drawing is how we conjure, explore, and test visual ideas."  - Dan Roam



3 Benefits of Drawing

1. Drawing makes you a better thinker

While in a meeting, if someone starts doodling you might assume they’re bored or not paying attention. A study in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology discovered the opposite could be true. The study revealed that subjects who doodled while listening to a dull lecture recalled 29% more information (PDF).

In addition to aiding recall, drawing allows you to see things from different perspectives, a critical skill for instructional designers. While designing training, instructional designers need to see the training from the perspective of the learner. Drawing helps build this skill.

2. Drawing makes you a better explainer

The better you are at drawing, the easier it will be to create storyboards, whiteboard concepts, and tell stories. When explaining different ideas, there can be a lot of ambiguity if left to just words. A simple drawing or prototype can make your communication much more efficient.

Storyboard example:
Creativity in Instructional Design

Seeing trumps hearing

Learning how to draw opens you up to the most powerful form of communication—the visual. In the video below, the McGurk Effect shows how what we see overrules what we hear. This relates to the adage, “Show, don’t tell.”

3. Drawing makes you a better information processor

When you engage multiple senses in an activity, you retain more of the information. Cognitive psychologist Richard Mayer has proved this through various studies where he separated people into three groups and delivered information to the groups in three different ways: hearing, sight, and both hearing and sight. The groups that received information in a multisensory format generated anywhere from 50 to 75 percent more creative solutions on a problem-solving test compared to the unisensory groups.

While in a meeting, reading a book, or listening to a presentation—creating visual notes will help you retain the information, but also provide great reference material for later. An example of visual book notes can be seen below for The First 20 Hours.

Storyboarding in Instructional Design

There are four ways a person can process information:
1. Visual
2. Auditory
3. Reading & Writing
4. Kinesthetic (tactile)

When drawing, we engage ourselves in all four learning modalities at once, increasing our ability to remember and apply the knowledge by 30%. To quote David Lynch “We think we understand the rules when we become adults but what we really experience is a narrowing of the imagination.”

Anyone can learn how to draw

Instructional Designers Should Draw

These drawings come from a colleague at Dashe & Thomson who just began learning how to draw in the last month (with the help of the resources below). If he can learn how to draw by investing only 20 minutes a day for less than a month, so can anyone else.

Get creative.
Stop automatically turning to your veritable crutch. Drawing is a skill that will improve your thinking, learning, and creativity. If you want to excel as an instructional designer, you must draw … and if you feel you must learn to draw first, do it now!

Resources for learning how to draw:

There are a number of great books for anyone who wants to learn how to draw. Any of the books below will get you off to a good start, but you’ll eventually discover there is only one way to learn how to draw: practice, practice, practice.