Sketchnotes

I’ve been sketchnoting since 2010, and I regard it as a great companion hobby to my curious mind and insatiable appetite for learning. I also have a tendency to get distracted easily and forget things, so I depend a lot on my notes to help me see the big picture and connect the dots. You can view all my sketchnotes on Flickr, or read below for a selection of my examples and thoughts.

I’ve covered wide variety of things — events, conferences, talks, workshops, panels, video streams, books, thoughts, meetings and podcasts. One time, I spent a whole Sunday sketchnoting the Interaction 2011 conference held in Boulder, Colorado, remotely from my loft in London.

In 2012, I was fortunate to be one of the contributors in Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook, and my hobby has gotten more serious since then.

I usually put all my sketchnotes up on Flickr a day or two after every event. I often tweet a low-quality photo on the day of the event itself, after I am done producing each one. It’s quite common to find me at events encouraging other people to try their hands at sketchnoting themselves. In 2013, I started running workshops on sketchnoting and I’ve really been enjoying it although I’m currently taking a break from that.

The best things I’ve learnt about sketchnotes are:

  1. Process, not Product — sketchnotes are most valuable to the note-taker, as the notes are a means to facilitate, support, and extend the note-takers’ experience and learning.
  2. Fun — sketchnoting extends the learning experience in a fun way that’s active, immersive, and reflective.
  3. Social — sketchnotes have opened so many doors for me that I could not do myself. It is a great conversation starter, a shareable gift, and a celebrated activity within communities.
  4. Personal — every one my sketchnotes is personal to me. They represent my experiences, values, perspectives, relationships, and travels. They grow as I grow, and I take them with me where I want my experiences to last and made more meaningful.

Here’s a selection of sketchnotes I’ve produced over the years, and some memories and lessons I’ve gained from it.

Silver Bullets for UX Research – Tomer Sharon Workshop, The Web and Beyond 2012
Silver Bullets for UX Research - Workshop at The Web and Beyond

I did this sketchnote while attending Tomer’s workshop, which was a challenge as I wanted to absorb as much as I could having paid for the ticket. I’m glad I did it in the end as I now have a personal artifact of my learnings which I can look back eagerly each time. You could argue I would recall more by looking at Tomer’s slides, but this is more personal and sometimes design is more about conviction than knowledge.

I need to slow down – a random illustration I drew with the Paper app

I drew this one evening using approaches I developed through sketchnoting with the Paper app. The handwritten and watercoloured highlights create an interesting balance of informality, intimacy and impact. The app allowed me to do bright lettering on dark-coloured patches, sort of a negative of what I usually do on sketchnotes.

The shape of our future book – Craig Mod, dConstruct 2011

The audience wasn’t too appreciative of Craig’s talk as it had too much story and not enough substance. The story inspired me to draw this vision of the book surrounded by people over the course of this mythical object’s (the book) fictional travels through time. To me, this captured the “essence” of the story – ie. the experience of what the storytelling, and not the story itself, felt like to me.

Beyond user research – Lou Rosenfeld, UX Lisbon 2010

This was one of my first big UX conferences and I threw myself into the deep end of sketchnoting the entire conference (apart from workshops). I tried to draw a portrait of Lou on this sketchnote which ended up looking really weird but he responded to my tweet saying that he had family links to Vlad the Impaler.

Fishbowl session – Eric Ries, Leancamp 2012

This was one of the first times I sketchnoted a panel-style session. Sketchnoting a panel is hard because you want to keep track of the dialogue taking place while extracting real insights from it. It’s really hard to quote verbatim, because you have only so much space. In a way, it’s like live transcription + copywriting – choosing the right words that impress upon me and yet accurately reflect the message.

My Contribution – The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde

Mike Rohde invited me and a handful of other passionate sketchnoters to contribute to the Sketchnote Handbook. I had the idea of sketching out a caricature of me blabbing some quick tips about sketchnotes. This somehow evolved into four separate parts which were: advice, pens, my background, and places I lived. I admit I messed about too much with illustrator to call this a “proper” sketchnote, but it was all based on two illustrations that I eventually produced with pencil and paper. This photo was taken by Mike himself to celebrate the contributors to made all these awesome sketchnotes in his book. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded that the final piece was not just something I did, but did in collaboration with others. To me, this expresses the true spirit of sketchnotes – the celebration of learning itself.

To see all my sketchnotes, have a look at my sketchnotes Flickr collection.

I also put together a quick start guide for people who haven’t done sketchnotes before called “10 first steps towards sketchnotes“.

You should also check out my sketchnote / visual thinking buddies: