Sketchnoting IxDA 2012

We’re working on a larger post about the awesome IxDA 2012 in Dublin last week, but in the meantime, I wanted to chat separately about sketchnoting.

I’m a drawer, there’s no doubt about it. I can barely manage to consider a design problem before I’m reaching for a pen and paper, or my Tablet PC and a stylus and cranking open OneNote for an explanatory drawing or mind map. But that got taken to the next level when I attended “Visual Thinking Through Sketchnotes,” a workshop by MJ Broadbent & Eva-Lotta Lamm.

In it we covered the basics of sketching and then went further into what that means for capturing the complex ideas communicated in lectures and speeches. I was hooked, and challenged. I spent the next three days both enamored of the excellent ideas being presented (high marks on all four things I look for in presentations, nearly across the board), but also trying my new skills at sketchnoting. Here’s the whole set.

I got some good feedback, but as a perfectionist, I still think I’ve got a long way to go. There are a few I’d like to call attention to where I made some mistakes or scored some points.

The order of information should be clear.

This first sketch is of Tony Dunne‘s talk about Crafting Design Speculations. The bust of Tony (which I used almost throughout the sketches) is a nice central anchor, but even with the arrows it’s tough to know what should come next and how this should be read. White space may help, but so does adopting a more traditional structure that matches Western writing, starting at the left and working right. It’s also simpler in shorter talks, where the ideas have to be simpler and more straightforward, as this note from Michael Hawley‘s 10 minute talk on UX Leadership shows.

Don’t make it hard to follow the logic of the talk.

Do use white space to make it clearer.

One colored pen helps a lot

I left my colored pen at home on the first part of the second day, and I missed it. Though I managed to keep it interesting in this sketch of Kel Smith‘s talk about Digital Outcasts, the addition of the color on the notes of Jonas Löngren‘s talks adds a great deal more visual distinction and interest.

No color.


Stick to one reading orientation

I tried some experiments with turning my page during the notes, but it actually only serves to make it harder to parse. See the notes from Jeff Gothelf‘s talk about demystifying design for the case in point. I’d recommend keeping the orientation consistent for each note, as I did for Amber Case‘s talk on the Future of Cyborg Interface.

This is like trying to s??? ???? bu?????os p???.

Ah. Much better.

Develop a visual vocabulary

This was one piece of advice given by Eva-Lotta and MJ that paid off well. The busts of the speakers, my all-nose figure thing, the icon for “search”, and consistent use of a “closer” that attempts to wrap up the big last thought help give these a consistency that makes it easier to parse and makes them work together as a whole. Inside of individual talks, we were encouraged to develop a sketchy shorthand for the core ideas and keep using them, while riffing on them with the content. The little dude with the x-ray heart is a good example. It takes a lot of time-intense visual improvisation, but it’s fun and worth it.

Sketchnoting is a fast and intense way to capture complex ideas in an engaging way. As I hone my skills, I’m also thinking about how to use this technique for documenting goal-directed research findings and our big ideas at Cooper to our clients.

If you’re interested to know more, there are a number of brilliant people working on topics of sketching. Check them out, and happy sketching!

Chris Noessel

Learn more

Subscribe to our mailing list and stay up to date on our latest thought leadership and learning opportunities.

Connect with us

Want to know how we can help your company drive real business progress?

Let’s talk

Stay up to date on our latest thought leadership and learning opportunities