Want to think visually, remember content more effectively, and share ideas creatively? Try sketchnoting.

2 min read

Sketchnoting is a notetaking practice that combines words and simple pictures. It’s a great way to practice visual thinking, help you remember content covered during meetings, and share ideas in an engaging way.

As this post will hopefully illustrate (literally, get it?), you don’t have to be an artist to take sketchnotes. If you know how to write, and you know how to make shapes and stickpeople, then you can add this fun visual practice to your professional toolkit. Here are some of the basics.

1. PICTURES:

I think the biggest barrier that people have to doing more visual work is that they think they have to be a certain type of person (a “visual person”) or have a certain set of preexisting skills (“design skills”). But listen, humans are visual beings. We think in pictures first, and we retain pictures best. I think the only thing keeping most people from doing more visual work is that we have very little tolerance for just being bad at something for awhile/forever. No one likes being bad at things. But here’s the thing: people aren’t born good at drawing. And anyway, even bad pictures can be helpful pictures. Sketchnotes are a great example of this. 

To get started, what you need to do first is build a little library of little doodle icons that you can practice until you feel reasonably comfortable drawing them (even if they look terrible). Think about some of the concepts and ideas that you hear during meetings. Your team might talk about tasks, or processes, or goals and priorities:

Or maybe there are certain subjects or products you discuss:

Or maybe there are elements of the meeting itself that you want to bring in:

This might look kind of complicated, but really, it’s pretty simple – everything here is just circles and lines – see?

TIP: If you want to draw an idea, but you can’t think of a visual way to represent it, just do a google image search for “the idea” + “ icon” and then find the one you think you can draw. For example, here are some ideas I found when I Google image searched for “goal icon”: 

2. WORDS:

As far as words go, to get started you really only need a few things. First, less is generally more when it comes to words and sketchnoting. You’ll need words to provide enough context so that you can remember the concepts, but your pictures are doing the bulk of the work.

You should get yourself a title font and a bullet concept that works for you. If you want to layer on other ideas, have fun with it! 

TIP: If you have bad handwriting, try using a pen with a narrower point – it will help you change your hand position and may make your handwriting more legible. (It’s hard to believe, but my handwriting is actually worse than this normally).

3. LAYOUT & DESIGN ELEMENTS:

There is a limit to how much space you have to work with on a page, so it can be helpful to think about how you might organize your information: 

4. SUPPLIES:

You don’t really need anything special for sketchnoting, beyond your regular notetaking materials, but it can be fun to cycle in different kinds of paper and pens. My favorite supplies are blank copy paper, colorful pens, and a grey brush marker that I use for shading.

The bottom line:

Sketchnoting is easy to work into your regular note-taking routine. Start small and keep it simple. Pick out some fun title fonts and maybe a few icons and cycle them in, building on your little library as you go. If you decide to share your notes with others, great! You might be surprised by how much people appreciate your terrible drawings. And even if you decide to keep your sketchnotes to yourself, you’ll enjoy the process of making them. Have fun with sketchnoting!  

Destiny Aman Destiny Aman serves as the lead for Design at HWC, where she specializes in developing and improving strategic and visual communications processes. A geographer by training, she also possesses deep subject-matter expertise in the human dimensions of environmental issues, particularly natural hazards, climate change, risk communication, and visual design. Her background includes work in the academic, nonprofit, and public sectors.