Back in May 2012, I attended Maker Faire in San Mateo, California. I love this event and all the sites there are to see, but one of my favorite things to do while there is to sit in on the presentations given by a number of guest speakers and DIY organizations. This time around, there was something new added to the presentations — as the speakers were giving their talks, the key points were being captured on a white board by a team member of ImageThink. These weren’t just text-based recordings, however… they were sketchnotes.

Sketchnotes are exactly what the name says — a mix of sketches and hand-written note taking. I was quite taken with the process, and got to see it in almost a dozen talks, including the one given by GeekDad’s very own Chris Anderson on Quadcopter Drones (look at Page 3).

There are a number of websites dedicated to sketchnotes that I’ve checked out, and while I’ve tried my own hand at creating sketchnotes for a few events since Maker Faire, I’ve just not been able to make any great strides at improving the quality of my notes. I’m scheduled to attend a TEDx event in Atlanta (TEDx Buckhead) soon, and I think I’m going to give it another try, especially now that I’ve worked my way through one really cool book — The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking, written by Mike Rohde.

You need to know right away that this is no normal book. Rohde’s created a book that teaches you how to create your own visual notes by using his own methods in the pages of the book. It’s a 200 page book that I was able to read in a little under an hour, and I’ve gone through it again to work through some of the hands-on exercises he includes in the book.

Sketchnote 1Sketchnote 1

Rohde insists that you don’t need to be a great artist to take good sketchnotes, and after trying my hand using his methods for creating simple but easy-to-understand figures and objects, I’m actually looking forward to trying out these techniques at TEDx. (He even includes two of the coolest methods for drawing people — the Gray Method and the Star Method. I’m going to start with the Star Method.)

This isn’t a theory book — just about every other page contains a real-world example, with Rohde including over a dozen sketchnote professionals’ two-page sketchnote spreads scattered throughout the book that provide even more advice and tips. You’ll get recommendations for types of notebooks these folks use as well as the various types of pens they prefer for lettering, shading, and other techniques.

Throughout the book, the basic concepts of sketchnote creation is hammered in — listen more intently, link imagery to the verbal concept and create a more concrete memory, filter out distractions. But I’d estimate that well over 50% of the book is technique, not lecture. And what lecture there is… well, we’re talking about sketchnotes, so you’re not going to find paragraphs and paragraphs of plain text. As a matter of fact, there’s not a single page in the book that doesn’t contain some aspect of sketchnotes — eye-catching icons, oversized text, interesting use of patterns, and much more. (Well, that’s not completely true — the Index is all text but it’s still artfully done using Rohde’s own handwriting converted into a font.)

Sketchnote 2Sketchnote 2

The most useful part of the book to me? Probably the discussion on the various formats you can use to create sketchnotes: Linear, Radial, Vertical, Path, Modular, Skyscraper, and Popcorn. I have no idea which will work best for me, but seeing actual examples of each of them and how they work best was very helpful. A close second would be the sections showing how to quickly draw different type — thick, bold, triple and double line lettering and more.

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking comes in three formats:
1. The print version of the book
2. Video + Print version of the book
3. The DVD collection

The book by itself is perfect. It’s what I had an early look at, and only after finishing the book did I review the videos that Rohde has put together that touch on every key point in the book, as well as showing actual sketchnotes being created. It’s fascinating to watch (and makes me a bit jealous that my own artistic skills aren’t quite there… yet) and there’s 70 minutes of content. Keep in mind that I read the entire book in less than an hour, so trust me when I tell you that the videos are just as good at teaching you how to create sketchnotes.

Two pagesTwo pages

You can get just the 70 minute DVD, but after reading the book and viewing all the videos, I believe the combination of book plus videos is definitely the way to go. Viewing the videos after working through the book has cemented a lot of the concepts in my mind… and I really do feel ready for TEDx.

Mike Rohde has… written?… drawn?… sketched a great book. Students will find it just as useful as those of us who left classroom notetaking years ago. It’s perfect for techie and non-techie, and everyone in-between. And Rohde’s making plenty of details about the book available to those who might be a hard sell:

* You can download and view Chapter 4 for free here.

* Rohde documented the book writing process here.

* You can read a detailed breakdown of all three versions of the Sketchnote Handbook here.

* View a sample video here (#2 of 20 videos)

* Use code SKETCHNOTE to get 35% off if you buy from Peachpit Press

* Anything else you want to know — visit the official Sketchnote Handbook site here.

I always take notes when I attend meetings or conferences, but something’s always been lacking when I return home and try to review my notes. Sometimes I lack the excitement the talk inspired… and other times I flat out can’t remember what the speaker’s primary message was all about (not the speaker’s fault, but usually mine and my uninspiring notes).

Hopefully things are going to change. I’ve got my Moleskine and my favorite pens, and I’m ready to go. This book could not have arrived at a more perfect time.

Note: I’d like to thank Mike Rohde and Peachpit for providing a review copy and access to the videos.

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