Case Study: Emily Bryson, ELT Materials Developer and Lecturer

This week we’re speaking with Emily Bryson, Self-Employed ELT Materials Developer and Lecturer at City of Glasgow College, who has attended Secrets of Simple Graphics.

What motivated you to attend the training in the first place? What problems were you experiencing that you hoped the training would address?
Emer came to the college to deliver a short training session last year.  I was instantly hooked and wanted to learn more.  I teach English to non-native speakers, so I knew that the ability to illustrate language points and vocabulary quickly and visually would be really helpful.

I also deliver teacher training sessions and write educational materials.  I knew that using graphics would help these stand out from the crowd and be memorable and captivating. 

How are you using what you’ve learned?
I now use what I’ve learned in many ways.  In class, I illustrate vocabulary by quickly drawing a simple graphic on the whiteboard and I support my students to take sketch notes.

One of my main reasons for doing the course was to jazz up my presentations.   I’ve now updated my teacher training slides, taking out the stock photos and replacing them with much more interesting and relevant hand drawn graphics. 
At the last ESOL conference at the college, I drew some icons to create a space for people to leave their feedback in an interactive way. This went down really well.

It’s also been helpful in my writing work.  I can now confidently illustrate any artwork briefs with a quick sketch and when I sent my latest book off to the publisher, I included a couple of sketches to demonstrate an activity.  

What kind of results are you getting? What kind of feedback are you getting?

My publisher really appreciated the sketches I made for my latest book, 50 ways to Teach Life Skills.  It helped them to visualise exactly what should be included.  In the end we actually we decided to include my illustrations because they are authentic and simple for teachers to copy.

The slides I created using simple graphics went down really well at a recent conference.  I think the participants noticed that they were by no means perfect, but that they got the point across.  I got the feeling that this reassured them and that they’d try to recreate similar images by themselves in their classrooms.

What would you say has been the overall impact of using visual thinking/simple graphics in your work?
I think it has given me the confidence to communicate in a different way, and it’s inspired others to do the same.

What would you say to someone who is considering going on the training?
Book it! Asap! It will change your life.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Emer is a very enthusiastic and supportive trainer.  Her training session was one of the best I’ve ever been on.  She gave us all lots of time to practise and the post-training online support was invaluable and very motivating.

Emily Bryson is an ELT materials writer, teacher trainer and ESOL Lecturer. She has written digital and print materials for a number of publishers including Macmillan Education, The British Council and Language Fuel.  She has been teaching ESOL at City of Glasgow College since 2007.  Her first book, the A-Z of ESOL, is out now and her second book 50 Ways to Teach Life Skills: Tips for ESL/EFL Teachers is coming soon from Wayzgoose Press. All artwork in this blog post has been created by Emily.

Feel inspired by Emily’s experience? Book now for Secrets of Simple Graphics, September 27th.

Case Study: Sharing your drawings in a professional context

This week we’re speaking with Gillian Christie, Senior Investment Writer at Baillie Gifford, who has attended Visual Thinking for Business.

What motivated you to attend the training in the first place? What problems were you experiencing that you hoped the training would address?
From a purely personal perspective, I was inspired by my autistic son. (Look our for a further piece from Gillian in 2019 on the topic of how she uses visual thinking with her son)

So, on the one hand, I hoped I would I would pick up something that would be useful for my personal life, but on the other, I was keen to see how visual thinking could be applied in a work context. Though to be honest, I was a little sceptical that it could, unless you were an artist! I am happy to have been proved wrong.

How are you using what you’ve learned? 
I am a writer, so my natural inclination is to think and communicate in words. Prior to taking this course, with little in the way of artistic ability, there was no way I would have even considered sharing anything I had drawn with anyone in a professional context.

That has changed! Not my artistic ability, per se, but my confidence in sharing hand-drawn graphics with my colleagues has. Within work, I have used visual thinking to brighten up agendas, to create visuals for meetings, for my own personal note taking in lectures and to create an outline of an article I was ghost writing.

One of the highlights so far was a follow up exercise for the course which challenged us to use visual thinking to problem solve. Each month, I compile a monthly summary, which I distribute widely by email. I knew I wasn’t happy with it, but I couldn’t articulate what the problem was and therefore I was struggling to see how I could make it better. The process of drawing it out really clarified what the issues were – too much information and no visual hierarchy to guide the reader – and so helped me come up with a solution as to how I could make the summary better.

What kind of results are you getting? What kind of feedback are you getting?
The feedback has been amazing. When I sent out my first agenda with visuals on it, I got an email back from one of the recipients which simply said “Gillian, you are awesome!” It also seemed to up the number of people who subsequently attended the meeting.

