magic napkins

Thanks to a comment, I borrowed from the library The back of the Napkin. Dan Roam, the author, emphasises the power of visual thinking through simple drawings. Beyond the book content, one thing that really got my attention was the used of Napkins to draw: ‘so I pulled a pen from my suit pocket and grabbed a stack of napkins from the table’.
This sentence remains me my years as a graphic design student, when I used to sit in corner-coffee shops and spent hours drawing and brainstorming, trying to solve design tasks. Related to this, Milton Glaser explains that drawing is a fundamental instrument of understanding. Drawing is a way of seeing and organising what it is in our minds. It is not about drawing a piece of art in each piece of paper or napkin; it is just a method for organising ideas and thoughts before moving on to designing itself.

As Roam has stated in his book, technology might be pretty useful sometimes, but, before, it is essential to have a clear idea of what to design, communicate, or visualise: ‘The reason we won’t need computer software or sophisticated data-plotting programs is because every picture we’re going to make will be composed of just a few simple pieces, all of which we should already be able to get down on paper’.

Old Napkins from different places where I wrote down some key ideas, strategies, thoughts…

… the funny thing of napkins is that I keep drawing on them… maybe it can be considered as a (scientific? visual?) method after all.

This post is devoted to a special person who has been always supported me and shares the passion of doing coffee-brainstorming napkins…thanks! 🙂


  1. nice post! fun and interesting.

  2. I’m glad to see your thoughts on this, Sheila. Much can be said about the value and practice of visualization as a problem solving tool; Dan Roam and others have already done an excellent job articulating this and even supporting it with brain science.

    However, your post touches on another interesting aspect of napkin sketching: its informality encourages creativity and free expression. Think how intimidating it is to open a brand new Moleskine sketchbook to a fresh page in the hopes of dashing off something perfect, and how terrible it feels to “ruin” the page with mistakes and strike-throughs (granted, not everyone may be this obsessive). A humble napkin, envelope or scrap of paper welcomes any mark or idea, however unresolved it may be — all you have to do is flip it over or find another one to start over. And you can easily take it with you, give it to someone, photocopy/scan it, etc.

    Feeling comfortable with exploring all kinds of ideas in raw form — and in collaboration with others — is essential to finding the great ones to build upon. Tools and software often get in the way of this activity by limiting the range of expression and immediacy of sketching, but they do help realize those ideas and bring them to life later in the process.

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