Buy my Books!

The Sketchnote Workbook is a fully-illustrated book and video, showing how to use sketchnotes in new ways, along with advanced tips and techniques.
Learn about and buy the book →
Download a FREE chapter →
Watch a FREE video sample →

The Sketchnote Handbook is a fully-illustrated book and video, designed to teach regular people how to create sketchnotes.
Learn about and buy the book →
Download a FREE chapter →

Mike Rohde (Color - Square)

ROHDESIGN is the website of designer Mike Rohde, who writes on design, sketching, drawing, sketchnotes, technology, travel, cycling, books & coffee.
Read more about Mike →

SIGN UP! Get the Rohdesign Newsletter.

Entries in Observations (72)


3six5: December 28, 2011

Work less jpg scaled500

The house was quiet and dark as I climbed out of bed.

My favorite week is the week in-between holidays. My wife and kids lay sleeping while I headed to the den to spend time alone before the day began.

I've been enjoying this quiet week between Christmas and the New Year, especially after a hectic year of work and activity. Each year I use this week to review the past twelve months and think about what can be improved on in the next twelve.

Just yesterday, I asked my nine year old son Nathan what I could do to be a better father next year. What he said caught me by surprise and has challenged me these last 24 hours:

"Work less, dad."

But, but, wait. How did you.. hmmm.

He was right. Despite being even more selective about choosing new projects this past year, I was guilty of accepting more work than I ought to have. Of course, each project was a great opportunity, but the sum of those extra projects over a year's time drained me.

That's the tricky thing about work you love to do — the work doesn't seem like work at all — until you're in too deep. On top of love for the work is the draw of an opportunity too good to pass up, which makes it difficult to say no.

Mix love for your work and opportunity together and you have a recipe for potential overload and burnout — a place I don't want to visit.

Still, I'm encouraged. Even with all the projects I've done this year, my workload is much lower than the year before. I was successful at choosing fewer, more interesting and more challenging projects in 2011.

My challenge for the year ahead is to keep on the track of working less. To become even more selective about project quality and quantity, regardless of how enticing 'more' may be.

As evening draws to a close, I'm feeling clearer about my path forward, realizing I'm blessed with a loving family and a son who has no fear or telling his dad to work less.

I was honored to be part of the 3six5 project, and being chosen to represent December 28, 2011 with the entry above. Read it on the 3six5 website along with entries from all of 2011. Thanks Len.


Connecting the Dots

THIS WEEKEND, Steve Jobs and his Stanford Commencement Speech from 2005 reminded me how important it is to realize we often only connect the dots of our lives looking back. Like Steve, I can see now how the more difficult moments have shaped me and my future for the better.

Thanks Steve for your inspiring leadership and example for all of us.


The Power of Capturing Memories

I VISTED my old neighborhood on Tuesday.

Feeling the power of childhood memories flooding back has helped clarify why I'm currently so fascinated with capturing life experiences as sketchnotes.

The Fish Keg

The Fish Keg is an iconic place in my memory, a keystone of memories from my childhood days in the Rogers Park neighborhood on Chicago's North Side.

As I entered my old neighborhood, each city block, each bit of sidewalk, every old sign brought childhood memories sharply in focus. It was enlightening to see inanimate objects and places bring to mind many long-forgotten memories with such clarity.

This is why I sketchnote experiences and encourage others to do it too.

Feelings and thoughts fleeting past during an experience or an event can be captured visually, awaiting future moments to expand themselves and reawaken memories for my benefit or the benefit of others.

Consider my sketchnotes from a dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California:

Chez Panisse Dinner Sketchnote

Time was invested in capturing my experience visually, but now I can look back and recall in vivid detail how the spaghetti tasted, what the environment felt like and the fun I had experiencing a dinner with my friends Kate and Kris.

In this image, those and other memories spring to life, offering a clearer recollection of that moment in time. To a degree, my experiences can communicate to complete strangers who may be curious about the Chez Panisse experience.

If there's anything that would encourage you to try sketchnoting an event or an experience, let this be the reason. Invest time in capturing what you're experiencing as multidimensional map of your thoughts and feelings so you can recall them with clarity and share those memories with others.


Living a Better Life Story: Storyline Conference

Million Miles

IF YOUR LIFE WERE A STORY, how would it read?

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, author Don Miller asks that question of his own life. He found the state of his life pretty mundane.

He became fascinated with story and its structure, learning the elements of story in order to examine his own life and seek ways to change the story he was living into a better one.

For Don, that meant hiking to Machu Picchu, seeking and finding his long-lost father, riding his bike across America to raise funds for wells in Africa and founding a mentoring program for fatherless boys. Quite the change in story.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years was a great book. It challenged me to think more deeply about the life I'm living, how I'm leading my family and what kind of impact I'm having on others. I'm thinking about my life in ways I hadn't before.

In some areas of my life, I love like how my story has unfolded. In other areas, I'm not as happy about the story I'm living. There's plenty of room for improvement.

Most of all, I love the idea that God is writing a story with my life and invites me to be part of that writing. The opportunity to live a more interesting life and to encourage others to live better stories with their own lives is fascinating and exciting.

The Storyline Conference

Saturday, my wife and I signed up for Don Miller's Storyline Conference in Portland, Oregon to learn ways we can write a better life story, together.

I learned about the Storyline Conference and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years through Don Miller's blog. I enjoy his writing, so when I saw his post about the conference, I was intrigued with doing something more with my own story.

