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  • 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 two 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 desgin 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.

    FAQs

    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.

  • 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.

    Enjoy.

    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? 

  • 4 Simple Sketchnote Banners Anyone Can Do

    Banners are a great way to show what is a header without learning a fancy font and they work with those too. In this short post, I’ll go through the simplest way to create a banner for a header in your sketchnotes and then share a few variations you can try.

    Step one: write the header

    You could make the banner first, but for beginners it’s far better to start with the text. It takes time to develop an instinctive knowledge of how much space text will take up and even then, things can go wrong.

    By writing the heading first, you know how much space your banner will need to take up.

    Write the heading text

    Step two: draw a rectangle around the text

    In theory, you could stop at this step. That really would be the simplest banner! But we’re going to add a couple more steps to create something a bit more interesting.

    add and outline

    Step three: Draw some offset parallel Lines

    If you have a dot grid notebook or paper, you can offset your banner exactly. In a plain notebook, you’ll need to go with your eye. Try to keep them the same height and more or less even.

    Step four: connect the lines diagonally

    Now, add diagonal lines from the front part of the banner to the background elements. This should form small triangles which are the fold in the banner.
    With this step, you’re basically done.

    Step five: finish it off!

    At this point, all you need to do is close of your banner and add any final touches you want. This can include filling in the “folded” section to add some depth, or adding some shadow below the banner to make it appear like it is floating.
    If you are a using a digital tool, it’s easy to add multiple shades of colour with the front of the banner the lightest, the back layer slightly darker and the fold the darkest.

    More simple sketchnote headers and upgrades

    While this is a very simple way to create banners for sketchnotes, there are some alternatives and small upgrades that can enhance your headlines.

    1. The wavey banner

    Instead of a straight rectangle, create a wavey banner that looks like it is blowing in the wind.

    A couple of points to note:

    1. Make sure the waves are in parallel
    2. If you can, make the text warp to the banner coming closer or further away.

    2. The sign

    This headline uses a rectangle as well, but instead of making it look like a ribbon, we add posts to make it look like a sign. For smaller text, you can add one pillar, or you can use multiple for larger one.

    You might want to change the signs shape to match the message such as pointing in a direction.

    3. The cork board

    This time, we’re putting paper on a cork board. Start with an outline that represents a piece of paper with the information. This “paper” can be flat and even, or it can bend and flex as it comes of the board — it’s your choice.

    Next, add pins to each corner (and optionally, the middle) of the paper before finally adding the cork board behind the “paper”.

    Time to apply!

    There are hundreds more styles of banners, some subtle variations and some more complicated styles. The most important thing to do is to practice them. Once you’ve nailed these, see if you can emulate the styles of other sketchnoter, or create your own stock sketchnote header template.

  • In Procreate 5.2 they introduced Brush Size memory, a new feature where you can save multiple sizes for the same brush. Here’s why Brush size memory is great for sketchnoters.

    Procreate is great for sketchnotes…except

    I love procreate for making sketchnotes. While it can be a bit feature heavy and cumbersome when you first start, the beautiful brushes, multiple layers and powerful export options help me create sketchnotes I like.

    why sketchnote with procreate

    The only issue with Procreate is that it gives you TOO many options. There are so many brushes and colours that they can get in the way for people who prefer a simpler app like Paper by WeTransfer.

    One of my ways around this was to use a single set of “sketchnoting” brushes with about five pens for normal text, headlines, brush lettering, filling, stippling and airbrush effects. This worked well but if I ever adjusted the size of a brush (to move between headline text and subheading, or to add more detail in an icon) it would be near impossible to return to my previous brush size.

    My solution was to duplicate brushes but that made the interface more cumbersome and wasn’t perfect either. I could still adjust these brushes and then not be able to return to my previous state.

    This new feature from Procreate has solved that challenge.

    How Brush size memory works

    The brush size slider has been around for a long time and allows you to increase and decrease the size of your current brush.

    Now you just tap the plus icon that appears in the top right corner of the brush size preview and it will add a marker.

    This marker has some “magnetism” to it, so as you move up and down the slider in the future and get close to your saved point, the slider will stick there.

    Why the brush size memory feature is great for sketchnotes

    Let’s say you have a good brush to use for a headline and subheadline, you might want to keep your sub headlines roughly the same size but lose it when you change between canvases.

