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Does Graphic Recording Really Work? The Psychology of Visual Practices

Does graphic recording or visual facilitation really work? Our Intern, Terence, shares the research-backed psychology of visual practices. Get ready!

Does graphic recording or visual facilitation really work? Is there any science behind it?

To assure you, I shall review some of the evidence within psychology which supports the benefits of visual practices. The literature reviewed in this article do not refer to the benefits of graphic recording or facilitation directly but are based on research about drawing, sketching, and domains related to the use of visual imagery. Hereafter, the term “visuals” will be used to to refer to sketches and texts on a piece of paper, digital display or any forms of visual imagery.

(1) Cognitive Benefits of using Visuals

Visuals play an important role in memory. Encoding (the process of acquiring information and transferring it into long-term memory) is aided when we form connections between information.
An experiment showed that participants remembered twice as much information when they created images based on two paired words than participants who merely repeated the words.[1]

The power of visuals to improve memory is linked to its ability to organise information. A classic example would be the method of loci where a person remembers a list of items by imagining a spatial layout of a familiar place and placing the items at different locations of the place.[2]

(2) Knowledge Management

What we are more interested in is how visuals help with group processes? Knowledge management is the process in which content is created, shared and documented. The use of visuals aid in every step of this process. Visuals help in knowledge creation as a “display stimulation tactic”.[3] Ideas are more able to inspire new ones when transformed into visual representations. The process of drawing signals work in progress while empty spaces indicate untapped potential. This invites ongoing modifications or extensions from the participants.

The goal of graphic recording or graphic facilitation is to encourage knowledge sharing among the participants of a meeting. Visuals encourage communication of ideas and collaboration with others.[4] The external representation of a visual serves as a shared focus of attention, allowing for members to keep track of the conversation and promoting involvement. Hence, visuals capture the idea of the group and not just of an individual.

Visuals are used as a form of knowledge documentation in many settings and has its advantages. Take psychotherapy for example, visuals helps the patient and therapist explore important issues during a session. They also may be revisited in further sessions, hence becoming an important documentation device.[5] Similarly, visuals from graphic recording or graphic facilitation provide access to the discussion after the meeting has ended. They may be referred to for further action.

The literature explored here are few but hopefully they are enough to convince you about the benefits of incorporating visuals in your next meeting or event!

p.s. Check out other articles in our Ask Our Intern series here:


1. Bower, Gordon H., and David Winzenz. “Comparison Of Associative Learning Strategies”. Psychonomic Science, vol 20, no. 2, 1970, pp. 119-120. Springer Nature, doi:10.3758/bf03335632.

2. Bellezza, Francis S. “Mnemonic Devices: Classification, Characteristics, And Criteria”. Review Of Educational Research, vol 51, no. 2, 1981, p. 247. SAGE Publications, doi:10.2307/1170198.

3. van der Lugt, Remko. “How Sketching Can Affect The Idea Generation Process In Design Group Meetings”. Design Studies, vol 26, no. 2, 2005, pp. 101-122. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.destud.2004.08.003.

4. Tversky, Barbara, and Masaki Suwa. “Thinking With Sketches”. Tools For Innovation, 2009, pp. 75-84. Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195381634.003.0004. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.

5. Pfister, Roland A., and Martin J. Eppler. “The Benefits Of Sketching For Knowledge Management”. Journal Of Knowledge Management, vol 16, no. 2, 2012, pp. 372-382. Emerald, doi:10.1108/13673271211218924. Accessed 5 Mar 2019.