All posts tagged sketchnotes

Sketchnote building blocks + visual vocabulary

Sacha Chua has a great post on how to build your sketchnote visual vocabulary. It’s helpful to be fluent in symbols you’re likely to draw and re-use, especially when sketchnoting live. With this in mind, I’ve borrowed ideas from some other artists and sketchnoters (including Austin Kleon, Don Moyer, Sachiko Umoto, Ed Emberley, Fiona Watt, and Joy Sikorski) mixed in with my own ideas to practice drawing random things, some useful, some just for fun.


Information structure for sketchnotes

After experiencing an empty chair moment while trying to sketchnote a training last week, I realized I needed to hit the books and revisit some basic visual information structures.

The Napkin Sketch Workbook chapter “Choosing a Structure” provides great sketchnote examples for several information models, so to teach myself, I applied a concept from work (Kindle) to the info models myself. Here are my results*
*info represented is example only- not real data

Here’s another extended example of a workflow or business process. I find myself drawing these at work whenever I’m thinking about ideas or objects that move between people or locations.

Next up: tackling more structures, and a visual icon library…

Sketchnote Autobiography

In the spirit of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist, I have a number of sketchnote heroes whose work I admire and sometimes try to emulate. One of them is Don Moyer.

His one-page autobiography is a favorite, which I’ve tried my own version of:

Actually found this a challenging exercise, it feels weird to map out a life. To quote Bob Seger, “what to leave in, what to leave out?”

Several years back, I attended an all-day onsite-offsite (a special kind of corporate torment in which team members are trapped in a conference room together for 8 hours with flip charts and markers in an attempt to get along). The leader, a UX design manager, insisted that each participant design a map of their life, which they then had to present to the group in a 10-minute speech.

The UX designers quickly produced adorable cartoons and poster-perfect lettering, while the writers hesitantly scratched out stick men surrounded by clouds of text. When it came time to sum up our lives before the crowd, though, the writers were able to compensate with amusing stories and asides.

How did I do? I can’t recall. I’m sure my drawings were bad, but since then I’ve been trying to bridge this gap.

*Bonus material*

More of my sketches stolen like an artist from Don Moyer… Here’s his great Flickr photostream.

Sketchnotes: lettering by hand

Any one of Mike Rohde’s sketchnotes makes me want to improve my penmanship. His own doubles as both art and information.

This being so, the curiously low-priced Creative Lettering Techniques by Jenny Doh seemed like a compelling investment.

Although the book’s examples are from proper artists who use stuff like Gesso and scratchboard, many demonstrate basic techniques for adding 3D or textured effects to letters with regular pens (one of my favorite pens, a Wacom iPad stylus, works just fine for this purpose).

I realized while flipping through this book however that these aren’t the quick techniques you’d use to scribe a talk or meeting, but more to embellish or add emphasis to a more designed piece of visual content. The latter is actually more my area of interest, and I’m not the best artist, so it’s a great reference.

Any book that promises to improve the drawing aspects of my writing always gets my money because I suffer from the imbalanced outlook Brandy Agerbeck warns of in her book The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide:

“Because drawing is the physical, tangible skill and because it can be the scariest and least-developed, we overemphasize it. Do not let drawing eclipse the importance of your listening and thinking skills.”

Listening. Thinking. Oh, right.

Use iPad to edit handwritten paper notes or hand-drawn sketches

I like to sketch and take notes on good quality paper using fountain pens. However, it’s hard to erase mistakes, and I don’t always have the right pens on hand to add color or other effects. Also when I’m done, I like to be able to share stuff online.

Using an iPad, I can have the best of both worlds- start with paper-based notes or drawings, then upload them and add effects with Sketchbook Pro for iPad. (I use a stylus for this, which I recommend. Mine’s a Wacom Bamboo.) Here’s how to do this yourself.

