In Content marketing, Infographics, Tools, Visual Techniques, Writing Tips
A great example by Todd Clarke of how fewer words and images can make content more memorable.

A great example by Todd Clarke of how fewer words and images can make content more memorable.

We’ve all seen stats that demonstrate how much more memorable visual information is than what we read or hear. You may be including video, images and infographics in your content way more frequently as a result.

But text remains the mainstay for many online communicators, including me. I’ve been wondering how I could get more visual, even when I’m dealing with written words.

The universe delivered an answer when I met Todd Clarke, who distills complex information into concise visual summaries.

Amid the information torrent, these summaries, which he calls visual one-pagers, are a lightning bolt of clarity. They identify what is important and convey it in a way we remember it easily.

I got so excited about Todd’s techniques that I asked him to share his process and tips on how the rest of us can increase our visual mojo even if we aren’t able to craft one-pagers. Read on for our Q&A.

Take it away, Todd…

How did you start doing visual one pagers and what purposes do they serve?

About five years ago I started taking notes to remember the main points of business books that I was reading. I created notes on paper, adding doodles and different font types. I wanted to create a visual collection that I would enjoy reading, multiple times, over time. During that time “visual notes” came onto my radar, as did “sketchnotes.”

A one-page visual blog summary.

A one-page visual blog summary by Todd Clarke.

I was enamored with this growing community of people creating hand-drawn notes with pictures.

I was also creating many visuals both for work and play. As a software architect, I was constantly documenting designs, processes and requirements using words, images and whitespace, to help others SEE and understand software systems.

Through this hobby, my visuals received an amount of attention online, giving me the impetus to keep going… and sharing.

Hand written notes + graphic designy, work thingies = visual one page book summaries

So there ya go, my form of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups emerged. I started using graphic design programs to create visual book summaries of text and images while enforcing a self-constraint of a single page. Since, I have created about 36 visual-one-page book summaries with gobs more visual summaries for nearly everything else. What started as a hobby has now become my business.

My strength is in distilling information to tell a cohesive, clear and concise story. Then, I apply images to enhance the story. People read more of what you write if accompanied by pictures.

How are they different from what we see in infographics or other illustrations?

I’m grateful for the explosion of visual-notes, sketch-notes and infographics… because they engage our visual sense, otherwise left as an unused freeway-brain-lane. I’m glad to have gotten caught up this visual revolution.

Infographics are now quite ubiquitous and are a data-rich visualization of a story or thesis, to educate and inform, without a ton of heavy reading (like this one).

Visual-one-pagers (VOPs) are similar but are not centered around data.

VOPs summarize a book, speech, presentation, meeting and more… to help people remember the high-points.

VOPs summarize a book, speech, presentation, meeting and more… to help people remember the high-points.

I am addressing the collective ADD in us to save people time while helping them with these ‘leave-behinds’ to summarize what others write, say and show. For instance, who has to time to even rescan the book. VOPs serve as an education tool for those that have read the book, in this example, and as a promotional-teaser for those that have not.

Why is it helpful to be able to represent complex ideas, processes etc in a visual way?

For most, words + pictures + whitespace = better clarity and retention.

Why would one NOT consider engaging our visual sense as another stimuli to better comprehend and retain information?

I started this whole process of visualizing notes, drawing and doodling, to capture less to remember more. I found it so relaxing AND engaging that I just kept going… mostly because I wanted to look back at these notes.

So there’s your answer to this question… keep things simple to help you remember things as anchors versus having to spell it all out. Capture the main points, tweetable phrases and whatever excites you when reading, listening, or attending a meeting. Make it pretty or your own to lure you (and possibly others) to remember what moved you.

How can people who don’t have your skills be more effective visual communicators?

Buy the The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde to start taking “visual notes” today.

Know you CAN draw because, you did so when you were a kid AND it only takes the five basics elements: (1) circle ⚫   (2) dot .  (3) line |  (4) square   ⃞   and (5) triangle △ to draw anything.

You’re in lots of meetings anyways, so consider starting your visual communication career by creating handwritten notes. It’s a much more relaxing and engaging way to capture and remember more of what you read, saw or heard.

There’s plenty of examples to inspire and help you… heck, do a web search for sketchnotes or visual notes to see what’s out there.

In a nutshell, to start developing your visual communication skills:

  • Visual content is about words, pictures and whitespace
  • Use few colors and few fonts to keep it clear
  • Create a flow with your story, guiding the viewer along the page
  • Don’t be afraid to “look stupid”, just create, notice and appreciate how you WILL get better

Scroll through some of my digital sketchnotes as examples here.

For more of a graphic design approach, here’s one example of how I include simple icons into a blog post. I find an image using the search tool for thenounproject.com (see more below). I use these images to enhance each section. I center them, place them below section titles, and voila… a mostly textual piece but with just enough spark from a few well-placed images to support the story.

“You can do it!”, as the famous Waterboy line goes.

Are there apps or hacks that people can use to create better visual content?

Absolutely.

There are many tools for creating infographics that guide you through the process. Try a few to develop your visual skills. Be playful.

I use TheNounProject.com as my main source of simple, visual content. I certainly use images from this site in my visuals. The search feature is simple and this site provides me with plenty of ideas for images I can use when creating my sketchnotes, too. You can find images, icons really, for nearly any word you specify as your search criteria. Indispensable (hmmm… look that one up).

Summing it up

Thanks, Todd! For me, the most helpful points Todd makes are:

1)      Use white space effectively. As a writer, I tend to focus so much on the words that I don’t pay enough attention to the white space around them. Just as silences are as intrinsic to music as notes, white space is a powerful tool for setting off and highlighting key points.

2)      Getting more visual is as simple as incorporating icons in blog posts. I’m easily intimidated by graphic design, but this is something even I can do. Yay for getting started!

Runner icon.

Get off to a flying start with icons.

Are you going to try any of Todd’s suggestions or do you have some of your own? Drop me a line and let me know how it goes. If you found this post useful, please share it.

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