What is Sketchnoting and Why Should You Try It?

Posted on June 15, 2020 | in Data Management And Databases | by Taj Carson

Tired and unfocused during long meetings? Im going to help you with that.

Last week, I had a seven hour Zoom conference call, with about 20 people in it. (I know. I know.) It was necessary, and all parties were actively engaged, and needed to be. This was an authors retreat for a large research project, where Inciter is serving as the data visualization team. It was important that I stay engaged, not space out, and listen to the findings, the nuances, the decisions people were making. Because I knew I would be called on to do sketches later in the meeting and help them think through how to represent some of the findings.

But its hard. I dont think of myself as someone with a squirrel brain, but during meetings that are multiple hours long, I can get a little.squirrelly. I dont think Im alone.

I decided this was a perfect opportunity for sketchnoting. Sketchnoting is basically taking notes, while adding some graphic elements to help you visualize the information you are processing. Taking notes makes it easier for your brain to process and incorporate a lot of information in a lecture or conference presentation. By adding shapes, drawings, little people, color, and other design elements you go a step further.

Its basically doodling, but using the information you are trying to capture at the same time. I find it really helps my brain to stay focused. If people are having a 20 minute discussion about the study methodology, I can listen with my ears while sketching with my eyes, and then incorporate the decision in my notes once its made. Using this technique I avoided getting distracted or spacing out just when I needed to weigh in on something. (Im not the only one who does that sometimes, right?)

What if you cant draw?

Well, you can see from these pictures of my notebook that I am no artist. If you can play pictionary, or draw a stick figure, you can sketchnote. (I once lost a round of pictionary because I couldnt figure out how to draw peg leg because I could only draw stick figures). You could also forgo any graphic representations of anything and just use colors and shapes to indicate themes, flow from one topic to the next, or to emphasize key points, that works just fine.

When should I sketchnote?

Well, you can sketchnote any time of course. But meetings and conferences are when I pull out the colored pens.

Meetings can be long, they can be boring, but mostly they are taxing for your brain. Our brains arent designed to listen for an hour straight, much less to listen to things that may not directly apply to them. Sketchnoting is a way to keep your brain awake enough not to space out, but also its a great way to actually catalog and organize what you are hearing. The result is a more enjoyable meeting, but also a better understanding of what happened in the meeting and what to do next.

Sketchnoting was MADE for conferences. TONS of information, some of it you need, some you dont, and far too much to remember at the end of the week, much less a month later. Sketchnoting will keep you awake after lunch, help you highlight the most important parts of each talk, and also create a beautiful record you can refer back to long after the conference is over.

How Do I Get Started?

Check out this great article from Smashing Magazine.

Read Sunni Browns book The Doodle Revolution.

Peruse C. Todd Lombardos sketchnotes on Flickr.