COLOUR* ME BLUE - thoughts on the purposeful use of colour


It's blue Monday, apparently.  

Of course the coiners of this phrase don't mean the blue of gorgeous skies, infinite horizons or exhilarating seas, they don't mean the blue of the world, of nature...they don't really mean blue the colour at all. They mean blue the emotion.

(*For the Americans amongst you, apologies that as a Brit I've spelt color wrong the whole way through!)

The third Monday of the year has gained the sad title of the most miserable day of the year. Far enough from the holidays for any residual festive happiness to have left us, and also still not pay day, despite many people having just had the biggest spending month of the year.  So it's the blue of emotions that we really mean when we say 'blue Monday'. The crayon we'd pick if we had to colour cold, or rain, or tears.

Colour psychologists believe colours can affect how we feel, they just disagree with the Marketeers over what those feelings are. Blue for example, is not a sad colour, but a trustworthy colour. It's honest and sincere, reliable and confident (Judy Scott-Kemmis)...Red of course is the colour of passion and love and, let’s not forget, danger… gold is the colour of riches and halos and winner’s cups… but how far should you take it? 

The purposeful use of colour can and does help to create a common language and a shared understanding. If we look at marketing to children, with its artificial pink vs. blue divide, we can see that colour can also be used to limit, to exploit and to exclude. 

In my work, I'm often asked; how do I pick what colour to use, and how do I decide when to use it? 

Whether or not you believe the theories, it’s hard to deny the very real and powerful associations of some colours, so when it comes to working visually does any of it really matter? Should we really take what amounts to ‘colouring in’ quite so seriously? 

blue icons

I’ve always believed that the person with the pen holds a lot of power and when I graphic at meetings I can’t deny colour does matter. I am conscious of the colours that are important to the client, the common cultural associations of certain colours, as well the colour diversity of people. I use colour to highlight key points and I use it to create a visual balance on the page. 

So if you want to flex your pens and inject some purposeful colour into your communications, here are a couple of suggestions:

1. Embrace your taste - if you have favourite colours that make you happy, try and include those where you can, they're part of your personal style. But...

2. Communicate outwardly - some colours have powerful associations, so think about who your visuals are for and not just what you like. Take pink for example. If you love pink and your brand is all about appealing to other folk who love pink then don't hold back, but for everyone else, do be aware that a lot of people (me included) find the colour pink a massive turn off.

3. Be inclusive - When you're drawing people be conscious that you don't only draw people one colour as this isn't inclusive. If you don't have skin tone pens, you can show colour diversity by using different tones of the same colour.

All I know for sure is that colour really does help a graphic to come alive. I use it a lot and I certainly have my habits and my favourites. For today though, I'm mainly interested in one important colour, Pantone 16-0940 'Taffy' - the colour of my next cup of tea.


I train individuals and organisations to work more visually. If you want to become more effective at working visually or you want to become a graphic recorder then get in touch.



I had some time recently to ponder the marvellous, international, border crossing nature of working visually.

Our need for a shared language has never been more necessary, more relevant or more useful. At one end of the economic spectrum companies continue to merge, outsource and expand, creating vast global workforces. At the other end 'gig' culture and the freelance revolution has been built on the back of technology which allows us to work globally and nomadically, often for the first time. So how do we communicate effectively in our modern world?

Visually of course.

I’m lucky in my work. As well as working with large diverse workforces here in the UK I’ve worked in different countries across Europe at meetings large and small. I've drawn in Dubai, I’ve trained teams in India and I've even co-produced training for an organisation in Laos.

I’m always impressed (and a bit ashamed!) by the linguistic skills of the people I work with. But, equally the people I work with are always impressed with the visual language I bring to the table. 

Pictures allow a common communication to take place within the room which doesn’t rely on the translation of one language to another. Pictures approach everyone equally and the benefits of this are positive in a way that words can’t compete with. 

We understand and retain information better when it is visual. We connect with messages more easily when they are visual and if, like me, you read the ‘Happiness Advantage’ when it came out a few years ago, you will know that our minds respond to creativity and the happy feelings this brings with…well, more creativity and happy feelings. What’s not to like?

Of course even graphic recorders use text (some much more than others) but the power of the visual trumps all. Despite being the oldest form of recorded communication, working visually is also thoroughly modern, embracing our need and desire to communicate effectively without borders, whether these are geographical, or simply within the diversity of our own workforce.


Can't draw - can work visually

It must be no surprise that I'm a big advocate of working visually. There is plenty of evidence out there. Working visually helps more people understand information more easily and remember it for longer. It engages people with key messages, helping them feel connected and valued, and it helps groups align their thinking even in challenging situations.

copyright Graphic Change Ltd

On top of all that, people usually love to see visuals at work. Meetings where we create graphic records make people smile. People come over to look closer, to look again, to ask for a copy, to share it a work setting that is really powerful stuff...what's not to love?

So if all that is true...why doesn't everybody work this way all of the time?

Sadly one of the most common things people say to me is "I can't draw".