One of the first things I shared was a plan for an article I was ghostwriting. I was nervous as to how people would react, particularly given they were all senior people. I needn’t have worried. Someone emailed me back to say they loved my notes and another shared that she too used visual thinking and found it very helpful.

What would you say has been the overall impact of using visual thinking in your work?
First, it has helped me get back in touch with my creativity. Even the most mundane tasks seem a little less mundane when you add a picture. I’ve found it a great way to take notes and formulate my thinking. You can’t draw a picture for every word or sentence, so you are trying to pick out the important points as you go along, which helps keep things concise and more memorable. It feels like there is a little bit more of me and my personality in my work.

As a result, it has raised my confidence levels enormously. It can feel quite vulnerable to share your drawings in a professional context. It’s a big unknown. Will they be appalled at my drawing skills? Will they think I have been wasting my time? Thankfully, everyone has been very positive. In a way, my lack of drawing skills has been a big plus, because it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and it makes you feel that if you can do this, you can do anything.

What would you say to someone who is considering going on the training?
The most important thing I would say to anyone like me who felt that they couldn’t draw is that you can. If you can write, then you are able to make marks and shapes on a piece of paper. That’s all you need. There are loads of resources freely available on the internet that show you how or what to draw and there are plenty of symbols that you can simply copy until you feel confident about coming up with your own.  

Gillian is a Senior Investment Writer at Baillie Gifford. She writes and sub-edits intellectual capital on a wide range of investment matters. All artwork in this article has been created by Gillian.

Case Study: Was Gillian simply missing the artistic gene?

This week we’re talking with Gillian Frame of Reframe Solutions. Gillian attended the Secrets of Simple Graphics open course back in March. 
(All images featured here are Gillian’s work.)

‘Gillian, what was happening before you went on the training? 

I am blessed with a very artistic sister and husband – both of them have what I considered to be a fantastic ability to draw & be creative. I assumed that I was just ‘missing’ that gene and never felt confident that I could ‘draw anything properly’ so I just didn’t bother. I sometimes tried to spice up flipcharts with a border or a smiley face, but I was so hesitant with attempting anything else that if I did try, it looked just like what it was – half-hearted.

I met Emer at one of Julie Drybrough’s Facilitation Shindigs and thought what she described was fascinating, but not for me, as I was beyond help. However, I saw the programme advertised on Eventbrite and after reading the description, thought I should give myself another try.

How did the training meet your needs? 
I arrived at the start of the day with an open mind, and a slight amount of scepticism that I would be able to make a significant improvement in my skills (that wasn’t a lack of confidence in the programme or Emer, more of a fixed mindset about my ability to improve). From the first moment, Emer put me at ease and made it easy for me to ‘just try’. I found that the more my confidence grew, the better my attempts became – my tentative pen strokes became more deliberate and I realised that even if I had to ‘fake’ it, just putting something on paper with confidence made it look better.

How are you using what you’ve learned? 
After the programme, with the encouragement of the online support, I started by building a habit of drawing something every day. Some weeks I picked something I tend to use regularly and just drew it repetitively until I felt that I had established some form of muscle memory (I have so many drawings of light bulbs!), other weeks I copied an image that meant something to me (I’m still trying to master being able to draw ‘The Little Prince’ from one of my favourite books). I’m on a separate mission to reduce the amount of paper I use so I’ve been doing a lot of drawing and sketching using my iPad and iPencil – I find it a great way to play with images.

At a learning programme last week, I found myself preparing flipcharts that included several images, all of which just seem to come naturally, and actually looked like the thing I was trying to represent. OK, the helicopter might have needed a little bit of a verbal description, but I thought it looked pretty good!

What kind of results are you getting?
I feel more confident in my abilities and finally feel like I can be more congruent when I encourage participants to use images rather than words when completing some of the learning activities.


What kind of feedback are you getting?
Having prepared a welcome flipchart for the programme last week, I was delighted when a participant looked at the board and exclaimed “wow that’s great – and I see you’ve drawn yourself and Heiner (my fellow faciliator).
I’ve also had feedback from other facilitators I work with, the other day, one of them commented – ‘I wish I was as artistic as you’ – believe me, I looked around to see who he was talking to!
What would you say has been the overall impact of using graphics in your work?
I’d say that I feel better able to put across points and make the work that I do more interesting. The quality of my doodles has significantly improved too.
Most though, I’d say it was a great reminder for me of a few things – you can always learn to do things you didn’t think you could, it’s always worth challenging your self-image and the messages you tell yourself, and that if you want to do something and get better at it, you need to practice it regularly.

