• Sketchnotes: the Ultimate Guide to Visual Note Taking

    Sketchnotes have taken off in the 10 years since Mike Rohde wrote THE book on sketchnoting — The Sketchnote Handbook. In 2011 I attempted my first one and almost never tried again. Luckily a couple of things came through and helped me unlock my sketchnoting ability.

    In this ultimate guide to visual note taking, you’ll learn what helped me unlock my abilities. Plus, the other keys and tips I’ve learned from helping hundreds of other people create their first sketchnote.

    What is sketchnoting?

    Sketchnoting is a form of visual note taking that combines texts and graphical elements such as icons, arrows, containers, non-linear layouts and fancy typography. They are often used to record conference talks and meetings but can be used for planning and sharing discussions too.

    Mike Rohde coined the term back in 2006 when he was struggling with the typical way of taking notes at conferences. He was using a pencil on a legal pad of paper and trying to get every word the speaker said.

    So he set some creative limits and freedoms to change his approach.

    • He captured the key points not every word
    • He used a small A5 moleskine notebook
    • He add visual elements like drawings
    • He wrote in pen

    These rules started this note taking style. Although it has evolved since then, the core ideas remain. First, don’t worry about getting everything down, just get the key points. And second, use both visuals elements and text to make your notes.

    Why you should make sketchnotes

    Using text and visuals to take notes help you remember more information. Plus you will be more engage in the topic and you can express your creativity too. They also leave you with a beautiful graphic you’ll want to share not a long text document.

    Some people even sketchnote as their natural means of taking notes (without ever learning the name of the topic). Plus certain topics are just far better expressed and easier to diget with the aid of visuals and text. Sketchnote may even be the most natural way to take notes, if you’d never been told what you should do.

    If you want a full list of reasons for why you should give them a try, check out this article and video.

    Examples of sketchnotes

    How students and educators are using sketchnotes to learn more

    Many educators and schools are starting to use sketchnoting and related visual thinking practices to help their students learn more effectively. Sketchnote engage both visual and verbal processing sectors of the brain which helps aid memory.

    And using visual thinking practices for planning and ideation help communication. Great to avoid confusion between students and teacher as well as preparing for 21st century skills.

    Learn more about why educators should use sketchnotes here.

    How do you do sketchnotes?

    Just make a note with a combination of text and visuals. The exact make up is up to you but there are few common steps you’ll probably want to take.

    • Add a headline with some core metadata (like the speaker and the event). You can even do this in advance of the event.
    • Pick a layout (the talk topic might guide you or the intro may give you some ideas).
    • Add your first point (this might be a headline, an image, or a description depending on what fits).
    • Add another element to enhance the point (maybe an icon to reinforce the text, or some subtext to a header).
    • Don’t try to capture everything, just the most important points.
    • If you don’t have time to write or draw it, leave a clue or space so you can complete it later.
    • Continue until you have finished your note.

    If you are looking for what you can include in your visual, the next section has some ideas.

    What should people include in sketchnotes

    There are five common elements people include in their notes. These are

    • Plain text
    • Fancy typography
    • Headlines
    • Icons (little drawings)
    • Containers
    • Arrows
    • Lines
    • Speech Bubbles
    • Banners
    • Colours
    • Background styles
    • layouts

    You can group some of these elements together. For example, a speech bubble is a form of container. But thinking of them as separate items can help you remember them when you need them.

    “I’d love to sketchnote, but I can’t draw”

    Good news, you can still sketchnote even if you can’t draw for three reasons.

    1. A Sketchnote uses other elements too including layouts, colours, typography, arrows, containers and more. You can focus on using these elements rather than adding icons and drawings.

    2. You almost certainly can draw to some degree, and the way to get better is to practice. Don’t feel any pressure to share your sketchnotes yet, but it’s really all about the ideas and the learning process not about creating art.

    3. You could make visual notes using graphics and icons others have made. In this situation you might use an app like canva and import their icons to get your design layout.

    If you’d like more advice on how to sketchnote if you can’t draw, check out this cheap course.

    How to start sketchnoting

    There’s no right or wrong way to get started, with sketchnoting. In fact some just dive right and make a sketchnote at the next conference they go to. But most of us need to start with an easier challenge.

    Make a sketchnote selfie

    Sketchnote selfie

    From my experience helping students learn sketchnoting, one of the best ways to start is by making a sketchnote selfie. This removes a couple of the toughest challenge like the time pressure of live sketchnoting and the less familiar topic.

