Sketchnoting 101: The basics


September is traditionally the month for new beginnings, academic and not. In my current project, I work as a CMS back-end designer. As I come from a consultancy environment (translate: spreadsheets!), this new project revealed to me a new, more creative world: that of user-centred design. My decision for this new school year (even if it is 3 years since I left university) is to pick up a skill that will make me a better UX designer (wishful thinking!).

I have decided to take advantage of all those aimless doodles of mine next to supermarket lists that seem to fill all my notebooks and focus on Sketchnoting .

What is Sketchnoting? 

Sketchnoting is not a very famous term but if I attempt to give you a definition, you might realise that you also sketchnote!

The Definition: The term describes the style of visual note-taking real-time. It’s all about story-telling through pictures and some times simplifying hard notions through images. It has become popular at tech conferences in the past few years. Matthew Magain has written a very interesting post on Sketchnoting basics including equipment and best practices.

Live sketching: the process of capturing  visual notes during a talk or a conference. It can be on paper or digital and it is demanding because it requires concentration, capturing the essence and quick designs.

The Tools:

When choosing your tools, keep in mind that sketchnoting goes in two directions:

  • the traditional way

-Black pen

-Drawing paper

-Lots of colourful markers

  • Or the digital way

-A pad (October 2014: Windows Surface Pro 3 | Wacom Cintiq Companion | Samsung Galaxy Tab)

-a stylus

-and a drawing app or software (Sacha Chua suggests Autodesk Sketchbook pro; however having done some research I think a reasonably free alternative for beginners is Bamboo Paper)

Since I am a complete beginner, I would like to know if any of you have tried any of the above and what worked for you?

So now, we all know what Sketchnoting is and what we need to get started.

Next thing up is to have some role models. You know what I mean. Some people that “have been there, have done that” and because you know they have succeeded, you are a bit more optimistic.

The People:

Finally, networking and finding others similarly-minded to you is equally important, therefore the last item in this post is a list of places in London where you can sit down and do some sketchnoting.

The Places

Best Practices for Live Sketchnoting

Step 1: Prep! Do you research. Who is presenting? What is the context?

Step 2: Step 1 will give you some ideas so you are able to jot down some sketches about the where/when and who even before the talk starts. This saves you time especially if you are not so familiar with the topic.

Step 3: There is one advantage of going digital and it is called correcting your mistakes. Natalia mentioned in her talk that it happens very often that a participant changes his mind mid-way through or that a bullet point is not allowed to be published because of politics or other reasons. A paper version will need major effort to be corrected whereas it is much easier to do that on a pad.

You can also read my Lessons Learnt after a week of sketchnoting here.

This is it! A complete guide for anyone wanting to take up Sketchnoting this autumn with me. I will continue to update this article with knowledge along the way so it remains relevant.

As a parting gift, here is a sketch on the 10 reasons I love autumn:

sketchnoting autumn


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