June 4th, 2019 by Sean

Visual Note Taking with the Co-Founders of Explain Everything

Visual Note taking blog post cover image

Recently, two of Explain Everything’s co-founders, Bart and Reshan, had a conversation about visual note taking and the future of visual communication. Watch the video to learn why Reshan finds sketchnoting to be a powerful way to capture and share understanding.

Want to get more in depth about the power of visual communication? Check out Reshan’s latest book!


Bart: Hello and welcome to Explain Everything! We’re at the headquarters of the number one digital whiteboard platform in the world. In today’s conversation we’ll discuss visual note taking with Reshan Richards. Hi Reshan!

Reshan: Hi Bart!

Bart: you have a unique vantage point on visual note taking by being an educator and by helping to create a digital whiteboard. What came first? Interest in methods of sharing understanding, visual forms of communication, or the technology that supports it?

Reshan: I think the order you presented is actually pretty accurate as far as my priorities or perhaps the steps that led me down this path. So first, I’ve always been interested in how people, especially young people, are able to share what they know. And trying to find multiple ways to express understanding of anything. In schools, modes of assessment are often very rigid and very standardized, but we all know and are aware that everybody learns and expresses themselves in different ways. So, I’ve always looked at what are other means of doing that.

Actually, maybe I’ll invert it. Maybe next was then looking towards technology for solutions that allow different modes of expression and I think I started working in schools at a time where technology was just starting to emerge as something that anyone could access or choose to use. And I saw great potential in a whole variety of tools. But eventually I landed on this idea of being more visual whether it’s through drawing or mixing media together as a really powerful way to express understanding and demonstrate understanding. And then more recently I’ve gotten really into this form of visual note taking. Whether you call it doodling or sketchnoting, or graphic facilitation – there are all kinds of terms to describe it. But I’ve found that that, is a really powerful way to capture and be able to share understanding on any topic.

Bart: Right, and you do it quite often during the meetings using your digital whiteboard. How does visualizing a meeting change the conversation with those participants.

Reshan: So what’s interesting is I’ve been in meetings where people have taken  typed notes or handwritten notes and circulated them afterwords. But somehow, the synthesis and arrangement when you’re using visuals, it allows for a different story, because right now when you take notes and you’re just listening and touch typing people can type at a prewtty rapid pace, so you’re not necessarily making any selection or filtering of what’s important or what’s worth writing down. I think with handwriting notes that still exists, but to some degree you just can’t hand write at the speed in order to keep up with what’s happening.

So I’ve found that this doodling or visual diagramming, sketchnoting, sits nicely in between there. But also, I’ve found that when people see those notes, they all of a sudden get a glimpse into how somebody else who was there, what was important to them. Right? And all of a sudden they’re like “Wow, this is a different way to look at an experience I was also in”. So when I’ve been in large keynote settings or small individual meetings I’ve found that the notes always end up quite powerful and nobody ever wants to see my typed notes or is interested in seeing my hand written notes. But people are often saying “I’d like to see how you interpreted it visually”.

Bart: Yes. I think this takes the collaborative thinking to other levels. Let me ask you, how does keeping a graphical record support bigger picture thinking and communication along with the team or the group you’re meeting?

Reshan: So the nice thing about the visual format when you do a sketchnote or a visual note is that somebody at a glance can see it high level and notice things they want to focus in on. Or even if they were looking through it on their phone or just glanced at it for a second at the top of an email. You can evoke or elicit a response much more easily than if it’s all printed word or typed word. Because the reader has to first read it and then generate a response. But when it’s communicated through imagery you’re able to reach some sort of cognitive response more quickly. So I’ve found that when you have these visual records over time, you can actually get a better snapshot of progress of a discussion and idea or whatever it may be. And a much more powerful way than just a running record of page after page of text based notes. It doesn’t allow somebody to step back and have a high level look at the progress because you actually have to get in and read the details.

Bart: I remember the quote from David Sibbet, he’s the pioneer of visual facilitation, and he suggested in one of his books that the iPad is the spirit of the visualization revolution on the tool side. Yet, we don’t see many visual facilitators using the iPad these days. So, why do you think that is?

Reshan: I think people develop their habits and routines of what works well for them, and I don’t think, to make that type of experience more accessible to other people so they can understand the power of visualizing, notetaking, facilitating meetings in a graphic way. I feel like digital tools create an entry point for more people, so you don’t have to require a professional graphic facilitator necessarily, but everybody can start to contribute in that way. Now I think professional graphic facilitators will then be able to focus on higher level tasks if more people are at the ground level starting to be more visual in their communication.

Bart: Great. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!
Reshan: Thanks very much!