Forgotten something? Design expert reveals simple visual trick to improve your memory



  • A leading design expert has revealed an easy way to improve your memory this spring – and all you need are colored pens 
  • Google searches of ‘how to improve memory’ have jumped by 29% across America in the last year, as people struggle with recall 
  • Whether you’re revising, writing a shopping list or saving a date, writing in warm colors is proven to help you retain 80% more information
  • Designer Mads Soegaard also recommends that those of us cramming information before an exam avoid revising for over 30 mins at a time


As exam season nears, many Americans will find themselves struggling to retain large quantities of information in the coming weeks – whilst others might find it hard to remember their anniversary, forget items on their shopping list, or fail to recall key passwords.


And it seems that the nation is getting more forgetful, with Google Trends data showing that nationwide searches for ‘how to improve memory’ have increased by 29% in the last year.


That’s why Mads Soegaard, Designer and Interaction Design Foundation Founder, has revealed a simple way to improve memory using visuals – and almost anyone can do it.


Instead of typing up reams of notes or countless lists and hoping you’ll take in what you’re writing, it’s much more effective to write notes by hand using different coloured pens.


Mads explains: “There’s a common misconception that taking down as much information as you can when revising or writing is the best way to learn, and so many of us opt for typing up notes or using apps to save time.


“However, often this is actually a waste of time as you’re less likely to remember what you’ve typed in your notes app or word doc. If you struggle with recall, it’s much more effective to write down key points by hand using coloured pens, as color works to boost our memory.


“Writing notes by hand stimulates retention, as you’re forcing your brain to process the information in a more detailed way than typing. It also forces you to be more selective about what you’re writing down – it’s about choosing quality over quantity.”


According to a psychological study, writing in color can help us improve memory performance by 80%, because almost all of the information transmitted to the brain is visual.


The trick to taking in information quickly is to transform blocks of text into something visually stimulating using color, as it’ll make it much easier to properly process each word.


Mads continues: “Using colored pens when writing allows us to see words as visual information rather than a block of text, which means we’re more likely to understand what we’re reading and can take in the information much faster than we could otherwise.


“As well as boosting our memory, color also helps to form associations between notes, as when you recall a fact linked to one shade, your brain will naturally start thinking of the other facts that share the same shade.


“You can also use this association to your advantage when it comes to sitting an exam, for example. By bringing something that’s the same color as your notes into the exam with you – such as a bracelet or pen – you’ll trigger your brain to remember facts in the same shade.”


Mads also explains that some colors are more effective than others: “Colors invoke different reactions, and so it’s vital to choose attention-grabbing shades associated with importance – particularly warm shades like red, orange, and yellow.


“Picking contrasting colors can also help make information stand out more, so you may want to incorporate different sticky notes or highlighters for important points. However, make sure not to overload your notes, as making facts more distinctive is key.”


This method works perfectly for forgetful couples who find it tricky to remember their anniversary, families who have endless birthdays to remember, or busy working professionals who often struggle to recall their shopping list at the end of a busy day.


And incorporating color isn’t the only way to use visual learning to your advantage, the experts at Interaction Design Foundation reveal, as you can also boost memory if you:


  1. Use diagrams to link information. If you find yourself zoning out when faced with a wall of text, you may want to write notes as a diagram like a spidergram, flowchart or table. This helps separate the information into a more digestible format and makes it easier to color-coordinate critical points without color overload.


  1. Make sure your room is well-lit. Just as color can be a strong context cue, so can light, so make sure you’re writing notes in the best conditions you can – meaning in a well-lit room without any other visual distractions (like TV or your phone) that will pull your attention.


  1. Take a break every half hour. It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending hours on end sitting and writing notes, but doing so actually reduces the odds of you retaining information. You lose 85% of your input after reading for 25 minutes as it’s visually repetitive, so it’s essential to take frequent breaks to recharge and reset.


As for which colors should be avoided when looking to retain information, you want to avoid those that blend together too easily – like opting for different shades of blue – and those that are dull, including brown, beige, and gray.