What 2 Sketchnote

Part 1: The Page

I am not usually one for creating How-To-Dos, but I created this to help other sketchnote enthusiast develop their skills by explaining some of the techniques I use to develop quick sketchnotes.

Key Sketchnote Thoughts

When starting a sketchnote, keep in mind it’s about brevity of content and not dictation or transcription. Sketchnotes are more about getting the sense of the conversation or communication than it is gathering details and full sentences down on a page. On that word “Page”, let’s take a look at the typical page and I’ll show you some ways on how to layout out your sketchnotes before your recording begins.

The Page

what2note grid
Illustration 01

First, let’s look at the common Moleskine or sketchbook layout in portrait mode. For those not familiar with this term it means when a page is in the tall mode as compared to landscape which means its in a wide mode. Okay, back in portrait mode. To make it easier when recording and controlling placement, I imagine my page like a Tic-tac-toe game. I divide the page up with three columns and three rows as illustrated in image 01.

what2note titleblock
Illustration 02

For speakers or presentations, this nine box layout works nicely. Over the years I observed that good presenters who present consistently normally keep their presentation to three to five key topics with a good summary. The grid allows you to use each small space as an area for each topic or key point.  In the next illustration (Illustration 02) I choose the upper left hand space and the upper center space for the Title and speakers name plus the date and time of the event. Some other sketchnoters will also include at which event the sketchnote was made.


Illustration 03
Illustration 03

Let’s talk about flow and I don’t mean the waitress at the diner or that funny woman who sells insurance on TV. Flow or directionality is very important when you or someone else reviews your sketchnotes later on. It is important to determine how your content will flow along on the page. I find it best when starting out to pick a flow style and practice in that framework until you get comfortable with organizing content on the fly.

The first flow pattern is what I like to call “NewsPaper”. It is similar to what it represents. Like a traditional Newspaper layout, the content flows down columns as seen in the  illustration below labelled “Illustration 04”.

Illustration 04
Illustration 04

Starting from the left hand side just beneath the title block, content moves down each column and over to the right. The advantage of this flow pattern is that most readers already have been familiarized with this pattern subconsciously and follow along quickly. I like this pattern for another reason. This pattern uses a controlled directionality forcing the summary or highlights of the sketchnote to end in the opposite corner of the title block, anchoring the page.

Illustration 05
Illustration 05

The next pattern I call “Book Read”. Like the Newspaper, Book Read follows a historic pattern of content moving from left to right, top to bottom. Unlike Newspaper, this pattern is a single column as you would find in any literature publication. Because it is a traditional flow, readers can follow very quickly the content. This is also a good application if a presenter uses many quotes that may be  relevant information. Also, quotes can be used as dividers within the content.

Illustration 06
Illustration 06

The next pattern which I lovingly call “Wind-Up” shown in illustration 06, is a bit more in-line with a style I’ve seen when recording sales pitches, discussion groups, think tank sessions or general conversations. Here, the title is paired with the recap or big idea. As you can see in the illustration, the flow content moves around in the lower six spaces working its way up towards the recap. This is a visual adaptation of the old presentation motto, “Let me tell you what I am going to tell you, then tell you and then I will tell you what I told you.”

Illustration 07

This next pattern (Illustration 07) limits the creative flow of the sketchnoter. This pattern I spitefully call “Andthen”. I call it this, not because of any pattern or flow issues, rather because of 3 presentations I was unfortunately required to record. In each of these presentations, the speaker did not transition well between key ideas nor was there any connectivity of most of the ideas expressed, except for the speaker’s choice of connecting phrase “and then…” My hopes are that you never need to use this nor experience a presentation like this, but you will… some day… and then… you’ll get the pun.

Illustration 08
Illustration 08

Final pattern as shown in illustration 08, is what I like to call “Popcorn.” As the name implies, content is located around the page almost randomly. Strangely, this actually works well during brainstorming sessions where participants share key ideas and little supporting information. this form of sketchnotes is a very high level recording process. (See example) By placing ideas at various, unconnected locations on the page, each idea stands on its own merit or premise. By adding cloud shapes, boxes or other graphic elements, the share the space, yet are still individual thoughts. Another addition to this is slightly shifting the angle of the text to add a visual separation in the ideas and re-enforcing its uniqueness within the group of other ideas.


Illustration 09
Illustration 09

Speaking of directionality, let me show you another quick trick to add emphasis to your content by shifting the direction of your text and icons. Look to illustration 09 and see which text jumps out at you. Two of them should have caught your attention; “Ideas, One sees change in patterns” to the left of the large word “BREVITY” and to the bottom right hand corner the word “See!” Why did these catch your eye?

The simple reason is that they did not follow the pattern of text like the majority of the page. They disrupted the flow, thus drawing your attention to them. This is a tactic used by many advertisers to draw your attention to an object or a key word or phrase, Even the arm of the figure catches your attention since it slant down at an angle opposing the direction of the rest of the text. This is a very powerful tool when done right. Over use this trick and your page begins looking like the “Popcorn” page. I use this method when I want to emphasize a key idea or an opposing idea of the group that creates discomfort. Think of it as the 800 pound gorilla of text. You can not but help see it if everything else lines up properly.

Last Words of Advice Before You Record

what2note 1perpageFirst words of advice, try to keep your sketchnotes topics one per page. By doing this you can organize your sketchnotes easily and efficiently. If you use a digital sketchnote or scan your sketchnotes and store them digitally, you can tag each sketchnote with key information that makes retrieval easier for you and your readers if you share them on a blog or gallery. A great example of this is  visit Sacha Chua’s gallery blog and search content to your heart’s content. She is an amazing organizer of data.

what2note fillinlaterSecond, fill in details later. Get the most important things down first, you can always come back later and fill the text to make it bolder or add dividers and icons to help improve retention. Don’t feel like you must have each image or text completed before moving on. In many cases, conversation as well as presentations, have filler conversation which will give you time to go back and add details or supporting images.

what2note rulesLast words, my four rules sketchnotes and graphic recording.

One; know before you go or in this case, if you’re going to be sketchnoting a presenter like those at TED or other industry events, research before you sketchnote. Find out about the person you’re going to be recording if possible. With YouTube, Vimeo and the like, you can experience the style of the presenter and be ready to know how much detail is going to be recorded.

Two; Research some of the content to get a feel for the language the presenter may use or is  related to the topic or industry they speak from. Knowing the language will help your keep your sketchnotes filled with headline type copy and avoid transcribing the conversation. 

Three; Keep your text to headlines. Avoid being a transcriptionist and be brief and bold.

Fourth and last; Practice. As the old adage goes… “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” ask the passenger to the taxi driver. “Practice, practice, practice.” the driver replied. SO practice with anyone, anywhere and at anytime you’re free to sketchnote. Just practice. By doing this you build your library of icons and hone your page style as well as page usage.

To learn more about sketchnotes read Mike Rohde’s book “Sketchnote Handbok” a great guide to the methods and strategy of sketchnoting.

I hope this helps and keep those notes sketchy and flowing.

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