    If you want a step by step guide for creating your first sketchnote, check out this free course.

    Should I make digital or analog sketchnotes?

    It’s completely up to you. Personally, I love switching between digital and analog tools. It let’s me mess around and explore different styles and options. But you might prefer one over the other.

    Digital Sketchnoting can help you correct mistakes, create higher resolution sketches and you can experiment with hybrid-sketchnotes with imported graphics and photos.

    Analog sketch notes feel completely different and can open up the possibility of popup and 3D elements. Plus you don’t have to worry about keeping your note book charged!

    Give both a try and see what you prefer, just don’t expect a tablet to solve your drawing challenges.

    The Best Sketchnotes App

    There are hundreds of apps you can use for sketchnoting, and depending on your preferences you might gravitate to a different option. There are, however, a few which users recommend more than the rest. Here they are (including my own personal recommendations).

    The best IPad Sketchnoting Apps

    The iPad with Apple Pencil is a common choice for sketchnoting app due to its incredible responsiveness and flexibility. The most common sketchnoting apps are.

    I personally use all the first four for different needs. Paper is for simple drawings. Procreate for final products. Concepts for SVG files. And Goodnotes for marking up PDFs.
    I’ve also heard good things about noteshelf.

    The best apps for sketchnoting on an android tablet

    Although the iPad has the majority of sketchnoting fans, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use an Android tablet. Options like the Samsung Galaxy tabs have great styli too and can produce great results. Here are a couple of the most common sketchnoting app choices.

    The best sketchnoting tools for analog sketchnotes

    The best sketchnoting tools are the ones that encourage you to create more. For someone people that’s really cheap tools, for others its more premium ones.
    Personally I like a balance. Cheap tools to test out ideas without worrying about the cost, and nice premium tools for making visual notes at events.
    Here are some of my favouirte premium tools.

    Ready to start?

    Well know you should know everything you need to start sketchnoting.

    Just get a pen and some paper together (or even an iPad), find an interesting topic and get started. If you want some more guidance, check out my free and premium courses to help you unlock your thinking with sketchnotes.


    What are sketchnotes?

    Sketchnotes are a form of visual noting combining element of classic notes, like text, and more visual elements like icons, connectors, arrangements and colours.

    Why should I make sketchnotes?

    Sketchnotes are a more creative, more engaging and more memorable way to create notes. If you want to explore your creative side or take more effective notes for a course, you should use sketchnotes. Read this article to learn more reasons to sketchnote.

    Can I make sketchnotes with an iPad or other tablet?

    Yes! Although sketchnotes started as an analog form of note taking digital sketchnoting is a common approach and perhaps even the most common way now. While using a digital tool has some advantages, there are advantages of analog sketchnoting too

    Are mind-maps sketchnotes?

    Both mind-maps and sketchnotes are forms of visual note taking and so overlap. You can have a note that is both a mind-map and a sketchnote (and call it what you like), or it can just be a sketchnote, or just a mind-map. Learn more about the differences between mind-maps and sketchnotes here.

    What should I make sketchnotes of?

    Anything you want! You can make sketchnotes of conference talks, podcasts, books, food experiences, plans and more. Look at this list of 30 sketchnote prompts if you need some ideas.

    How many images should I have in my sketchnotes?

    It’s really up to you and depends how large your images are. Some people make sketchnotes with more images, other use more text and other visual elements like dividers. Some content favors more text while others is better as an image. For more ideas over what should or shouldn’t be an image in a sketchnote, read this post.

    Can I sketchnote even if I can’t draw?

    Yes. Firstly you can use other elements in your sketchnotes and not just drawing, and secondly, you almost certainly can draw but you can’t draw as well as you like. The way around that is to practice. If you like to learn more about how to sketchnote if you can’t draw, check out this course.

  • We think that an accurate drawing is the easiest to understand. It’s not always the case with sketchnotes. Being a bit more creative and thoughtful by drawing abstract sketchnote icons can bring some real benefits that make your sketchnotes more interesting for readers and more useful for yourself.

    Here are 3 reasons why you should get more creative with your next sketchnote icons.

    Easier to understand

    You often need to draw small icons and too many details make them harder to make out. Plus the most details you add, the more of your opinion you add in. That’s a real issue if you want to talk about a category like a bookshop rather than the bookshop down the road which you go to.