Things you’ll need:

  • A scanner
  • You’ve installed Sketchbook Pro for iPad and can use it at a basic level (I tried to find a good Sketchbook Pro tutorial online, lots of bad ones. Thankfully it’s fairly intuitive.)
  • You’re willing to buy/install a file management app for iPad (GoodReader)

How to edit your hand-drawn work on iPad:

  1. Scan the picture you’ve drawn and upload it to the internet (Flickr, Picasa, your own site via FTP or other method, etc.) and take note of its URL. Here’s my picture, I uploaded it to my web site:
  2. Install the GoodReader app on your iPad. It’s 5 bucks. (It does a bunch of amazing stuff apparently, although I’ve only ever used it for downloading files.)
  3. Open Safari on your iPad and type in the picture’s URL. Put a G in front of the http part like this: g and tap Go.
  4. This downloads the picture to GoodReader. When you open GoodReader you’ll see the picture file listed under Downloads like so:
  5. Tap your file to open it. At the bottom of the picture, click the camera icon to send it to your iPad Photo app’s Photo Album.
  6. Return to your iPad desktop and tap the Photo app. (The Photo app, as you may know, comes with the iPad, and its icon looks like this:)

    You’ll see your picture in the Photo app’s Photo Album.
  7. Now open the Sketchbook Pro app. Tap Gallery. (This is a button in the upper left that appears when all the tools are showing.) At the bottom of the Sketchbook Gallery, click the “import from” icon (the flower + plus sign), and click Photo Library.
  8. Click Camera Roll and tap your drawing to start editing it in Sketchbook Pro.
  9. When you’re done, save your picture to the Sketchbook Pro gallery, where you can send it back to your Photo Library or other options (Facebook, print, e-mail, etc.). Here’s my picture after I erased some lines and added color:

The Napkin Sketch Workbook by Don Moyer

The Napkin Sketch Workbook

You can’t draw (I can’t either), but you know drawings are a compelling way to communicate information. Graphic designers usually handle the infographics, conceptual art, and other images that appear in web content, but graphic designers are not always information designers. If you create or manage instructional content, the concepts should begin with you or someone on your team.

The Napkin Sketch Workbook by Don Moyer is the essential textbook for how to get started with this. (I’ve recently misplaced my copy and it’s driving me nuts, because I refer to it all the time). Sketchnoters advocate drawing as a simple and universal way to make information easier to digest (an essential skill in our world of info-overpopulation) but here’s the thing about these guys: they’re artists. And their drawings are great. Now Don Moyer is an artist too, and his work is incredible. But! His book starts out exactly where you need it to: with a basic library of how to draw stuff. He makes NO assumptions. He gets that non-artists don’t have the first clue where to start.

Other sketchnoters hint that it’s easy to doodle, but don’t provide the tools. This book does. Not only does Don Moyer provide the basic shapes to work with, but he puts you to work proving to yourself that with just these basic shapes, you can draw vignettes that explain fairly abstract concepts. I tried it, and my 5 year old correctly explained every drawing I made. (Here’s where I scan a page of the drawings I made in the book so you can see how simple they are, if only I could find it).

If the book just contained this much information it would be worth the price, but subsequent chapters teach you how to use drawings to explain relationships, business processes, timelines, and other concepts that are poorly served by words alone. Because it’s a workbook, you’ll interpret and sketch out a fairly involved business process for yourself— which you can then compare against his version for ideas.

He also provides tips for how to work with designers to finesse the ideas, different styles you can use, and an excellent and thorough list of resources for further research on the subject, although if you stop with just this book, you’ll be white-boarding circles around colleagues or fellow students within a few hours (the book is a short paperback, and easy to read).

There is but a single downside to The Napkin Sketch Workbook, and it is this: you have to buy it from Blurb, which has absurdly high shipping prices (if it didn’t, I’d save myself the frustration of searching for my lost copy and just replace it). It’s self-published and doesn’t appear to be available anywhere else (a shame, it is hands-down one of the most useful business books I’ve ever encountered). That said, the knowledge you’ll gain makes it completely worth the investment (although hang on to your copy once you get it).