Connect to Us

Spark the Conversation

The Benefits of Paper and Pen

Here at Spark Ideas, we have always been big proponents of getting people to pick up a pencil or pen and write or draw on a piece of paper. Dinosaurs? Luddites? We think not. In our experience, encouraging people to interact and experience their process in a tactile way provides surprising benefits. As marketing strategists and qualitative researchers, we are always looking to uncover the insight that will move the strategy forward. We need people to go beyond the easy answer, reveal their true selves, remember more about an experience and unlock their creativity. Writing and drawing on paper helps them do just that!

When you put something on paper, you park that idea. You no longer have to keep track of it in your mind. It sits on the paper looking back up at you and your mind is free to build on it – create more associations, explore other details. As the paper fills with words and pictures you unlock more connections and ultimately more creativity.


We employ sketching as a technique in our customer experience projects. When we want to map a customer’s journey we conduct one-on-one interviews with people and have them sketch their journey as they talk to us. We ask questions, and in turn they respond and draw the steps in their journey. Commiting the steps, influences and outcomes to paper helps them see the big picture and identify any pieces they’ve missed. One of the outcomes of having our interviewees talk and draw simultaneously is that their feelings and priorities, their positive moments and difficult interactions come to light in an organiz way. And as skilled facilitators we can uncover gaps and opportunities that will ultimately lead to an improved customer experience. It can take a little longer to sketch an experience than just explain it but we believe the deeper reflection is worth the time as it provides a more complete view of their experience.

In our work developing new products, services and programs for our clients we often have people tell us their stories by providing analogies, metaphors and symbols. This is especially important as it helps understand the role a particu8lar product or category plays in their life. We also like to uncover the opposite perspective – what their life would be like without this product or category. Our best analogies come when people put pen to paper – no matter their artistic talent – and let us glimpse the world from their perspective.

One of our favourite examples comes from the development of the first unlimited chequing account for a Canadian banking client. Analysing close to 100 analogy drawings and descriptions for chequing accounts led to the insight that the chequing account was the “heart” of a person’s financial life – essential but invisible. Placing limits on it felt restrictive and “broke” the bridge to their financial flexibility.



With the increasing flexibility of online platforms, we can conduct many aspects of these exercises digitally, via phone or web. However we often augment our online studies with in-person interviews or sessions that still utilize pen and paper creative exercises because the act of drawing and writing adds perspective and insight. The other benefit of pen and paper exercises is that it allows both respondent and facilitator to concentrate on the paper and deflect the intensity of the question and answer process. This is especially helpful for difficult or sensitive topics. It’s just like shooting hoops with your taciturn teenager at the end of the day. He thinks you are playing basketball while you ask questions to understand what’s really going on in his life!

Check out our case studies and articles under the Insights and Strategy tab on our website to learn more about how we unlock important consumer insights.

Comments are closed.