    Not an issue anymore, now you just put two markers down and you can just between the headline and subheadline size.

    This can work for sketching and having different size details or to have a tool to fill in large sections or colour in details.

    Thank you procreate!

    Honestly, this has removed one of my biggest frustrations with procreate and removed the need for my old duplicate brushes. Now I can have fewer brushes in my sketchnote set, more size variety, more consistency of style and jump to the option I want faster.

    Thank you procreate.

  • Creating and using a stock sketchnote header template

    Sketchnoting under pressure can be a real challenge. Having ready to go ideas and templates can help you make something good, quickly, without thinking. You can use templates for the whole sketchnote, but you can also use templates for part of the sketchnote. Recently I came up with a simple stock sketchnote header template that has helped take decisions out of my sketchnoting process and raise the quality of sketchnotes I can create under time pressure.

    What should you include in your sketchnote’s header area?

    Depending on the topic you are sketchnoting, you may want to include or exclude certain elements. For example, a date may be important to include for a sketchnote on a talk, but not as useful for a sketchnote on a book.

    • Title or topic
    • A picture of the speaker(s) or author(s)
    • The name of the speaker(s) or author(s)
    • The title of what the topic is connected to. (The event, a sermon series, book)
    • A logo (of the event, or the speaker,
    An example stock sketchnote header template
    An example stock sketchnote header template

    What header text should you use?

    There are lots of different types of text you can use for your header.

    The simplest is to use a “heavier” font, or bold text. This will make it stand out and be clearly legible.

    However, depending on the topic, you might want to use a font that is

    • more elegant
    • more futuristic
    • more formal
    • more causal

    There is a simple trick you can use if you aren’t sure. By simply placing a basic single line of your text, you can then embellish it later.

    Should you always add a portrait?

    A portrait can really had character to a sketchnote. But adding a drawing adds pressure for those of us who are less confident with drawing. One option is to add a simple outline in the moment, and you can add details later.

    When it comes to actually drawing the portrait, focus on the key details and characteristic attributes of the person you are drawing.

    How should you arrange the elements in your header

    I recommend setting keeping your title text as the largest element, with a portrait or logo to the left of the text. You can then place any other smaller or less important elements under their respective parts.

    How to arrange information in  a stock sketchnote header

    So you can place the name of the speaker or author under the authors picture, and the date of the event under the title.

    Ready to use a stock sketchnote header template?

    You don’t have to stick ridgedly to your sketchnote header template, and you can even create one before the event if you are live sketchnoting, or afterwards to help you avoid time pressures.

    Do you use a different sketchnote header template? Let me know in the comments.

  • In the last year and a bit a few friends have started sending newsletter using either Substack or Ghost. Both offer a similar service with the option to restrict some or no content and provide the rest for free.
    Yesterday I realised that the same effect could be created using WordPress and at a very affordable rate. So here’s how you can make a Substack newsletter in WordPress.

    Table of Contents

      The Tech stack

      • an installation of WordPress with a hosting company
      • any basic WordPress theme. I haven’t found anything that looks exactly like substack but the default theme is very minimal.
      • either
        • a dedicated solution like newsletter glue
          • with an email service (Mailchimp is in the free plan free)
        • or a combination of
          • a restrict content plugin like Restrict content (You can use the free or pro version)
          • an email sending service like Mailpoet (or Mailgun for WordPress, Mailchimp, Sendfox or ConvertKit.

      Newsletter glue vs a custom set up

      My initial inspiration for this article was to use the newsletters and plugins that I was familiar with to restrict content. During my research, I discovered the plugin “newsletter glue” an all in one plugin that integrates your WordPress site with a one of the most common newsletter providers.

      The free version of Newsletter glue is sufficient if you want to use mailchimp and lock certain content. If you want to use a different newsletter service like mailerlite or campaign monitor, or you want some of the advanced custom block, the pro version is for you.

      Newsletter glue does have a very easy set up and after filling in your API, you’re good to go. A custom set up would let you use a different email service but I suspect newsletter glue is the best choice for most people.

      Either way, you’ll need content

      The next section focuses on the content you should create and how to set up your homepage and applies to using newsletter glue or a different service. After that there are instruction to create a custom set up using restrcit content pro.

      The content we are going to copy

      When you land on Substack, you are greeted with a sign up form or you can click “let me read it first.” Substack also creates default about pages and subscription pages. So let’s duplicated these.

