Daddy, what did you do in the COVID War?

“Daddy, what did you do in the COVID war?”
"Well child - I drew; I drew a lot!"
"Daddy, why did you do that?"
"Because there was hell of a lot of new information
to get across child."

Ok – it’s not going to make the most riveting war story is it, yet with the sheer volume of new information coming our way, clear concise instruction is vital and one of the best ways of doing that is through graphics.

Speech is transient – You have to hold spoken information in your working memory whilst it is processed and attached to other information before you can store it. If you have lots of information coming in it is near impossible to do unless you are writing it down as you go along. Even then, if you miss a bit then it’s gone.

Video has a degree of transiency to it too – once you’ve watched it you still need to hold the process in memory. When you’ve just learned something it needs to go through a process of consolidation where it flits back and forth between working and long-term memory and during this time it is still mailable and prone to misremembering (putting step B before step A for example).

In normal times you could watch as you do, pausing the steps but in a COVID environment you probably don’t want to be getting your phone out to watch a video.

Text on its own can be confusing as some processes are difficult to put in to words, too much detail is included or assumptions are made about what people already know (this is known as the curse of knowledge – to the writer it’s obvious).

So this leaves graphics plus or minus simple text.

Let’s look at an example: read the passage below and then try to answer the 3 questions.

Jenny is Medical Director of the Acute Care and Fatima is Clinical Director of Emergency Medicine. Tom, Joe and Sue work for Fatima whilst Harry is Clinical Director of the ICU. Joanne, Chaz and Tanya report to Harry. Sue, Joanne, Chaz and Harry are working together on the COVID Pathway.

  • Who is the highest ranking person working on the COVID Pathway?
  • Which department has the most people working on the COVID Pathway?
  • Which people are not working on the COVID Pathway?

So you could probably manage that, eventually, flitting back and forth between the questions and the text, bit of cross checking, you’re probably correct but it’s quite a high cognitive load for some simple information and it will be difficult to remember.

Now scroll down to the bottom of this page and answer the same questions:

Easier? less likely to have made an error? Didn’t even need the text? – Graphics have a computational efficiency over words, in other words they are easier to understand.

As such we have been working hard  transferring information from written instruction to graphic form ready for an influx of interim foundation doctors and doctors redeploying from other areas who will be performing unfamiliar skills. You can down load a copy of our Basic Clinical Procedures Visual Guide here.

There will also be staff working in unfamiliar areas – labelling draws and cupboards with graphics alongside the text helps the brain focus quickly on the subject it wants to rather than having to reading through all the words.

What If I Can’t Draw?

Firstly in the spirt of #FOAMed we have made anything we do accessible to everyone but I appreciate some will be Virchester specific.

All my icons can be found on my Flickr page here – Please use them in any (non-commercial) way if it will help you.

Its also worth visiting which has an amazing array of icons available for free.

Photography can be used instead of graphics but be aware that photos have a higher cognitive load than simple drawing. This is because everything in a photo will need to be processed (both consciously and subconsciously) by the brain. Photos also photocopy poorly.

One way round this is to use a simple art programme on a tablet or smartphone; take a photo and then to trace an outline of what you want to show on a separate layer before deleting the photo leaving you with a drawing. The evidence points to using minimal use of colour in and drawings to ensure information is clear.

Using photoeditor

Keep graphics next to images so that people don’t have to look back and forth between text and image and remember drawings don’t need to be brilliant – they just need to clearly represent what they are supposed to convey; after all, a child’s drawing of a house still clearly represents a house.

Finally there are millions of people isolating at the moment, many with little to do, many with a degree of artistic talent  – try social media.

Take home

Infographics sometimes get a bad press, especially in the academic world, for lacking in detail but at the moment when we are being bombarded with ever increasing amounts of new information, simple appropriate graphics convey messages quickly, make things easier to understand and make them easier to recall.






Clark RC, Lyons C. Graphics for learning: Proven guidelines for planning, designing, and evaluating visuals in training materials. John Wiley & Sons; 2010 Nov 2.

Caviglioli O. Dual Coding with Teachers. John Catt; 2019 May 31.

Cite this article as: Nick Smith, "Daddy, what did you do in the COVID War?," in St.Emlyn's, April 8, 2020,

Thanks so much for following. Viva la #FOAMed

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