Of course I then explain how the drawings I do are actually quite simple. In fact HOW I draw is no where near as important as WHAT I draw. That you may never be an artist but that's okay, you can still learn to work visually and get the benefits that come with that. That in fact how to work visually is teachable and no drawing skills are required.

Which is when people typically say..."no, you don't understand, I REALLY can't draw".

Every time someone says this to me it makes me sad. I know that in a decade of teaching people to work visually I've never met someone who can't conquer the basics. In fact I've met many people who unbeknownst to them, have a great deal of talent, and yet, a large percentage of adults are convinced that their lack of success at O'Level / GCSE art means that anything resembling drawing is definitely (and I mean definitely) not for them.

copyright Graphic Change ltd

If this sounds like you; if you wish you could work visually but know you can't because you were once told you were rubbish at art, I understand. I do. But I want you to know that the world of working visually is much bigger than the world of people who are good at art, and yes, you most certainly can join in.

If you want to find out more about our online training courses in working visually then head to our training pages.


You have got to love a sketchnote. These friendly, colourful records of a meeting or discussion are so much more than the sum of their parts. With a sketchnote you get all of the benefits of working visually, namely greater understanding and greater retention, for yourself.

If you’re not familiar with sketchnotes then here some I did a little while ago at a TEDx event in Liverpool.

sketchnoting at TEDx
sketchnoting TEDx
sketchnoting at TEDx
sketchnoting at TEDx

The sketchnote I've pulled out here is from a talk by Steve Clayton who is Microsoft's chief storyteller (cool job eh?) Now it’s likely that none of you reading this were actually at this event, so take a moment and really have a look at it.

From a standing start, do you now think you know what the talk covered? Maybe.

If not, can you see some of the main points of the talk? Probably.

Do you have a sense of Steve's view on life and work? Yep, you probably do.

Do you think you could now share a couple of simple points about this presentation with a friend over coffee? I’m guessing so. Pretty impressive considering you weren’t there don't you think?

A sketchnote isn’t supposed to replace written minutes where they are necessary, but for lots of us the pages of notes we have written are left unread, are sometimes unintelligible or illegible and are often quickly forgotten. All of those interesting snippets of information we have just gained are hard to retain without a memory jogger, and heaps of hard won information is lost to us, information that we thought was important enough to take time out to hear in the first place. Lost. 

More people are sketchnoting for themselves than ever before. For personal and business record taking, sketchnotes can be an accessible replacement or addition to formal written minutes. If you are on twitter, pinterest or insta #sketchnotes and you will find lots of great examples.

sketchnoting at TEDx Steve Clayton Microsoft

Now you might be thinking “It’s all very well for you, but I can’t draw!”. Don’t fret, it’s really not an artistic exercise at all. Even the most basic stickpeople (along with words) will help to jog your memory and make your notes much more useful to you.

(Of course if you do want to become a sketchnoting whizz and you'd prefer some training than going it alone, get in touch and I can give you the low down on our training options).

There are plenty of reasons why you should use sketchnotes and here are my top three…

1. pictures and words together tap into multiple learning styles.

2. visual information is more easily retained than words alone.

3. and of course, it’s much more fun to review your notes when they are sketchnotes.

So if you haven’t tried it already, and find yourself in a situation where you might usually scribble some written notes, why not have a go? You just might find that it really is ‘sketchnotes to the rescue’.


It’s really exciting to have our new website up and running; I hope you like it. Everyone who has a website knows that it doesn’t happen by magic and that lots of thought and time (not to mention money) gets invested in trying to create the perfect site. We do it because good sites make business sense right?

You want a site that shows the world “here I am!” “yes, I’m just what you’re looking for…”. You want a site that helps your existing and future clients understand how your services can benefit them and how they can access these benefits. You want a site that helps your business to flourish.

illustration by Cara Holland

We know it’s important that the outside world ‘hears’ us if we are going to succeed. In fact we can go one step further than that… we know it’s really important that the outside world hears and understands our messages, whether it’s the good cause we are promoting or our latest product launch. Without being ‘heard’ no one will know who we are and what we can offer them.

I'm passionate about developing our visual language and visual thinking skills, and it got me thinking… we could speak louder, or more often… but perhaps there is something else to consider before you start shouting.

Whatever your business is, and whoever your customers are, you can bet an awful lot of them will be visually absorbing your information as well as just ‘reading’ your content. So if you’re not a visual business, have you paid enough attention to how you are ‘seen’ as well as ‘heard’?

You might not know it but what your site visually says about you and your service can be more important than all of the other elements combined. The ‘Picture Superiority Effect’ (evolved from work by people such as Alan Paivio’s exploration of how our mind retains information) has shown that concepts are much more likely to be understood and remembered if they are presented in pictures rather than words.

As a Graphic Recorder and a Graphic Facilitator I get to see how effective working visually is for businesses every day. In fact our brain is so geared up for absorbing visual messages it really is a shame not to take advantage of it. 

So next time you are reviewing your website, pay some well needed attention to how you are being seen if you really want to be heard.