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Visual thinking and note taking

Yesterday, I attended an online webinar put on by VizThinkU entitled Visual Note-taking 101. The speakers / sketchers were a wonderfully talented bunch including Austin Kleon, Sunni Brown and Mike Rohde and moderated by Dave Gray (XPLANE). The format was informal and took us through a variety of techniques around visual thinking over a joyous three hours. Check out some of the great sketches from the session by Austin (included below with permission — thanks Austin!). Mike Rohde

Some take-aways from the session:

Drawing is pictures and words together in space. Visual thinking is comprised of drawings, to which we add words to fine-tune meaning and then we can arrange and juxtapose to create connections. Interestingly, the wireframes we information architects produce are comprised of the same elements and all are critical to someone understanding our work.

Start where you like. Austin likes to start in the middle and work his way out, Sunni tends to start top left of her paper (usually adding a title, the company logo, etc.), while Mike starts where it feels best to begin. All were valid approaches and changing up where you start sketching may help shift how you approach your work.

3526504940_7fd75fc735_oEveryone can draw. You just need to learn the basics. Using Dave Gray's visual alphabet it really isn't hard to draw most things. The basics include the following: a point, a line, a circle, a square and a triangle (you can extend this as well a bit with a rectangle and a swirl). Many clients like to say they can't draw and I think this is a great way to show them they can and get them involved in sketching out ideas and their user experience. I've been using this same technique with my son over the past few months and it's amazing to see how quickly kids can learn to draw using these principles.

Build a symbol library and vocabulary. Each of the presenters yesterday had a toolkit of things they use regularly. Austin has a particular way of drawing clouds and the sun; Sunni breaks her drawings into sections with dividers to make things easier to digest; while Mike uses typography and design basics (layout, size, color, shading) to show importance on the page. All of these are elements they can use quickly and easily and pull from their toolkit as needed. I see this as similar to the modular thinking and frameworks based work many IAs and developers are now using to speed up work.

Listening when sketching is a fine art. Some tips from the session included:

  • Listen to the speakers tone, volume, cadence, emphasis, speed, metaphors and similes, references to structure and gestures when determining what to draw
  • Prioritize what you are capturing
  • Cache ideas with simple reminders (like breadcrumbs) when you can't catch everything being said
  • Relax and don't worry about what others think of your drawings
  • Add your own personality (each of the presenters had their own style)
  • Keep it simple

There were also some great books referenced during the webinar worth checking out:

  • Ed Emberley's Drawing Book: Make a World — Edward Emberley
  • Handbook of Pictoral Symbols — Rudolf Modley
  • Beyond Bullet Points — Cliff Atkinson
  • What It Is — Lynda Barry

Happy visual thinking!