      Making the homepage

      Substacks homepages are simple and limited. They have

      • an icon,
      • a headline
      • a description
      • an email signup form
      • and a button to let me read first.

      To replicated it, all we need to do is…

      1. Create a page (If you can disable the text on the page, call it whatever you like e.g. home. if it will show up, set this as you headline)
      2. Add an image, set it as a thumbnail size and centre it.
      3. Add a headline (H1 if you can disable the page title as a heading text, h2 if you can’t)
      4. Add a paragraph block with a description
      5. Add your email sign up form
      6. Add a button with the text “let me read first” give it the link to whatever your articles page will be called (blog/newsletters/articles/etc I like “articles” personally)

      If you have newsletter glue pro, you can use the subscribe form block. If you only have the free version, you can use other solutions to get a form to embed such as genesis blocks, mailchimp for WordPress or just getting the HTML code from Mailchimp.

      Make the past issues page

      Create a new page and give it a title like newsletter / articles or blog. Set this as the URL. You don’t need to do anything else to this page, it should be blank.

      In settings, reading, set the page you just created as the “Posts” page. At the same time, make the homepage you created the homepage.

      Making the about page

      About pages are often in the top two most visited pages on your website. The biggest mistake is to make it about you and not the customer. This is on of the core lesson from Marketing Made Simple.
      The substack default content has a simple template you might want to use including

      • Headline (What your newsletter is about)
        • A short description (what sort of content you provide )
      • Why subscribe
        • Some subheadlines including “stay up-to-date and “join the crew”.

      Here are a few tips for a more effective about page

      Speak about what you can do for the reader, not state what it is

      Most about pages describe a thing rather than focus on the benefit for the user. That’s like Pepsi saying their a sugar water drink or a Mercedes being a luxury car from Germany. Focus on how it will help the reader.

      Set expectation

      Tell them how often you send your email, when and what they will get.
      Aim to be as specific as possible but you can give your self wiggle room while you develop the habit.

      For example, “I send a newsletter every Monday morning with tips, tricks and tutorials on video production.” is clear “I send emails approximately weekly on a range of subjects that catch my attention including…” is not as clear but still better than “sometimes I send a newsletter.”

      Include a quote if you have one

      Ask any current subscribers what they like about the newsletter and add that to the about page, that can help guide you to what people like in your newsletter and help convince people to subscribe.

      Writing your first post

      Once you have the rest of your content set up, the only thing to do is write your first post and start promoting your newsletter. You can do this using regular posts and gating some of the content, or you could create a custom post type called something like newsletter and use that for your posts.

      The choice is yours.

      Set up a custom configuration

      While newsletter glue is a great service offering an easy and affordable system, you might want to do something more custom

      Set up your email service

      You can use any email service you want for this but if you want something deeply integrated with WordPress, pick mailpoet.
      Some alternatives I like include

      • Sendfox (my personal recommendation. Start free, one time fee over at Appsumo unless you have big needs.)
      • ConvertKit (great email service, now has a free plan but limited features.)
        Set up the service you pick according to the settings.

      Restrict some of your content

      You could keep your newsletter open to the world with no restrictions. This would help encourage more people to share and aids discoverability in search.

      But if you to convince people to sign up so that you can contact them or you want to make offer a subscription, you’ll need a way to restrict that content.

      I’ve used restrict content pro for a few years after I got it for an online course. It can work for newsletters too. The free version let’s you restrict content so only subscribers can access it, the pro version let’s you charge people for access.

      The free version requires no set up, just pick a post to restrict or use the restrict shortcode to lockaway certain content.

      The pro version has plugins to connect with a newsletter and automatically add subscribers as well as offering a payment gateway.
      An alternative is memberful which let’s you collect payments (minus their 10% cut ) but to offer free memberships, you need to pay a monthly fee.

      Getting Subscribers

      Once you’ve got your technical stack set up, the real challenge is getting subscribers. This could be a post in itself but here’s a couple of quick thoughts.

      1. Go to where your potential subscribers already are.
      2. Create great content
      3. Invite people who would be interested in your topic
      4. Share sneak peeks and invite people to subscribe.

      Ready to make a Substack newsletter in WordPress?

      Substack and Ghost are certainly easier to set up for a restricted newsletter, but if you are interested in a free to start newsletter and want to use WordPress, then it’s perfectly possible to create a Substack like experience.