Sketchnoting 1

May 2015
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Since the beginning of time humans have felt the need to document. We hear that an idea is lost if it isn’t written down. In some ways, for us, only what we are capable of remembering exists. And we can remember things better if they are documented.

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Sketchnoting (or how to quickly document and remember everything)

Several samples of documentation have been found to mark our history: the prehistoric wall paintings in Altamira, where the earliest cave paintings were found; Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings and his sketches of machines; the beautiful drawings of new botanical discoveries, like those by Charles Darwin; the discovery of amazing new lands represented by beautiful maps, such as the ones you can enjoy at the British Library. And the list goes on and on…

Artists like Tolousse Lautrec and Egon Schiele documented their time in beautiful sketches and drawings that were later translated into masterpieces. Professions like architecture use sketching in several ways (as a tool to evolve a specific concept or as a form of representation itself). Although fewer in number nowadays, several American courts still use sketch artists as a way of documenting trials.

Some of these visual documents are more refined and precise, some less sophisticated.

Human-centred design and similar disciplines use several techniques for visual documentation, like storyboards. Sketchnoting is my favourite.

Sketchnoting helps me to keep people’s attention during a talk or meeting, to highlight the key concepts of a theme or discussion, to filter and digest information in real time…it is a great way to visualise a summary of a talk or to quickly look it over in the future. There is a certain element of meditation in sketching when you start repeating shapes again and again.

Our brain reads quicker and better with visual help. Ideas resonate with the help of visual mnemonics.

What is sketchnoting? Is it the same as drawing? The general tendency is to believe that drawing is more detailed and planned whilst sketching is quicker and has a component of improvisation. I believe that sketchnoting falls under the broader category of drawing and has its peculiarities.

Do you have to be good at drawing? Absolutely not.

What do you need in order to sketch? Basic things: first of all you need some tools. You can go digital or in “classic mode”, as I call it. One or two pens are more than enough. Maybe a colour for shading and another for highlights. All these depend on your preferences. The simpler you start, the easier it will be. With practice you will improve and experiment with different techniques, not without making errors on the way.

Specifics and tricks on how to sketchnote will have to wait for a future post. For now a quick tip: don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes, and practice, practice, practice.