The miseducation of the doodle

A List Apart has a wonderful article on the power of the doodle and its application in learning. Some excerpts follow, but check out the full article for a wonderful read.

In the winter of 1969, Virginia Scofield faced a daunting challenge. It was a recurring challenge—more like a nightmare—and she had already failed miserably at her first attempt. This particular obstacle was one that most people consider themselves lucky to never face: undergraduate organic chemistry.

At the time, Virginia was a biological sciences student at the University of Texas. Her career plan bumper sticker could have read “Ph.D. or Death!” as there was no alternate route to pursuing her doctorate. She had to learn, integrate, and retain organic chemistry’s masochistic detail, and time was not on her side.

Having exhausted traditional learning methods such as highlighting, note-taking, and rote memorization, Virginia chose to unleash a powerful, primitive tool that ultimately turned out to be her savior: The Doodle. Virginia decided to draw rudimentary visual representations of every concept in her Morrison and Boyd textbook. She deployed a problem-solving technique that defied conventional wisdom and all the academic advice she had received. And the story has a happy ending. Not only did Virginia ace her organic chemistry final and eventually become Dr. Scofield, she also became a celebrated immunologist, earning accolades for one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs related to HIV transmission. She credits much of her success, then and now, to her world-turning decision to doodle.

Please, doodle at work

The doodle is the perfect office device: It’s user-friendly, it costs next to nothing to adopt and it’s accessible to all of us—not just the artistically inclined. What’s more, the doodle is the friendliest stepping-stone imaginable to mapping out serious process and design challenges. To apply doodle power at work, we first need to give ourselves permission to doodle. Next, we need a 101 skill set with which to begin.

This universal act is known to:

  • increase our ability to focus (especially when handling dull or complex subject matter),
  • increase information retention and recall,
  • activate the “mind’s eye,” or the portions of the visual cortex that allow us to see mental imagery and manipulate concepts,
  • enhance access to the creative, problem-solving, and subconscious parts of the brain, while allowing the conscious mind to keep working, and
  • unify three major learning modalities: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

Like infants and dynamite, the doodle is deceptively simple. A staggering number of scientific, mathematical, and business breakthroughs have come via the act of making inelegant marks on paper. The beauty of the doodle is that it requires no educational degrees, no financial status, no training. It only asks that we unleash it and let it do what it does best: help us think.

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Artist, satirist, and occasional blogger, Andrew has been drawing since he could hold a crayon. He started with squiggles, but they were darned good squiggles if he says so himself. And he will, just ask.
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Andrew Paulson on Twitter: Ego sum nemo. Baker, geek, illustrator, web developer, and satirist.


  • Trying to draw is complicated when your cat really wants to sit in your lap. Makes for even messier inking than usual.
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