Oodles of Doodles

The last thing you want to do, if you’re a designer in a business environment who wants to be taken seriously, is spend your time in meetings doodling like an idle schoolboy. Rather, you should be an active and attentive participant in the conversation, someone whose mind is present and alert, and not lost in the meanderings of the scribbles in the margins of your notebook paper.

And yet, we’re designers, and we can’t help ourselves, right? Or, at least, I can’t. It’s like my drawing hand has a brain of its own, and it feels compelled to entertain itself when left to its own devices with a notebook, a pen and any idle moment. It’s a bad habit that I try to be discreet about, but I can’t deny that it’s a distraction I quite enjoy, too.

The Best Throwaways Ever

In fact, given how passionately I used to feel about drawing as an activity to fill my time, and given how little of it I get to do, these little sketches are like miniature sessions — thirty, sixty or a hundred and twenty seconds at a time — of release. I’m rarely as free or unihibited in visual expression as I am when I’m pointlessly doodling. As I get along in my career — and more serious in the constituent parts of my day — I’ve realy come to value these fleeting opportunities to unspool my brain.

For most of the year, I’ve kept all of my workday notes in a single notebook. Which means it’s also served as a catch-all for these doodles, a handy compedium of my idle sketching from 2006. It might be a little premature to excerpt the best ones from the year now, when it’s still only early November. But I’ve grown really attached to some of these, flipping past them as I do almost every day, so I thought I’d share…

People I Know

Naturally, I’ll sketch the folks around me, though there are only so many drawings of office people sitting at conference room tables that can defy the effects of boredom. These particular folks shall remain nameless.


Dogs I Know

And there are times when I start trying to sketch up a likeness of Mister President from memory, never getting it quite right.



At about the time of those dog drawings, I developed a minor fascination with the idea that a comic strip speech balloon could be rendered dimensionally, with shading describing form. A very, very minor fascination.

Word Balloon

Breakfast of Champions

One morning I drew a table setting — for a breakfast, I suppose. And then, of course, I imagined that it on a huge scale, with a minitature athlete running through it like an obstacle course. Of course.

Breakfast of Champions

Gay Cowboys

I think I’d just watched “River of No Return,” which is a phenomenal movie starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe and directed by Otto Preminger, which led me to draw some cowboys one afternoon. As soon as I was done with them I realized they were gay cowboys. You can just tell.

Gay Cowboys

Sack-creatures and Suitcases

I’ve been drawing these weird, sack-like happy creatures for years, on and off. I’ve never known what they represent, or at least I’m not going to get into it right now. But I’m drawn to those semi-organic shapes that look like they might also have been chiseled from granite, like in the suitcase I drew at the right here.

Sack Creatures

Clean Line

I also spend a lot of time in the privacy of my doodles quietly emulating the ‘clear line’ aesthetic of one of my early heroes, Hergé. With varying success.



Woops, here are those sack creatures again, next to as accurate a drawing as I’ve ever done of that sleepy exhaustion that attacks after lunchtime. Ahh, office life.


Anyway, you’ve all got the same thing going on at work, too — a notebook full of your own improvisational draughstmanship, stashed in the margins of your work papers, right? I knew it. Link it below and let’s see it.

  1. This is a great post — the sack creatures are charming. I had a class where the teacher made us turn in our sketchbooks at the end of each week — we were expected to fill at least one page a day with doodles and reportage. I’ve slowly started putting some of these sketches online… most of the ones currently up were drawn on the subway to and from work rather than at the actual workplace. But this post has inspired me to not only keep scanning/expanding my sketch site, but also to revisit the challenge of sketching something on a daily basis. Cheers!

  2. If this professional web design society takes off, order number one ought to be a “doctor’s note” excusing us for doodling through meetings.

  3. Khoi, I used to enjoy watching you doodle in all those client meetings we used to sit in long ago. Instead of doodling myself, I was passing away the minutes of boredom watching your fine lines turn into some form of a businessman or a superhero. Nice to see your favorites posted here.

  4. Those are fun.

    You say, “The last thing you want to do, if you’re a designer in a business environment who wants to be taken seriously, is spend your time in meetings doodling like an idle schoolboy.”

    This is unfortunatly true. While working for Children’s Hospital in Seattle I used to get spoken to all the time about my doodling in meetings. Eventually I stuck up for myself, but there was a time where I was really conscious of it and had to force myself to not doodle. Sad, really, when you think about it. I doodle much less now, having been mostly “broken” of it.

  5. Aw, don’t stop doodling – they’re nice! Seriously, the style of the business characters at the top is wonderful, as is the last.

    Anyways, doodles are, like you said, a form of release, so perhaps you should simply inform anyone who questions you about them that you’re simply overflowing with creativity… Not that you’ll be taken terribly seriously. Probably.

  6. I don’t have any such drawings to share, but I just wanted to echo what Jeff said above:

    From start to finish, this post made me smile.

    You don’t really notice it until the guy next to you asks you what’s so funny.

    … not funny, just happy.


  7. Awesome doodles. Reminds me of my grad school days. I used to spend classes doodling in my notes. Eventually it got to the point where I was actually illustrating the notes with doodles. The best thing about doodles, to me, is that stuff comes out that has no obvious significance but is still somehow fascinating. Like your sack creatures. All stream-of-consciousness like. For me it was something to do with creamed corn. No idea why. And that’s the best part.

    It may just be that the thing I miss most about grad school is the doodling. Maybe some of may favorite drawings ever. Someone should produce a book of doodles. (Hint, hint.)

    If I have a chance I will post some of mine sometime and let you know. Thanks for this great reminder about doodles. A truly overlooked art form.


  8. The “clean line” looks nice (much better than when I experiment with it)!

    I also feel guilty when I doodle in meetings, but sometimes I can’t help myself. The doodles actually serve as notes in most cases – I can look at the doodle and remember what we were discussing.

  9. I like the lines in those doodles. And the Breakfast Obstacle Course is a real piece of art!

    Doodling is the sign of an active participant, not a distraction.
    I remeber a lecture I attended while in art school – the professor just suddenly stopped talking, looked a bit sad, and then said (freely translated from Finnish) “why are so few of you doodling? Go on, pick up a pen, doodle away, and stop pretending to pay attention to what I’m saying! You’ll never learn anything if you keep listening without some kind of activity to unplug your brain!”

  10. Heh, well I aim to please! I do that because everyone wins: commenters get a little extra semantic correctness added to their comment, search engines get a little extra clarity, and I get to see a neat and tidy comments section! By the way, great sketches!

  11. Thanks, That’s basically what I do all day during class (designschool),

    I really like yours as well.

    btw, I wanted to write something about Illustrator and GUI problems, I’ll email you about it. (related to your make-cs3-not-suck post..)

  12. meeting doodles aren’t useless drawings. they’re an artist’s version of gearing up the machine to process information. your brain, as a visual person, automatically kicks into creating visual notions the second you get into a meeting about deign problems. if you don’t doodle, you think about doodling rather than letting your hands go on autopilot — and that makes you lose your concentration on the problem at hand.

    my partner does this as well in different ways — he’s the coder. when we sit down to talk about a specific problem, he responds to everything i say by talking about a different problem — it’s him mentally fiddling so he can work off nervous energy and make the problem at hand work.

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