    Which is easier to understand and which has more character?

    Want to learn how to draw anything in just 5 days? Sign up for this free course and you’ll learn fundamental sketchnote drawing skills which you can use to draw anything.

    Adding character

    This is even more important with abstract ideas that don’t have direct correlations in the real world.

    While you can think of a “thing” that represents the concept (like a lightbulb representing an idea), sometimes it’s better to get more abstract.

    Take sustainable energy, which does a better job of expressing the idea? Which has more character?

    Remembering more by thinking deeper

    By combining multiple ideas, you also have to think more deeply about a concept. This works your brain harder which can cause deeper connections than going for the quick and easy idea.

    Try more abstract sketchnote icons next time

    So next time you come to draw an idea in your sketchnote, maybe you should go a bit more abstract sketchnote icons.

    It might make it easier to understand, add more character and help you remember more.

  • The Life We’re Looking For Sketchnote Book Summary

    What is our fundamental need? According to Andy Crouch, it’s to be recognized by God and each other. This need is so important that studies have shown when we are neglected of it, we don’t develop properly. In the Book, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World, Andy Crouch starts by laying out this need before addressing how we’re failing to fulfil it and how we might address it in the future.

    As someone who loved The Tech Wise Family by Andy and who has become increasingly technologically wary, I was excited to read Andy’s book. It was both more than I expected, and very different than what I had expected.

    Important note: Andy is writing from a Christian perspective and this is one I hold. His worldview influences his writing heavily.

    The Life We’re Looking For Sketchnote

    A sketchnote summary of the book The Life We're Looking For by Andy Crouch.

    The main point

    Andy’s main point is that we’re increasingly trading real relationships, with each other and God, for the “magic” of technology. This isn’t completely new but recent changes in the world from the industrial, financial and telecommunication revolutions have made this view dominant in society.

    Andy contends that to be truly satisfied, we need to promote a society where we are fully human and in true relationships with God and each other. This means we need to engage our

    • Hearts
    • souls
    • minds
    • strengths

    and recognize each other as being of immense worth, no matter of our differences.

    The search for true relationships and a lesson from Gaius’s Table

    To give an example of true relationship, Andy highlights the community in the background of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

    This group of slaves and free people, men and women, Jews and gentiles met in the house of Giaus, a wealthy roman head of household. Here, although they were treated very differently by society, they were all equal.

    One of the shocking details Andy picks up on is that the person who writes Paul’s letter, Tertius, has a slave name for “3rd”.

    By society he was viewed of so little importance that he was merely denoted by the order of his birth. And yet Paul invited him to add his name to the letter, showing him of as equal importance as Giaus.

    This kind of relationships, where we see and value even the people neglected by society, is what Andy argues for.

    Devices vs instruments

    A core point Andy distinguishes is between devices and instruments. Andy defines them as

    A device is something with makes an activity so easy, that humans are no longer really required. An example is how a roomba can tidy up the house with no human effort.

    This seams like it’s an unqualified good; we no longer have to do a boring, time consuming or difficult task. However, there are usually unforeseen consequences of devices.

    We usually adapt for our devices.

    Using the Roomba examples, we might design our homes so they are more suitable for our robot friends to clean. Or the unlimited access we now have with the internet can lead to us watching endless entertainment rather than engaging deeply with what we watch.

    Instruments, on the other hand, still augment our skills or abilities but require skill (and usually focus) to use. The main example Andy gives is a bike which allows a person to travel further than by foot, but still engages the senses and requires strength. Going for a bike ride might leave you tired, but often it comes with a sense of achievement. Compare that to the experience of a long-haul flight; you can travel further than ever possible in a short time, but you sit passively the whole time.

    Does it give more than it takes?

    A key question to our evaluation of the tools around us is if they give more than they take.

    An instrument will allow us to do new things without imposing new requirements or constraints upon the user. A great instrument also empowers us to more fully use our hearts, souls, minds and strength and deepen relationships.

    In contrast, a device will impose more limits than benefits and reduce us as

    Impact vs influence

    Personal note: Using “impact” as a verb is one of my pet peeves and has been for a while. So I was delighted to see Andy has similar issues with it.

    He points out how recent this usage of the word is, and how there are many other options including influence. I’d go further and say that every other near synonym is more expressive than impact. Andy does, however, point out why impact has become a popular verb: it reflect quick, significant change.

