I don’t write anymore, I sketch #sketchnote

A couple of months ago I had one of those ‘ah ha’ moments I should have had 25+ years ago at school. I have never been good at taking notes. Never.

At school I was always behind and struggling because I couldn’t keep up with my teachers and their dictated notes. I wasn’t alone with this, but it was still hard. At University it was the same, but it felt worse because everyone else wrote and kept amazing notes from lectures, demonstrations, field-trips, etc. I survived and gained my degree because I had generous friends who helped me when I needed it.

Now, with nearly 18+ years since graduation I’ve finally realised why I am still making rubbish notes in meetings, conferences, etc. (apart from the obvious reason that I suck at it). It’s the wrong medium for me. It’s not that my handwriting is so awful I can’t read it (which, unfortunately, it is) it’s that I don’t respond to those kinds of notes. Therefore I shouldn’t be trying to take notes like that.

I should be sketching, or rather taking ‘sketchnotes’. 

The Sketchnote HandbookI recently found The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde. Why, why, why hadn’t this been around all those years ago. All of a sudden I could think more clearly when taking notes (it’s about the ideas of the presentation, meeting, conference, etc.) rather than the specific content being presented. It’s about making visual clues to these ideas and how I respond to them when I look back after the event.

When was the last time you re-read your meeting notes and they made sense? When was the last time you shared your meeting or conference notes, willingly? With sketchnotes (as with written notes) your record of the event is still personal to you, and how or why you chose to record that idea or concept, but the result is something that others can use to enable their own recall or memory of the presentation.

Last week I was able to put my test sketching to good use at the April East Midlands Learning Technology Group meeting. Previously my notes have been tweeted on the #emlt and to the @EastMidsLT, but last week I decided to sketch as the event progressed.

Clearly I have a long way to go to improve (perfect?) my own style, and work on my typeface and drawing skills, before I really want to share every one I produce, but it’s a skill I am enjoying learning and perfecting and testing.

Sketchnote from April 2014 East Midlands Learning Technology Group Meeting

One thing I will say about sketchnotes is that your sketchnote will look better, and mean more, when the event or presentation is well structured and easier to see how much space you will need, therefore how much space you can use. If you limit each sketch (and by association, each meeting or presentation) to a single or double page sketch, then you need to be sure you have enough space for the concepts you want to record. There will be nothing worse than, as you fill the page, you suddenly find you need a little more space.

  • Update May 2014 – I have uploaded my sketchnotes from the Blackboard T&L Conference to Flickr – see them here on Flickr.

PS. This is one book you’ll want in paper format. I don’t know how it renders on a Kindle or eBook devices but the whole book is sketched and a completely graphical and a wonderful book to flip through.