Personal 2 Public

There has been much debate around sketchnoting, graphic recording and even the rise of  graphic note taking or “Graphicnoting.” Though, similar in nature of recording others through the use of text and graphics, each present some unique characteristics that can help define or clarify what they are.

Mike Rohde is by far the best person to explain what and how sketchnotes work as he is one of the primary founders of the concept and he defines sketchnoting as being a personal tool. While on the far end of the spectrum, graphic recording has a very strong public presence by taking a public conversation and recording it for all to see.

Personal 2 Public

Now enter “Graphicnoting.” Graphicnoting is something I am all too familiar with as this is my preferred method of visual recording. The process can be explained like this; recording graphically a public conversation at a semi-personal level, then sharing to the present and non-present public. Graphicnoting is performed on a smaller scale than that of traditional wall graphic recording, yet with very similar processes formats. Unlike large wall graphic recording, graphicnotes utilizes a more portable media like that of sketchnotes. I see Graphicnotes as bridging the gap between the personal tool and the public performance.

On a last note on production, once completing a graphicnote on paper, the inked pages are digitized, colorized and then publish as needed. There are other ways of creating these graphicnotes such as the use of tablets which allow the creation of digital originals. I don’t believe or see one method being better than another. Each method is based upon the preference of the recorder.

So if you want to shift from sketchnotes into graphic recording slowly or vise versa, my suggestion is try Graphicnotes where the practices and processes of both formats are used. Who knows, this may become your method of choice also.

Until next time, keep your ideas sketchy and your conclusions drawn.

Visual Storytelling

Storytelling 01

I have noticed over the past year that more and more clients I work with are focused on business storytelling. Many companies are reconnecting with the power of having and telling their story, because of this, more companies are hiring graphic recorders and visual translators to help capture these elements and connections. In fact, they have begun to use the visual language tool to help develop their verbal storytelling scripts.

So, why are graphic recording and visual translators becoming popular as a key tool in the creation of business stories? One answer could be that we have been programmed to identify with visuals as an essential part of our storytelling experience. In many ways this is true and yet it goes even deeper.

Storytelling 02At a high level as children growing up, our first frameworks to communication and learning were tied heavily to visuals. Many of the books we grew up with were composed of few words and lots of images. Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss and Dick and Jane books all used visuals to support the words.  We were developing visual clues and associations to the words. We were learning through visuals and storytelling.

Storytelling 03Let’s back up the clock a bit further, 40,000 years further. Cave walls are filled with images of animals, hunters and even heavenly bodies. All to communicate their surroundings, important events or to catalog area life. What is most amazing about these paintings and charcoal renderings is that they tell stories, stories that are still understandable  40,000 years later.

The popular explanation is that what we see as images is processed much differently than what we read or hear. Images and visuals are processed at a higher rate with greater memory sourcing without the mechanics of deciphering, organizing and association that the written or spoken word is required for processing. Just reading this post uses more thinking processes around just reading that of a visual which taps deeper and creates better connection to other ideas. We think better with visuals. It’s part of psychology as well as our physiology. We are wired to learn visually. (at least 90% are)

So, back to business storytelling and the use of graphic recorders and visual translators. Okay, I think you know where I am going with this, but allow me to add one more dimension with visuals as it applies to business, and group understanding. Visual translations and graphic recordings allow, not just the conveyor of information, but everyone seeing the information to understand the idea or ideas being expressed.

As I always say ‘the best plan or idea is the one seen by all.’ Just as the caveman painted his story of hunts,tribal life and the changes in his environment which we still can comprehend 40,000 years later, companies are utilizing the talents of visual translators and graphic recorders to help visualize their stories and ideas to unify and better communicate their story.

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.

Why Visuals Matter


Actually, it is 13 out of 20 people who are visual learners, but you can’t tell by looking at them. So, if about 65% of all people are visual learners, 30% are audible and only 5% are tactile, then I have a question.

Why is that more presenters do not use visuals to communicate complex information?


Why aren’t more business strategy sessions incorporating visual frameworks?

In 2006, Southeastern Louisiana University performed research around the various learning method types. University of Pennsylvania mirrored this study again in 2009. In both instances, the results were eye-opening. The data identified about 65% of those tested demonstrated learning methods to be that of a visual nature. Additional 30% responded as audible learners, while only about 5% demonstrated to be of a tactile nature.

The more impressive findings emerged when these learning methods were studied to determine retention. Those test subjects that were allowed to only use a tactile method of learning, there was only 10% retention in the material, 26% retention for those who heard the information and 30% who only saw the information. When both visual and audible methods were combined, retention of the information reached 50%. The greatest level of retention achieved was when all three methods were used. Retention of the test material reached 90%.

Imagine how well an audience would retain information if visuals were incorporated into the delivery of the content or better yet, the audience could create the visuals as the information was being shared.

Welcome to the power of graphic facilitation, visual recording and sketchnoting. This is why visuals are so important to clear communication and why visuals matter to the expression and retention of ideas.

