Project Management

Hand Sketch Graphics Have Better Retention

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Hand Sketch Graphics Have Better Retention

There is a growing trend of using hand sketched icons, symbols, and graphics in documentation and presentations to emphasize main topics, increase reader retention, and better communicate the message.  More publications and tools are embracing this trend and providing a much better overall user experience.

I recently had the pleasure of reading the book: The Practitioner’s Guide to Project Management – Simple Effective Techniques that Deliver Business Value.By Lynda Carter.  Lynda is a Project Management Consultant and Custom Training Development Specialist.  She has done work for Baldwin Wallace University and owns Competetive Edge Consulting ( ).  She has developed an extremely easy to navigate reference guide on project management.  She developed this with project management classes in mind and has had great success in using it as a reference for her project management training classes.

From a content perspective the book I spot on.  It lays out a very logical flow, set of reusable/scalable tools, and the business logic behind project management.  It includes many real life examples including real-world needs such as using KPIs as a leverage point to stakeholder relationships.  Her approach has provided me a new tool in my tool box.

But where the book stands out is the layout, it is top notch.  The book encompasses a great use of white space and a FANTASTIC use of supporting graphics and sketches. The picture below demonstrated this use of icons in defining components of the project and they are reused throughout the book.  I can see a lexicon like this being used throughout a project and words such as “the piggy bank” being used as the metaphor for financing.


Ms. Carter is utilizing an effective means of communication and taps into a growing trend.  I recently talked (if I call exchanging email, attending webinars, and exchanging Facebook posts talking) to Michael Deutsch, the product manager of Mindjet, about hand-sketched graphics, and he told me that there is a study that shows how hand-drawn sketches on slides help increase retention by a factor of 20% or more.  He indicated that one of the significant features of the new release of Mindjet Mindmanager is the inclusion of a set of hand drawn icons in four different colors.  They provide an effective visual message and categorization of thoughts, without the invasiveness of manufactured clips. 

Although I don’t see dominate graphics going away and being completely replaced by hand drawn sketches, the two have a great opportunity to work together.  And a project manager can now use simple sketches to tell the story of the project and propagate the message through many different communications in the project lifecycle.

One of Ms. Carter’s most effective techniques is establishing repeatable icons for use throughout the book.  When she introduces roles she does so with a graphic, as demonstrated in the image below, and then uses the icon at different points to emphasize the role in that aspect of the project.  For example, the big fingered sponsor is used later when the responsibility of the sponsor is discussed.




The book is available online at in both hard copy and electronic (Kindle) versions.

The net-net of this post is 2 fold.  First, using hand-sketched graphics in your communication facilitates retention and allows for visual reference through the project lifecycle.  Second, I highly recommend The Practitioner’s Guide to Project Management – Simple Effective Techniques that Deliver Business Value. As a reference for project managers at all levels, but especially entry level or “accidental” project managers.   

·         The graphics in the book were composed by David Balan, Illustration & Sequential Art

** Full disclosure, I have previously worked with Lynda Carter and know her outside of this blog. We actually collaborated on a Leadership research project that was delivered as a PMI webinar.  If you are a PMI member, you can view it online at:

Posted on: October 19, 2014 07:41 PM | Permalink

Comments (6)

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Paula Hodges 2nd Vice President and Actuary| Ameritas Life insurance Lincoln, Ne, USA
I often resort to using hand-drawn pictures when trying to explain concepts. A book that focuses its entire content on the use of hand-drawn pictures is "The Back of the Napkin" by Dan Roam.

I'm looking forward to reading Lynda Carter's use of this type of illustrating, as well as other PM tips / techniques.

Bruce Harpham Editor & Author| Toronto, Ontario, Canada
I agree with the idea of using these types of images to improve communication. The simple white board and marker continues to be very valuable in meetings to write quick diagrams.

I like the idea of using these images to "tell the story of the project." That could be a great supplement to the executive summary of the project's purpose.

Lynda Carter President| Competitive Edge Consulting Inc Lakewood, Oh, USA
David, Thanks for selecting my book to illustrate your point. I have built off this concept of using illustrations as a way of engaging others and taken it to the next step. I created a video that provides an overview of project management using the illustrations and as a way to share the book. Let me know what you think:

Mansoor Mustafa Senior PM| Government Department Rawalpindi Punjab, Pakistan
Thanks for sharing

David Maynard Fort Wayne, In, USA
Lynda, I followed the YouTube link and found a "VIDEO NOT AVAILABLE" page. Bummer.

Lynda Carter President| Competitive Edge Consulting Inc Lakewood, Oh, USA
Dave and I are looking into the link - thank you for bringing it to our attention.

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