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Last active Dec 30, 2015

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Sketchnoting: Creative Notes for Technical Content


As developers, most of our time is spent on computers and electronic devices; but sometimes good old-fashioned pen and paper is the best way to explore and develop our ideas. Sketchnoting combines hand-drawn elements and text to enhance focus, improve memory, and visualize important concepts. The practice of sketchnoting is not about the ability to draw--it's about the ability to listen. This talk will cover tools and techniques to visually capture ideas, how to approach the mental multitasking required to sketch during technical talks and meetings, and why "I can't draw" is just a mental barrier to embracing creativity in your notes.

Notes for Reviewers

I'm inspired to give this talk because at every technical conference I've been to, people have complimented me on my sketchnotes. This is often followed by: "Man, I wish I could draw like that." The truth is, I don't know how to draw either! But I really love sketchnoting, and it's been a great way to meet new people and have fun while taking notes.

Why give a talk about sketching notes at a technical conference, and not a UX conference? UX designers don't need to be told the benefits of drawing ideas because it is integral to their workflow; I believe technical people can also take advantage of sketching as part of their thought process. Developers are creative people, and I want to share how sketchnotes are just a way of capturing mind maps on paper. Sketchnoting also encourages a sense of play that helps foster new and different ideas. I'd love to share my experience and encourage non-designers to feel confident expressing their thoughts in a visual format, and to get more out of conferences and meetings.

Here is an outline of my talk:

  1. What is sketchnoting?
    • Visual thinking, mind maps
    • Live sketchnotes vs. later sketchnotes
  2. Tools (aka What's Your Setup?)
    • Physical tools - sketchbook, pens, tablet/stylus
    • Mental tools - line, box, circle, cloud
    • Sharing tools - smartphone, camera, scanner
  3. Practice
    • Inspiration
    • Copy other people
    • Watch videos like TED talks, Confreaks
  4. Sketchnoting Technical Talks
    • How to plan your page/layout
    • Linear vs radial vs freeform notes
    • Don't copy slides - sketchnoting is your interpretation of the talk, not what actually happened
    • Listen for key points; focus on simple but important phrases, funny/inspirational quotes
    • Live coding sessions - don't sketch code, sketch concepts
    • Give yourself some elbow room
    • Add embellishments and connections after the main ideas are on the page
  5. Benefits
    • Creativity and brainstorming -- Visualizing ideas helps you look at problems differently
    • Focus -- You capture what's really important to you
    • Improve memory -- visual notes help you retain information better than plain text
    • Sketchnotes are fun to look at and review later
    • Meeting other people, sharing


I am a web designer and front end developer at Shopify. I love UX and web development, Sass, and riding my refactor tractor through views and CSS. I love talking about comic books, wine, cats, and how cold it is in Canada. You can often find me with my nose buried in a sketchbook at conferences--please say hi!


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commented Dec 18, 2013

  • Make the benefits more clear -- how sketchnoting can improve memory, etc
  • Be sure to balance different situations -- don't focus exclusively on conference talks
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