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Interview with Mike Rohde

I sat down with Mike to talk about sketchnoting and his book The Sketchnote Handbook.

Jenz:  Visual language is being discovered by a whole new generation of mobile users (mobos): iPads, minis, Galaxy tabs, smartphones.  In your opinion, how does a person use Sketchnotes on on an iPad?  That is, do you have to approach sketching differently, a different format or the amount of information?  Or, do you recommend using paper and pen mostly?

Mike: I’m pleased to see discovery and use of visual language whatever the platform. I believe paper is good for specific reasons and technology solutions have their own features and drawbacks as well. I think use of a specific tool depends on the user of the tool.

One of the challenges of digital sketchnotes on tablets like the iPad is resolution. Right now resolution is pretty low on most tablets, so it limits the amount of information you can capture — so in those cases the style may need to change to focus on more pages with less detail on each page. There are also apps like Notability that feature a zoomed view to try and solve the resolution issue, though those have really been designed for written notes rather than visual notes that might need more space. Notebook and pen is great for portability, immediacy with no startup time and the physical nature of a book (a crash can’t wipe your drawings out of the book). However, paper is bulkier, and notebooks can be lost or damaged.

I personally like a hybrid system of paper capture that is digitized with a camera or scanner which brings benefits of both analog and digital.

You hint at other uses of Sketchnotes.  Note-taking is the primary focus and your book is such a pleasure to read because it lays out a lot of the finer points in an easy to read format.  But how else do you see Sketchnotes being used?

Many ways. The book had to stay focused and I felt meeting and conference notes were a good place to start. But you are right – sketchnoting can be used in many ways. I’ve used the technique to capture my travels to Alaska, Washington DC and in the past, Germany and Sweden. I’ve also sketchnoted meals as a way to recall those experiences.

I’ve heard from readers that they are using visual notes for things like explaining medical conditions to patients (pediatrician), capturing legal discussions (attorney) and even for adding more visual detail to to-do lists. I think sketchnotes are great for capturing thinking as well — I’ve heard from parents who have kids that read the book and use sketchnotes to map out writing projects. So, there are many opportunities — meeting notes are simply a starting point I think we can all relate to.

I’m find myself making simpler drawings on my iPad or phone. There is a lot on one page on a typical Sketchnote from your book. Do you find
filling out a page is a better way to take notes?

Personally I prefer pen and paper, but I see advantages of digital capture. My friend Sacha Chua uses a Tablet PC and Sketchbook Pro to take her notes and that system as definite advantages that she explains in a recent Sketchnote Podcast:

You use colors sparingly.  Is there a reason for this?

I like the look of simple black and white, the boldness and simplicity of this approach. I do know other sketchnoters like adding color.

How do you refresh your memory of all of your sketchnotes? Do you go back to your digital format or peruse your Moleskins?

I refer to both physical books and digital images, though it’s more likely I would look at digital scans or photos for convenience.

 Do you draw personal maps for yourself, to keep you on track for a given task or for the week?

I draw personal maps at times, but I typically use software for tasks. Sometimes I will capture tasks manually in a notebook and illustrate them, though they always go into OmniFocus.

One of the standout pages for me was page 182, Drawing Metaphors. Many of us have visual memories, so drawing rather unique pictures can facilitate better recall of the material.  How do Sketchnotes help in this regard?  Any advice to readers on this?

I think metaphors are a great way to capture complex, detailed ideas in a relatively simple way. The combination of a drawing to represent a metaphor blended with descriptive text is a powerful thing for capturing ideas.

The best tip I can give is to use crazy concepts to capture metaphors. Don’t be afraid to be silly or funny, because I think those do well to capture the feeling of the idea.

 

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