What would you say to someone who is considering going on the training?
Just do it (obviously I’d add a green coloured ‘tick’)! Whatever your level (or believed level) of artistic ability, you’ll grow skills and confidence.

As a professional coach and facilitator, Gillian spends her time working with individuals and organisations to amplify their natural strengths, and to identify and eliminate barriers to achieve personal and professional success and fulfilment. Find out more about Gillian’s work by visiting

Bookings are now being taken for Secrets of Simple Graphics 2019. More info here >> To run this course inhouse as a one or two day programme please get in touch

Case Study: Meet Susan and her little book of intentions

Case Study: Meet Susan and her little book of intentions

This week we’re in conversation with Susan Thomson. Susan attended my Visual Thinking for Business course Day 1 back in May. When she turned up for Day 2 and showed me what she had been working on I just had to share her work. Here’s what Susan has to say…. 
(All images shown here are Susan’s creations featured in her little book of intentions.)

‘Susan, how would you describe the visual memos you’ve created?’ 
I’d describe them as simple, colourful and light-hearted graphics that make me smile and remind me of my intentions!

What do you use them for?
I use them as gentle reminders of how I’d like to ‘be’.  To explain that further, rather than set a goal (eg.  I’ll get that piece of work finished by the end of today) which is about doing a specific task, I find it more effective to set an intention (eg. to focus) which is more about how I want to be (eg. focussed).  That could mean to focus on that specific task but more generally it reminds me to simply stay focussed on whatever I am doing in each moment.

What gave you the idea?

I’ve always liked doodling and often write words in clouds and after the Visual Thinking for Business Course I was practicing banners and other graphics in an A6 notebook which can stand up like a calendar. 
Around the same time a colleague and I had been discussing how Visual Thinking has helped us cope better with stress. For example thinking visually helps me get out of ‘stuck’ states. I was relating a stuck state to grey clouds and unstuck state to sunshine and greens hills and the memo was born….
The visuals vary but will usually include at least one of sun, hill, banner or (a clear – not grey !) cloud

What impact gave these had on you?
I now start each week with an intention which I usually come to after a meditation session or sitting in silence and connecting with myself.  It’s like setting myself up for the week, asking myself how would I like this week to go?
They also impact on my wellbeing as if I do go off track (which of course we all do) then they are a colourful and gentle reminder to take a deep breath and re-connect.

What would you say to someone who is thinking of creating something similar for themselves?
Keep it simple and don’t overthink it!  At first I tried to think of a drawing relevant to the word but I prefer the simplicity of similar images.  I get plenty other opportunities to practice my drawing elsewhere.
Keep it relevant to you and if you love stationery use it as a great reason to buy yet another notebook.  

Anything else you’d like to share?
I love how Visual Thinking has helped me at work and at home.  This has been a great way for me to let go of perfection.  My lines are not straight and yet I don’t feel the need to use a ruler.  My colouring in goes outwith the lines but I don’t re-do it (well not every time!)

Big thanks to Susan for sharing her little book of intentions. A fantastic source of inspiration on a Tuesday morning. 

Case Study: Helen Moores-Poole, Advanced Speech and Language Therapist

Case Study: Helen Moores-Poole, Advanced Speech and Language Therapist

This week we’re speaking with Helen MOORES-POOLE, an Advanced Speech & Language Therapist working with The IDEAS Team: Interventions for Dementia, Assessment, Education & Support in NHS Dumfries & Galloway.

Helen attended Secrets of Simple Graphics back in September 2017. Here she discusses how she has applied her learning, the feedback she is receiving and the overall impact of using graphics in her work. 

What was your reason for signing up to the training? 
I am a Speech & Language Therapist working in a specialist team that provides support and education to staff working with people with dementia who may be experiencing stress or distress. We offer educational courses at different levels of complexity for hospital and care home staff so I was looking for something more exciting than PowerPoint, something more in line with current adult education principles, something that wasn’t as ‘wordy’ or ‘preachy’. We work with all sorts of people, including some who are highly technically or practically skilled but who dislike reading, writing, filling out forms, find it difficult or have English as their 2nd language.

How did the training meet your needs?
I think first and foremost, the training is about problem solving, and thinking in a different way… how can I take what I want to say but present it in a more accessible way? The graphics I create now aren’t add-ons to my work, they actually make my work better – more immediately understandable and memorable. I had seen some books or material online but being with Emer and other learners in a really encouraging environment really gave me the confidence to give it a go. I was a hopeless drawer at school… I can remember my maths books being full of holes where I’d rubbed out the technical drawings but it really isn’t about artistic ability – it’s creative definitely but not artistic if that makes sense. Using graphics now helps me get my message across in a completely different way but also helps clarify and consolidate my thinking if I’ve got something quite complex or a lot of information I’m really trying to get my head around.

