Hello Sketchnoting

Last week, I decided to give sketchnoting a try.

Notetaking and sketchnoting have essentially the same purpose: succinctly capture what the speaker said. But sketchnoting, of course, does it with more flair.

I heard of sketchnoting only a few months ago. My friend Lorelei Kelly, a fellow user experience designer and Grinnell College alumna, told me about the Interaction 2011 sketchnotes her friend Binaebi Akah was posting while at the conference. Not only was I excited to have some nearly real-time coverage of the conference (which was more coherent than strings of tweets), but I was also intrigued by the medium.

After this first encounter, three nudges encouraged me to start sketchnoting:

  1. I met Binaebi at MidwestUX, and got to watch her sketchnote. It was awesome.
  2. Luke W tweeted about Mike Rohde’s sketchnotes from An Event Apart Minneapolis 2011. They are awesome.
  3. I was pumped to attend a Refresh DC talk by Jason Wishard, a coworker at EightShapes. He is awesome.

With all the awesomeness adding up, it was hard to resist. Jason had told us about his presentation at the Share and Care before the talk, and after ordering a fancy new pencil case and notebook, I decided Jason’s Refresh was the perfect opportunity to officially try sketchnoting.

Jumping in pen first

In advance of attending Refresh, I did some research and made some rules.

The research consisted in oggling a number of Mike’s sketchnotes, including this neat post about travel sketchnotes (featuring our very own Washington, DC), and reading this lovely Sketchnoting 101 blogpost by Craighton Berman. And of course, learning the structure of Jason’s talk was very, very helpful, though it’s a luxury that I will not be able to enjoy for every presenation.

The rules helped sketchnoting feel a little more approachable:

  1. Remember that this is the first time, and that just trying is exciting.
  2. Use a single pen. Varying color and thicknesses can come later.*
  3. Balance experimentation with getting the important bits down.

I also started with the plan to use one page for each of the sections of the talk (intro, team, workspace, desktop, and conclusion). Creating this plan, of course, would have been impossible without the preview Jason gave EightShapes.

The results

Though I have lots of ways I want to improve, I am pleased with my first sketchnoting experience. I had a lot going in my favor—a preview of the talk, a good comfort level with the venue, and a set of rules to manage my expectations—and that made the experience all the more enjoyable. I stuck to my plan, and produced notes that I felt good sharing with the intarwebs.

You can check out my final sketchnotes of Jason Wishard’s Remote Control talk on Flickr.

One last point bears mentioning: I cheated a little. The next day after the talk, I spent about 15 minutes adding some illustrations and titles that I didn’t have time to include at the event. I do hope to decrease these touchups as I get faster at sketchnoting. Though I love the beautiful illustrations that some sketchnoters include in their works, I will likely end up going for a more simple style.

What’s next?

I plan to continue sketchnoting at any event where I would normally take notes. Though I don’t often reference them, notes help me concentrate on the presenter and remember what he said. My hope is that not only will sketchnoting bring a new level satisfaction to my notetaking, but it will help me improve my sketching abilities and make my notes more useful and interesting to share.

Have you tried sketchnoting yet? What has worked for you? What are you still working on? Please do tweet at @verbistheword or leave a comment.

* This meant that I didn’t actually use the fancy pencil case.


About Veronica Erb

Designs, researches, illustrates, and writes code. Plays ukulele. Dances Balboa. Grew up in a geodesic dome, and hasn't gotten over it.
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2 Responses to Hello Sketchnoting

  1. zoe says:

    Great stuff! Just started getting into this kind of doodling myself; I am in the UK, and am loving Sunni Browns’ doodle revolution!

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