Sketchnoting with Mike Rohde

Note-taking seems out-dated and cumbersome. Can you relate?

One day Mike Rohde was inspired to pick up a small moleskin notebook and ballpoint pen. Restricted to just the spread of the tiny notebook and the permanence of the ink his recordings became more deliberate. He was forced to decide what was valuable and capture it in the moment. Every mark mattered. Pictures proved more efficient, so he developed his signature style of blended illustration and type. As a result of this new technique, the quality of his comprehension sky-rocketed.

Mike made a habit of Sketchnoting all his experiences, from conferences to meetings to vacations, even memorable meals. Mike’s sketches were meaningful not just to him, but to anyone who viewed them. Mike posted his Sketchnotes on Flckr and put no sharing restrictions on the images. This generosity paid off by putting his work in front of a much larger audience and affording Mike new opportunities to Sketchnote.

Mike started sketching big conferences, like SXSW, and was eventually given a free pass to the conference in exchange for Sketchnoting his experience. He went on to design the a tote bag and app for attendees and was invited to illustrate the NY bestselling book REWORK.

A few questions on Sketchnoting:

Do you have to be an artist to Sketchnote? No. In fact, people are “good” at drawing experience more hangups. Mike laments the baggage associated with the word “art,” and stresses “Ideas, not art.” You only need to master a few basic shapes, and you can Sketchnote anything. Mike relies on a handful of structural patterns such as “popcorn” and “skyscraper” to break out of the habit of linear thinking.

Do you need any special tools to Sketchnote? No. Any piece of paper and drawing instrument will do.

Do you need to polish your Sketchnotes after you take them? No. You can rough-out a portion and come back to it when you have more time, but the spirit of Sketchnoting is to be in the moment.

Mike’s book The Sketchnote Handbook, chronicles his work and that of other Sketchnoters. As we flipped through the examples, I couldn’t help but see them in light of the infographic trend growing in the design field. Sketchnotes are both a way of remembering your own personal experiences better, but also a way of delivering information in more interesting and meaningful way.

There are so many varieties and methods to Sketchnoting. The common thread behind all the styles is the power they have to compress info and deliver it in a simple way, combined with the human touch and the personality of the Sketchnoter.


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By AIGA Wisconsin
Published November 3, 2013
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