Summary of a 3 day Scottish Improvement Skills course 

How are you using what you’ve learned?
I use my new found skills in lots of different ways. I’ve written blogs and presented at National Conferences about my work and used graphics to reiterate a point or to encourage people to think about what I’m saying in a different way, to capture a moment or a summary. I’ve also gotten into the habit of taking information from courses that I attend for my own development and using graphics to capture and make sense of all the information I receive on those, to help me remember key action points. They’re a great talking point, people are always really interested to see them and ask about how they came about. I’m now also looking at how I can use it with my patients who can’t read or write following an acquired brain injury or a stroke or who have dementia, if they can recognise a drawing and use that to access information instead.

What kind of results are you getting?
If I’m interviewing someone about a course I’ve run and how they might apply it in a clinical setting or debriefing them after an incident or experience, I now give them a flipchart marker and ask them to put something onto the paper I’ve drawn a graphic on – I find they open up much more and give me a far higher quality of information and often they say that it’s more enjoyable this way and feels less like work, less threatening or intimidating. I find I ‘teach’ less and am moving more to guided exploration and discovery around a topic which is great, it’s much more memorable and much more likely to result in transformational change back in the workplace.

What kind of feedback are you getting?
Nothing but positive! I’ve also done a few poems on flip charts and pinned them on the office corridor wall just as a motivational or appreciation to hospital staff and at Christmas I had a ball creating a giant Christmas card rather than sending lots of little ones – much more eco! The feedback I’ve had from our staff at the training sessions has also been great – they really like them. The graphics inject an element of fun and release and when you’re working with staff who are working in sometimes really difficult situations in the psychiatric hospital for example that’s a really helpful and positive thing.

What would you say has been the overall impact of using graphics in your work?
It’s given me a real boost, the course was a definite springboard.. I use graphics to personally de-stress, but also to capture, to convey, to summarise, to remind. I was already on that journey – dissatisfied with conventional NHS teaching methods and looking for something better for our hard working staff but this has definitely helped me to achieve that and to really think about how we say something not just why or what. If I compare the material I was presenting to staff before, even with the addition of video clips, and what I present now – before was black and white and now our world is technicolour!

What would you say to someone who is considering going on the training?
Go for it… I was really nervous and timid and arrived on my own. My heart sank when I walked in and saw paper and pens on the desk – I hadn’t thought I would be drawing right from the go… but you can do it honestly.. if I can you can! Learning a new skill is great for the brain, and using parts of the brain you don’t use in your everyday work is also great for creating flexibility and resilience, boosting mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s also been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of dementia so there’s lots of really positive reasons to try something new. There’s no downside.. just keep practicing.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m definitely an advocate for the graphic life.. I find it really relaxing and now get completely geeky and protective about my pens.. it’s completely different from what I do as a day job but also intrinsically a part of it. It’s definitely made my life more colourful! I’m part of a larger community on Twitter and Facebook of people who use their graphics in all sorts of ways and it’s a great source of inspiration and support.

For more information on The IDEAS Team follow them on Facebook @IDEAS Team NHS or Helen on Twitter @poole_moores.

Case Study: Valeria Pezzi, Baillie Gifford.

Case Study: Valeria Pezzi, Baillie Gifford.

This week we’re talking with Valeria Pezzi who works in the HR Talent and Development team at Baillie Gifford as a Learning and Development Assistant. She has been mainly involved in leading the system implementation of a new Performance and Development framework within the firm.

Valeria attended a one day inhouse graphics course back in April ’17. Read about her experience with graphics in her own words.

Please note, all images featured here are samples of Valeria’s work.

Why did you attend the graphics training?
We attended the Graphics Training as a team activity, hoping to learn different ways to deliver and facilitate as part of our role in learning and development.

How are you using what you’ve learned? 
In the last year, I have created impactful graphics for our internal initiatives and workshops; outside work I volunteer as a committee member of the CIPD L&D special interest group (Edinburgh branch) and I have been using these skills in preparing graphics for some of our events, helping to bring the sessions to life.

How did the training help to address your needs?
Since attending the course I have found using graphics to be very effective in communicating messages, concepts and ideas using visuals. I have found people more engaged and inspired in contributing to sessions and having quality conversations.

What would you say to someone who is considering going on the training?
Anyone can draw! The more you draw, the better you get!

For more information on Baillie Gifford please visit

Feeling inspired? The next Secrets of Simple Graphics open course is on September 27th, 2019. For more info visit

For enquiries relating to inhouse courses simply drop me a line