The Storyline Conference is a two day workshop in Portland, Oregon. Attendees hear stories from Don Miller, use workbooks to find out where their own story is headed, and through the process, write a better story of their lives. Music and other surprise experiences during the 2 days should create a unique experience.

Here's the promo video:

Looks like a great experience in a great city!

This spring I missed SXSW due to illness, which was a big bummer. Choosing to experience Storyline, the city of Portland and experience it with my wife is a wonderful reward after missing SXSW. We're both very excited.

I'm also planning to sketchnote the Storyline Conference. If Don is OK with it, I'll post my sketchnotes on Flickr and here on my blog. I'm excited to learn and then share story concepts with others curious about writing a better story with their own lives.


Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash: We Made it Happen

Mbbb 2011 Patio

TWO YEARS AGO, I was at Austin airport, waiting for a plane with my friends Brian Artka and Derek Dysart when the idea for the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash was born.

We were hanging out in the departure lounge, coming off a great week at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX. We ate our last breakfast tacos while recalling our experiences when Brian suggested we throw our own Milwaukee party for everyone at SXSW.

It would be an opportunity to share a little Milwaukee culture with the variety of people at SXSW and create a fun atmosphere for them to meet each other and us. Most of all, our party idea would be different than every other party at SXSW.

We loved the idea, but as ideas often do, it hibernated for several months.

The Re-awakening

In December 2009, the idea re-awakened in Brian's head, as he prepared for SXSW 2010. He asked me if I was interested in taking the Milwaukee party idea seriously.

I was game, and so were several other Milwaukee SXSW attendees and a friend from Austin. So, in January, we researched venues, food and sponsors. We were going to make it happen.

A contract for a venue was signed and money put down, even though we didn't know how many (if any) people would attend the event, or without having all of the needed sponsors lined up. If this idea went bad it could have been costly, though bearable.

Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash 2010

For the first event in 2010, we arrived in Austin excited about the event, inviting everyone we saw to the Bash. Eventually our little Bash was mentioned in a variety of online newspapers and on Twitter accounts — a pleasant surprise!

When the day came it was rainy, so using the Cedar Door patio was out. The staff invited us to use the restaurant to serve our 200 guests beer brats, potato salad, cookies, and Milwaukee beer, all while enjoying the company of other attendees.

My favorite story of the day was from a guest who said his bratwurst brought back fond memories of Oakland A's games. As a kid, he would spend his summer days watching baseball and eating his fill of brats.

With a belief in ourselves and lots of hard work, our first Bash was a success.

Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash 2011

Happy guestsIn late 2010, with experience and a successful Bash already under our belts, we worked out the details, convinced sponsors to join the fun and put on another great Bash.

For the 2nd annual Bash, we finally had the Cedar Door's sunny patio as well as the interior of the restaurant. This helped us serve 360 guests delicious Milwaukee beer-soaked bratwurst, regular and Pretzel buns and Tofurky brats for our vegetarian guests. Of course we had potato salad, cookies and Milwaukee beer to round out the Bash menu for 2011.

For 2011, we raffled bags of coffee from Milwaukee's Stone Creek Coffee and 18 Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash t-shirts printed in Superbowl Champion Green Bay Packer green & gold.

The Bash was a hit. SXSW attendees had something fun and different to enjoy during the day. We were able to share a little Milwaukee culture and love with our friends and colleagues in Austin.

I was sick and couldn't make it to Austin for the event, but the team stepped up and did a great job of making the Bash a huge success. I was able to invite many of my friends to the Bash remotely and watch the event over a UStream channel, set up by the team.

Make it Happen

The key lesson learned from the Bash?

Take initiative and make something happen.

Nobody in Milwaukee or Austin gave us permission. We decided to do it for ourselves.

We had no experience organizing an event, but we had experience in other areas of life and business, which we used to make the Bash happen.

You can do more than you think you can.

Notes and Tips

For others considering an event, I want to share a few things we learned through the process of planning and running the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bash, two years in a row:

1. Use a collaboration tool for your team. One of the best things we did was to create a Basecamp project for the Bash. It became a central hub where discussions happened. Basecamp worked well via email, freeing the team to reply on the web app or on a mobile device. Basecamp threads from '10 were very helpful in planning the '11 Bash.

2. Keep the team small and delegate. Because our team was small and everyone pitched in, the load was never overbearing for any one person. This year when I had to recover from a sickness, having others there to take up the organization was critical to making the event happen even with me out of commission.

3. Don't be afraid to ask for sponsorships. If you decide to seek sponsorships, ask everyone you can think of. We asked many more companies and individuals to help than accepted the opportunity. We also were open to small donations from individuals and small businesses, because every dollar helps.

4. Designate one person to handle the funds. It might be tempting to have all sorts of team members accept money, but we found having one person handle funds worked best and kept the process simple for our team and sponsors.

5. Say thank you. After the event we made it a point to contact every sponsor and say thank you for their help, with a report about the event and links to event photos and new coverage from local radio and news outlets.

Thank You!

Thanks go to the teams for the 2010 and 2011 Bashes: Brian Artka, Derek Dysart, Tracy Apps, Hung Nguyen, Andy Wright, Cindi Thomas and Kevin Ciesielski.

Thanks also to our sponsors who made the Milwaukee Beer & Brat Bashes happen. We appreciate you all.


Here are articles and audio about the Bash in the media

Milwaukee BizTimes: Milwaukee beer and brats: a smash at national festival
88Nine Radio: Perceptions of Milwaukee (Audio)
88Nine Radio: Other Cities "Beer & Brats" (Audio)

Photos by Tracy Apps