    In our current society, the goal of “moving fast and break things” is lauded. Caution is a negative and so any negative side effects are seen as costs of innovation.

    But impact is short lived, and so another impact is required. And then another and another. All the while the shockwaves of these impacts can be causing colossal damage. Just look at the data around self-esteem and use of Instagram all the while the owners try to make it more addictive.

    The alternative is influence, which looks at long-term change and compounding effects. It’s not about making massive changes now, but about deliberate movement towards a goal.

    Influence isn’t as popular as it can often be missed in the moment. Contrast that with impact and it’s easy to see results. But in the long run, impact leads to burnout and influence leads to growth.

    Charmed vs blessed

    A final key difference is between charmed and blessed.

    Andy highlights how many of the examples we might tag on social media as #blessed are really examples of living a charmed existance.

    A charmed existence is one free of worry, pain and work.

    It’s the all inclusive holiday in the sun where we don’t lift a finger and all our needs are catered for. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it, but there are negatives.

    Charm is costly. It’s not just money, it can be costly in terms of personhood. To keep a charmed lifestyle for some, others have to live in servitude. Yes, tourism can help raise economic standards in some places (while making them dependent) but it isn’t always equal and costs still need to stay low to keep that servitude possible.

    Furthermore, the relationship between the charmed person and the server isn’t one of equals. It’s one of subjugation via economics.

    The contrast is a blessed existance, one which is rich in love but is costly too.

    Andy draws examples of Biblical figures such as Abraham, Jacob and Jospeh who are blessed but after suffering or through suffering. He even draws on his own story of his friend dying of cancer and how although it was immensely painful, it was also a blessing to be able to be so close with him.


    Andy isn’t against technology; he even owns a Roomba (something I surely would have thought to be a device he’d be cautious of). So this book isn’t a doom and gloom or quick easy practical tip book.

    At first I felt slightly disappointed by this fact. After all, I want help and guidance to help avoid the negatives of technology and devices. But I realised that this actually helps prove the point of the book.

    The real challenge isn’t just reducing our technology dependency, but replacing it with pursuing true relationships. That’s not something with easy prescriptions for every situation, instead it’s something we all need to workout on our own, for our contexts.

    Plus there are plenty of blogs and books on how to reduce our technological dependence.

    Grab your own copy of The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World

    If this review has whet your appetite, then you should pick up your own copy of Andy’s book to go into greater depth. And if you’d like some practical tips as a parent, I’d recommend his book The Tech Wise Family

  • The Mom Test Book Summary and Sketchnote

    What’s the best way to validate a product or service idea? According to author Rob Fitzpatrick it’s the exact opposite of what most of us do. Here’s a quick summary of his book The Mom Test (including a sketchnote) to show you what we do wrong and the right way to act instead.

    Table of Contents

      The Mom Test Sketchnote summary

      What is the mom test?

      The mom test is the worst thing you can do to validate an idea, and yet it is what most of us do.

      It’s when you ask someone you know if they like our idea. It’s called the mom test because it’s like when a mom evaluates their kid’s drawings. They like it because of their relationship with the child and so don’t give it fair evaluation or feedback.

      When you rely on the mom test, you fail to properly validate your ideas but get positive feedback. This leads to bad decisions.

      What to do instead of the mom test?

      Instead of asking if someone like your idea, you should either

      1. seek to understand their problems, situation and current solutions
      2. ask them to buy your product or service.

      The first helps you get evidence on what the person actually does and needs not what they think they might like. The second proves if they think the idea has value to it and that they would be willing to pay.

      How to properly validate an idea

      Rather than start with your idea, start by finding out what they are currently doing to solve their problems. You should ask questions to make sure this is a real problem and one that is causing them issues.

      While they are answering, look for specific past occasions they have tried to solve their problem instead of generic ideas or opinions about what they’d like. If they can give an example of how they have tried to solve that problem, it proves it is a significant problem. If they haven’t tried to solve it, they don’t care enough.

      An anti-marketing approach to sharing your idea

      In marketing, you want to share your idea in the best possible light in an attempt to convince someone to buy. When validating an idea, you want to present it as plainly as possible.

      State exactly the idea, how it is different, how it works and what it does. Don’t talk about the pain points or how it can help overcome problems with other solutions, be as to the point as possible.

      If someone still has a positive reaction to your idea, then you know it’s a good idea. If they have problems or questions about it, don’t be upset.

