I am a very visual person, so visual note-taking plays a big part in how I encode new information and concepts. I am a big fan of note-taking apps and styles that supplement text with visual elements such as drawings, diagrams, and images.
Visual note-taking can be impactful for several reasons, including its ability to make complex information more accessible, facilitate connections between concepts, and enhance retention and recall. It can also be more inclusive for those who may have difficulty with traditional note-taking methods.
Making Complex Information More Accessible
Visual note-taking can help to make complex information more accessible and easier to understand. The use of visual aids can help to convey information in a more intuitive and memorable way. This can be especially helpful for those who are visual learners, as it allows them to process the information more easily.
Imagine your desk or whiteboard with thousands of varying-sized sticky notes with spider silk strings connecting them. I love thinking about note cards in this way. Practical examples would be to learn and make sense of complex topics by chunking them down into smaller sections (for example, my favorite way to do this is by creating mind maps).
Seeing the Big Picture
Visual note-taking also allows for a more holistic view of the information being presented. It can help to identify patterns and relationships that may not be immediately obvious when taking notes in a linear format. Understanding the different pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together can be beneficial for helping to make sense of the material.
In a typical text-based note-taking app, where mind maps are not a possibility, the context switching of going from one note to another can create a disconnect for me. That interruption can be enough for me to lose my train of thought and flow. Working on a visual canvas makes it easier for me to make connections between ideas that I might not have otherwise made and keeps me on task.
Processing Information fast
Not only that, but visual note-taking makes the processing of information fast!
Humans were once hunters and gatherers, so processing our surroundings quickly could be the difference between life and death. It means that, today a person can process imagery many times faster than plain text alone. Which is one more reason to add images into our note-taking.
Enhancing Retention and Recall
Also, visual note-taking could be used to increase the retention of information and improve our ability to recall information later on. This is because the visual elements can be used as cues to help jog the memory, making it easier to recall the information when needed.
For example, by associating imagery and strong emotions to a memory (exactly what we do when reviewing old photographs), we are also creating more anchor points for retrieval. It is like painting vivid images on the canvas of our mind. Imagination is the artist of memory, but an artist that also makes it easier to retrieve memories later.
The mnemonic device Method of Loci (often called Memory Palaces) is an example of an interesting technique to use imagination for visual association with ideas. It relies on imagining an environment you are familiar with and associating ideas to the different places. It involves imagination and it can be fun! Mine is a rudimentary version, though the concept helped inform how I naturally started associating spots on my note-taking whiteboards with information.
Last, visual note-taking can also be more inclusive than traditional note-taking methods. For those with dyslexia, for example, the use of visual elements can be more effective in helping to process the information.
So, due to the multiple benefits of visual note-taking, I am always looking at ways to incorporate a more multi-sensory learning style into my practice.
Now, let’s look at some of the popular visual note-taking tools in 2023.
Visual Note-taking Tools
Heptabase. This is an infinite canvas application where you can create mindmaps, kanban boards, daily logs, highlight PDF files, and so much more. It’s a mix of Notion, Miro, and Obsidian.
Napkin. Napkin is a place to collect atomic notes and see the serendipitous connections happen. It leverages AI to tag your cards with relevant topics and then shows you similar cards based on the central card. You can also create stacks to help collect ideas for projects.
Xtiles. X-tiles is an interesting application that uses tiles and nodes to make a dashboard of sorts. You can have tables, text blocks, to-do’s, YouTube videos, media, and other various elements. However, you need to use their tiles to add content. It has a Limited mobile app where you can add quick notes.
Scrintal. It is a cross between a mind-mapping app like Miro and a bi-directional linking app like Roam. Its biggest selling point is ease of use and an intuitive experience. It is still in alpha, so it is rough around the edges, though I have been enjoying using the product in its current state.
Milanote. Milanote has been around for a bit and is a much more polished user experience than most. It has an excellent mobile and desktop app.
MyMind. My Mind is a read later app that blurs the line with more utility. It uses AI to tag and sort your notes for you.
One of the aspects that I find amazing is that it tags photos by color so that you can copy the color code.
Freeform. This newer Apple program has a low entry barrier since it is now a stock app available on apple devices.
Mindnode. MindNode is a mind mapping program that is flexible and beautiful . It allows you to brainstorm, incorporate different media, make connections and have it be colorful.
Obsidian Canvas. A newcomer in the more visual note-taking space though is a fantastic graph-based outliner app that now has even more tricks up its sleeve.
Muse. This is the most chaotic of the apps, with no real way to organize anything. You have one infinite canvas with lots of boards.
Miro. Great for teams to whiteboard and diagram outflows for projects. Easy to brainstorm and make mind maps while collaborating.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clayton Miller helps curiosity-driven entrepreneurs align and integrate their genius with their dreams. You can learn more about Clayton's work at https://curiouse.co/