Last year I spent the month of July living and working in Spain.

Before I went I thought I’d better learn some Spanish, so I took some classes and hoped for the best.

At the end of the month I was surprised to discover my Spanish had not improved greatly.

I came back to Edinburgh and bought a book called ‘Fluent in three months’* (a girl can hope). I began to see where I had gone wrong.

I also began to see the similarities between learning Spanish and using graphics for the first time.

So here it is, my Spanish guide to graphics:

1. Find your passion.
Before I went to Spain I thought learning Spanish was a sensible thing to do. Now, having experienced life in Spain and made friends there I have fallen in love with the language. I really really want to get better at it!
The same goes for learning graphics. Where’s your passion? What’s your hook? Find it, and there’s your motivation to learn.

2. Apply a triage system to your learning.
One day I just had enough with the whole ‘esto’ ‘este’ ‘ese’ ‘eso’ etc. business. Why can’t it be as simple as ‘this’ and ‘that’?! Being frustrated with the language wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I cornered my flatmate and asked her to explain it to me till I finally got it.
Where are you getting stuck when it comes to using graphics? Are you having difficulty drawing people, using colour or coming up with icons? Spend some dedicated time working through your sticking points, and feel oh-so satisfied when you break through those barriers.

3. Have a ‘no English’ rule.
I came across a blog recently called ‘A year without English’**. It’s written by two guys who spent 3 months each in Spain, Brazil, China and Korea. They were so determined to learn the language of the countries they visited they decided on a ‘no English’ rule. Amazing!
How about sticking to a ‘no words’ rule to help you improve your visual thinking? Try to explain something to a colleague without using any words or text, just by drawing out what you want to say. I can see this being quite a fun exercise.

4. Get specific.
When I started learning Spanish my goal was ‘to learn Spanish’. No wonder I wasn’t progressing when my goal was so vague. Since my return from Spain I have made much more progress as I am now clear on my goals and my timeframe.
When I train people in graphics I always encourage them to get specific with their goals and their action plans. And by the way, ‘Practice’ is not an action plan, which leads me to my final point…

5. Speak/Draw before you are ready.
I thought I would learn as much Spanish as possible before I started to speak it. That way I would be ‘ready’ and know what to say. Not only was I not ready, I would be never be ready. In fact the more I told myself I needed to ‘be good at’ Spanish before speaking it the less likely I was to actually speak it.
The same goes for graphics. You will never be ‘ready’. You need to just do it and learn as you go along. Because learning from the comfort of your office and then trying to explain that you left your passport back in the flat (with your keys) are two very different things!

I hope you have found this guide useful on your quest to use graphics. Feedback, comments etc. welcome as always.


* Fluent in Three Months, by Benny Lewis. See