      The value of bad news

      Bad news is better than good news.

      If you find out there is a similar competitor or another solution which solves the problem better than you could, you have saved yourself from wasting your time.

      If someone finds a fault in your product or service, you can now address it. Problems aren’t the end of the discussion.

      How to respond to feature requests

      Everyone and their dog knows what’s missing from your product or service.

      But they’re mostly wrong. Especially when they talk about features.

      Your goals is to find out the underlying problem they are trying to address and then work out the best way to address it. This is tightly connected to one of the mom test golden rules.

      You cannot tell the customer what their problem is or isn’t, and in return they can’t tell you how to solve it.

      If someone tells you they have an issue, accept that feedback. They do have an issue.

      Other people might not have the same issue but their problem is real.

      But you don’t have to accept their solution.

      Get your own copy of the mom test

      If this summary and review of the mom test by Rob Fitzpatrick has whet your appetite, you can get your own copy of the book to explore the ideas more.

    1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective Sketchnoters

      Yes, I stole the 7 lessons from Stephen Covey’s classic book and applied them to sketchnoting. They don’t fit neatly in some cases, but it’s a bit of fun and a creative exercise.


      1. Be proactive

      Don’t try to think of how to sketch in the moment.

      Build a bank of ideas (a visual library) which you can draw upon (pun intended) when you need them.

      If you know a topic, learn the key concepts and practice them.

      2. Begin with the end in mind

      Before you start your sketchnote, listen for clues to the structure.

      If you know this talk has 3 main points, you can plan a layout with 3 sections.

      If you know it will be a 1hr talk, don’t take up 90% of your space in the first 10 minutes.

      3. Put first things first

      You don’t have to get every detail down in the moment.

      Capture the main point or a reminder and you can add details later.

      4. Think win/win

      Highly effective sketchnoters are community members.

      They know there are plenty of great ideas and job opportunities. We can all share and help each other without harming ourselves.

      5. Seek first to understand then to be understood

      Sketchnoting is more about understanding than art skills.

      Make sure you’ve understood the speaker before putting pen to paper.

      And focus on clear, easy to understand images.

      6. Synergies

      A synergy is the combination of two things to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

      This can happen when we combine both text and words as elements in sketchnotes.

      We gain clear words that evoke stronger feelings.

      7. Sharpen the saw

      The best sketchnoters are constantly developing, growing and learning.

      The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to be always learning.

      • Try different styles,
      • Set limits,
      • Use new tools

      But above all, have fun.

      Recap – 7 habits of highly effective sketchnoters

      1. Be proactive
      2. Begin with the end in mind
      3. Put first things first
      4. Think win/win
      5. Seek first to understand then to be understood
      6. Synergies
      7. Sharpen the saw

      Which did you find the most interesting? 

    2. The Blue Ocean Strategy Visual

      The business world is tough.

      There are hundreds of competitors out there who are all after the same customers that you are. If you are lucky you’re in a big market so there’s enough customers for everyone. Or perhaps you stand out by being better or cheaper than the rest. But there is another option, that’s the Blue ocean strategy.

      Avoid the red ocean, swim in the blue.

      “Don’t swim in a red ocean of bloody competition.”

      This is the core idea of the “blue ocean strategy”. Instead of fighting others for a limited set of resources, you move to a new market where there’s no competition at all. 

      Instead of being a choice of two or more, you become the only option. 

      Don’t look at the competition

      Country to most business strategies, you shouldn’t look at what your competition is doing in this strategy. That’s because if you define yourself properly, you have no competition. Plus, by looking at the competition, you can fall into the same traps.

      Instead, focus on your customers, their needs and how you can uniquely meet them.

      A blue ocean strategy doesn’t just mean premium pricing.

      You might think this naturally leads to premium pricing, but that’s not guaranteed.

      By redefining the market, the problem and the solution, companies can provide value at lower costs. An example might be providing a SaaS solution instead of a premium service (for example Canva for making social media images), instead of a freelance designer on commission, you can design it yourself.

      The Netflix example

      When it started, it was a way to watch movies at home. But it didn’t really compete with rental stores or cable services by offering a lower price or more options. Instead it provided a unique service of delivering dvd with credits each month. 

      Since then it changed to streaming with unlimited watching. 

      Are you swimming in a blue ocean?

      So if you’re competing in a vicious existing market, maybe you should look for the blue ocean?