Monday, 23 May 2016

How to start sketchnoting

This article is a translation from Magalie Le Gall's article, published in French over here. Magalie is a French librarian in Paris, fan of Lego and visual mapping. (And she's awesome.)
Reading her article some time ago made me fall instantly for skechnoting... as you may have noticed from my recent notes from LILAC.
So I wanted to share her article with you, hoping that it will inspire you to try it out too!

On 25-26th January, I went to the workshop I had gifted myself for Christmas: the #visualmapping workshop by Philippe Boukobza (from the excellent blog Heuristiquement - in French) near Paris.

Besides madly hearting this workshop and intending to continue until I get certified, I have resolved sketchnoting my meetings, trainings, or study day reports. Anything coming my way, actually.


Because (I know you think so too) a report is usually effing boring. So there are good chances you won't ever [re-]read it again. And if you forward your pretty 15 pages long, 11 font-size Word document to your colleagues... ? In short, a lot of work for very little results.

Sketch... what?

Philippe Boukobza defines it this way: "Sketchnoting means translating concepts, process, ideas, conversations in visual thoughts, individually and as a note-taking technique." By putting forward keywords, expressions, relationships and pictograms, you have to not only really understand the content you're transcribing, but also simplify it as much as you can. Down with parasitic sentences that weigh your reports down!

Let's tackle the "drawing" issue

After talking about it with lots of people, I know we're touching a sensitive point. Seeing my sketchnotes, many colleagues or friends exclaimed "oh you're gifted, that's obvious, there's nothing crossed out, and you're a creative person. I wouldn't be able to do this, my writing's a mess and I don't know how to draw". I can tell you that this makes me mad. Like, for real.

I'm just a clumsy oaf as far as art drawing goes. It's true that I like for it to be neat, but I really don't care if it's "pretty" or not, I'm just having fun. And since we're on the topic, let me underline that a sketchnote is not destined to be pretty: it is destined to be understood, [re-]read and memorised.

Let's get back to drawing: we're all able to draw! I bet that when you were little you didn't even ask yourself the question. Paper, pens and hop! You were gone. You even did it for hours. Unfortunately school, negative judgements from others, the framework imposed by work, all these things had their effect. And that's just as true for sports, music, languages, maths, writing... You're amongst the gifted ones or you're not. And if you're not, then you're absolutely not touching it ever again. So it's not so much our ability to do this or that that is the problem, but the trust you have in your ability to do it. You're self-limiting yourselves, here, I said it.

Now, take a sheet of paper, a pen, and have a look at the following video:

See! You can draw too!

But it must take ages!

No more than typing up a report, re-reading it to complete it and tweak the layout. Of course, you need to take new habits and admit that you won't write everything down, instead only keeping key concepts from what's going to be said. That's also why your typography and pictograms need to be simple to do.

Let's try it out (yay!)

  • Just as Graham Shaw says in his video, you need to be open minded: let go from expectations, don't think about the results. Remember what Zohra Kaafar wrote in one of her presentations: "creativity is contagious, make it go round."
  • Do know that, the first time, your colleagues are probably going to watch you with a weird look on their face (but they'll soon be very interested!).
  • To start easy, you can sketchnote very short meetings or just your train of thoughts for a project or a training session you're going to give... [tip from Aurélie: you can also go online and sketchnote a TED talk, a MOOC lesson, or even a podcast - and remember: there's nothing at stakes and nobody needs to see it... just have fun!]

Sketchnoting, how does it work?

  • In order to represent visually an idea or an abstract concept, think of shapes (square, circle, rectangle...) or of the image it makes you think of. Here are a few examples:

  • Use arrows, banners, different typographic styles in order to push the main ideas forward. Visually, it changes everything. And it's really easy to do!
(source) [tip from Aurélie: I've printed this reminder and glued it at the end of my notebook... so useful when you're trying to think of a different bullet point idea in the middle of a sketchnote!]

  • Make sure you have a good balance between pictograms and keywords: your sketchnote needs to still be understandable several weeks / months later.
  • In one of his articles (French link), Philippe Boukobza reminds us of the main principles for a good sketchnote: use space to let the note breathe, accentuate keywords by playing with typography, insert very simple illustrations to strengthen the message and, finally, stay simple as far as colours go.
  • And, let me repeat this to make sure you got the message: don't try and make something "beautiful" and compete with Leonardo da Vinci. For example, I like to say that I'm "scribbling" my meeting report. That helps getting rid of inhibitions.

Advice regarding stationery...

(NB: I'm going to let you know what I'm using but any kind of paper / pens would do the trick. Personally, I think that the quality of the tool and the pleasure you get from using it are important, but it's really up to you.)
  • Being a Moleskin addict, I recommend their sketch album, their new collection of Volant journal, or their digital covers compatible with tablet covers. Whichever brand you choose, make sure to get a notebook with blank pages (or with a dot grid that will help you calibrate your outline).
  • Work on only one side of the page (in portrait or landscape - doesn't matter).
  • In order to play more easily with the width of lines, you can use black pens having tips from 0.05 (very fine, perfect for the face of your little people) to 0.8 (very wide, perfect for separations, banners, or arrows). Personally, I like Staedtlers pens very much, or Micron pens.
  • For finishing touches, you can shade your drawings. Ideally, use a brush pen in a lighter colour (I'm using Pitt Faber-Castel pens in blue or grey shades. You also have the ArtMaker from Neulands which are just crazy good. 

You want to sketchnote form your tablet / smartphone?

Download the free (in its lite version) app Sketchbook Pro. Having tested it, I do recommend to use a smartpen if you want to sketchnote a full report, that's much more practical than with your finger.

And lastly I'm recommending THE book on sketchnoting: The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde. He's a specialist on the topic and also the author of a workbook (with more advanced techniques) as well as a series of videos.

(yeah, the lego book has nothing to do with it, it's just that it came in at the same time as the other two...)

I hope I've got you to want to try it out!
If you do, let us know and post your own creations online!

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