To draw in your audience, you must draw out your ideas.


Ideas Fly

I was told at a very young age, “Hang on to your ideas, they can help you fly.”

ideas can fly sm

Never was there a truer statement made to me that has guided my life and my dreams and what has become the inspiration for me to help others.

I want to share with you the source of this wisdom. Imagine this being spoken by a single mother of two children back in early 1940’s. A time when ideas where too costly to have and dreams were more about having food for her children and putting clothes on their backs then soaring with an idea. But she fought and held on to a simple idea of becoming more. She achieved a leader position in the fashion industry in a time when it was controlled by the old boys clubs and women toiled in the factories.

She was an inspiration back then as she is still to this day. Thank you Florence, my grandmother, for all the insanity and love that you taught your daughter and then me.

Dream big ideas and never let them go. You’ll be amazed at where they may take you.

Preparing For The Journey Ahead

I want to take a moment with this post and reflect on some of the journey maps I have created over the years. What I want to share is not what I have learned about the creation of these maps and the thinking behind them, rather what I have observed from the many persons and organizations that have filled these maps.

The first thing that I became aware of is the approach by most organizations as compared to individuals. Organizations usually view the map as a process of events needing to be filled or checked off as these milestone are reached. Only until they are deep in the strategy of the map do they begin to understand that the journey is not about going from point A to point B, but about the whole process working holistically throughout. In comparison, individuals tend to approach the map more a scheme of a big picture concept. This, of course, is the truer purpose of the process.

I have come to believe that the reasoning behind this is directly related to scale of viewer and the ability to answer the first questions on the map. The larger the number of viewers involved in the maps development, the more difficult the consensus as to the correct or right response. An individual or small group interact on a more intimate level and are able to approach the task with less difficulty.

Below is the first part of a typical journey map that I use. The focus will be on the lower left corner around the point “Start Here.”

Half workedsm

This small corner of the map produces the deepest content and the most abundant conversations. Though it may seem small, it is the cornerstone of the whole journey map development and the core to the strategic thinking behind the process. The cloudy area is mostly the tactics to achieve what is created in this area.

The first question that is presented is very straight forward, ‘Who are we today?” How would you describe yourself to others. Once this is established the more challenging task begins through a deeper exploration or extension of this idea. Here is where I have witness larger organization begin demonstrating their organizational silos that cloud or confuse the true identity of an organization and the ability to successfully define themselves today and for tomorrow. Individuals and small groups do a better job at this point, but not by much.

The point on the map that I am referring to is just right of the starting point. This is what I commonly call the success statement. I will keep this very generalized for brevity. How do they define success? What does it look like, sound like and feel like when it will be reached? Yet the bigger question is “Why is this success important? What purpose does your success fulfill for others?” Finally, “How will you know when you have achieved it?”

It is these fundamental questions that will lead the a viewer along the path and define the course they will need to follow. Before anyone can begin a journey, a person or an organization must know clearly where they are to begin. Once the starting point is established, then the course can be set.

Here or some key observations I have gathered over the years.

Defining Success

I have realized that many who start planning a journey or strategic plan rarely define what success will be when they achieve the goal they establish. If you don’t know what success will be for your journey, how will you ever know when you are successful? Nor will you know when you get diverted from your course if you can’t see the markers along the way. Here is a wonderful article from USA Today back in 2011 about defining success.


“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek

Individuals and organizations, no matter what they do or offer, struggle to clearly define the ‘Why’ of their existence. What purpose do they challenge themselves with that drives them? very few companies or individuals know their ‘Why’. those who do, are usually leaders in their field, industry or lives. A great note on this subject comes from Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why.”


When you can define your purpose and understand why you are doing what you do, then you need a mechanism to measure your progress. This is where answering “Who you want to become” and the completion of the rest of the map becomes both your guide and your rule. Maintaining a measurement tool is the hardest part of achieving success for most. I believe it is simply comes from daily distraction. What is amazing though is that I have seen some very interesting responses when people realize how simple of an idea this is. I and probably yourself, have been told many times by many people who ‘we can not be sure we have achieved success unless we measure our progress.’ A good note is from on measuring performance.

My Advice to Myself and Others

So, before you begin your next journey or create a journey map for a client, I offer these five steps to ensure a clear well-defined big picture.

First, clearly visualize who you are.

Second, understand and clearly state your ‘Why.’

Third, define what success is and how it will manifest itself when it comes.

Fourth, have a clear picture of who or what you want to become.

And last, measure your progress to avoid loosing your way.

Good luck and travel safely along your journey path.

Using Graphic Language

Insight for the sketchnoter, visual recorder graphic facilitator.

ElementsIt is important, just as in the written and spoken languages, to treat your graphic elements the same as you would use words. Combine them to convey information. A stand alone image may be a good representation of something expressed, yet they work better when combined to clarify an idea or convey a story.