1. How was this sketch noting technique different to the traditional note taking?

Sketch-noting offers the advantage of being concise and expressive in a way that isn’t characteristic of traditional text-based notation. Whilst it takes a higher level of concentration and imagination to sketch-note than to type out dialogue, sketch-noting offers the reader the advantage of being able to absorb the information that is being conveyed more quickly than by reading, and to pick up on the tone and mood of the notes, whereas traditional note taking often attempts to be more objective and may lack nuance or imagination.

  1. How does this visual approach facilitate communication of your ideas? Conversely, how does it prevent it?

Advantages: Sketch-noting offers the advantage of being concise. The process forces the note taker to rapidly distill information and make decisions about the most important or resonant aspects of what is being noted, removing extraneous elements. Additionally, if  well executed, sketch-notes package complex information into a highly legible, visual language which means that information can be absorbed more quickly than if it were typed out in prose. The pictorial elements may be able to transcend some language barriers.

Limitations: Sketch-noting is highly subjective and also quite culturally specific – whilst language and phrasing are imbued with cultural and regional nuances, I would argue that iconography is culturally loaded and different symbols may be understood very differently by different readers – leaving room for ambiguity and interpretation. Even within the same culture, individuals have their own mental models that might mean that the audience does not interpret an icon as the sketcher intended. I would not use this method if I needed to record factual information, however I would use it to generate and collect multiple perspectives on the original material and if working collaboratively.

  1. Personal challenges as a sketch-noter

This tutorial was technically challenging. I am completely new to the discipline of design (although I am formally trained in observational drawing within the visual arts) and it was really hard to let go of detail and to pluck from my imagination good, quick representational forms for my ideas at a speed that allowed me to capture the key points of the TED talk. I noticed I had strong imagery in my head, which I had to think hard about to articulate as simple forms. I found the lack of detail frustrating.

In my experience as a novice sketch-noter, I did not have the vocabulary of icons to draw on to articulate my ideas quickly and I really struggled to keep up with the TED talk exercise – losing whole chunks of information as I struggled to come up with how to give forms to the imagery I had in my head. I ended up inserting a lot of text around my diagrams to anchor their meaning, and because of this my “icons” became more like illustration to the text rather than stand-alone elements.

I then went home and practiced these techniques a lot, as even my line drawings lacked expression and I did find that with practice I really improved my range of mark making and speed of execution. I did find that I tended to gravitate towards detail too much when I did the sketch-noting in my own time, so I can see the reason for the time-constraints.

Despite the challenges and frustrations of being a beginner, I do think these skills have value and broad applications; for instance they can be applied in my work as a project manager – such as to compose “rich pictures” as a problem structuring method.

I do find that my mental models do shift over time, and what one particular icon means to me today is not the way I may interpret it if I were to pick up my sketch-notes in the future. Used in the right context, this is actually a good thing! I found the ambiguity of my iconography when I reviewed it during the week to be generative for giving me multiple perspectives on the original material I had sketch-noted. I think the greatest advantage of this method is therefore that it is helpful for revealing new aspects of complex problems and opening -up new ways of seeing as well as for conveying expression and subjectivity.