Sketchnotes - Making Notes Fun Again

For as long as I can remember I've been caught in a push-pull relationship with taking notes.  I LOVE the tactile feeling of working in a traditional Moleskin notebook.  There's something emotional, physical, and tactile about holding a notebook in your hands and pressing pen to paper. I have read several studies that suggest that writing by hand on paper creates more retention and comprehension than typing on a keyboard -- and I believe that to be true. However, there are several drawbacks:

  1. I can't read my own handwriting 85% of the time.  The ramifications of this are self-explanatory.
  2. I can't "search" my paper notebooks.  In a world where search is key to every online application we use this is a drawback.
  3. Due to the point above, I rarely look back more than one page in my notes.  I never pull an old notebook off the shelf wondering, "I know that I made a note about a client a year ago, now where is it?"  Just doesn't happen.
  4. My collection of filled notebooks is just that. A collection, it serves no reference or knowledge purpose.
  5. And lastly, as a combination of all these points my notebooks are near impossible to read, find info, and almost worthless.

In an attempt address this problem I've gone almost 100% online with all my note taking.  Evernote has become my goto solution.  It's amazing and great for several reasons:

  1. I can read my writing!
  2. You can search anything.
  3. You can add tags
  4. You can clip for the internet, copy/paste, add photos, etc.
  5. I take photos of my notes from an Evernote Moleskine notebook.
  6. It's with me wherever I am: mobile, desk, etc.
  7. It has become a valuable reference library of things important to me.

The only places where Evernote doesn't work:

  1. In meetings and conferences I find that typing to be extremely distracting. I don't end up listening and note taking is a race to capture all said, not distill the key takeaways from the event.
  2. Its greatest strength: uniformity, readability - takes some of the individuality away.

Which has lead me to a new concept in my life: SKETCHNOTES.  Sketchnotes are essentially doodles and visual notes that capture the essence of the message.  There are several books on the topic and I've been reading "The Sketchbook Handbook" by Mike Rohde. You can follow him on twitter here.  He also has an awesome blog called the Sketchnote Army that is eye candy.

The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rhode
The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rhode

Here's my very first Sketchnote. I created it while discussing ideas for enhancing our website at and creating our new Clients page.  I'm not artist.  And that's the point. Anyone can Sketchnote regardless of artistic talent or lack there of.

Sketchnotes of new website page
Sketchnotes of new website page

I then take photos of my sketchnotes and put into Evernote so I get the best of both worlds.  Tactile fun notebooks and search-ability!

Here are a couple more examples. Still rough, but you get the idea. The Sketchnote handbook is quick to point out this is a skill that you develop overtime, so I'm hoping I have lots of development.

This is one I thought turned out great. You may not know what it means but I do!  I was preparing to have a difficult conversation and this was to organize my thoughts.  Notice the mix of color and fonts to call out different ideas. This really helped me stay on point for my conversation.


This one didn't turn out so well. I was trying to create a visual representation of our conversation. The ideas and concepts were flying so fast I found myself more focused on trying to sketchnote than being present in the conversation. That's bad and not the point. The point is to have more presence and not have your  head buried in the notebook. You can also see that it looks like a jumbled mess!


So far it's been incredibly fun trying to think about the words and ideas I'm hearing as drawn images that encapsulate the overriding themes and emotions of conversation.  I have found that my listening has improved and taking notes really is fun. Also when I revisit a sketchnote I'm finding that the visual and emotional cues bring me back the session in which the note was created and my comprehension is so  much greater.

So what do you think? Sketchnotes good, bad silly?

Join the discussion and leave your comments below.

Lastly, please feel free to contact us directly.  You can always send us a message via our contact form or email me directly at: mgutman at wildstory dot com

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