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The Sketchnote Handbook is a fully-illustrated book and video, designed to teach regular people how to create sketchnotes.
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ROHDESIGN is the website of designer Mike Rohde, who writes on design, sketching, drawing, sketchnotes, technology, travel, cycling, books & coffee.
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Entries in Sketchnote Handbook (36)


The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 4: Digging In

THE SKETCHNOTE HANDBOOK project is now stretching out before me, with much left to do. I'm both excited and a little freaked out by this, with excitement winning at the end of the day. I've known this would be a tough, exciting project. I remind myself of this when I worry about what's to be done.

The Process, Chapter 1 Text & Sketches

Never having written a book, I've been adapting the process I use for my other design and illustration projects to the Sketchnote Handbook process — thinking, writing out ideas, pencil sketches and final art — all approached with an iterative mindset. This approach is working well because it's familiar to me.

For chapter 1, I've started with a table of contents (TOC in the biz), worked through with Nikki at Peachpit. From the TOC I have written chapter 1 in three drafts. Using the first chapter text, I sat down over the course of three evenings sketch out a rough map of the entire chapter's page structure in pencil.

Here is a sample rough sketch from the first spread of the chapter:

Tsh sketch 01

Sketching out ideas is helpful in my design process — in this book writing and illustrating project it has proven true again. The experience of turning words into drawings, type treatments and layouts has been helpful.

Having a sketch of the chapter to compliment my writing has been perfect in figuring out what works, what doesn't, where to expand and where stick with ideas. These rough sketches have also been ideal for sharing direction with the Peachpit team and my book advisory team.

Cover Designs

Something I'm learning as I experience a book writing process — many things are moving at the same time. I suppose in this case, with a book and video there are more threads than usual. One of the important threads to take care of very shortly are the cover designs for the book and DVD.

I have several ideas in my head for covers, which all feature hand-drawn sketchnote-style typography and images. I want the covers to be simple and memorable, and apparently they need to work at full size and as a thumbnail (for selling on websites). Nice challenge, eh?

Next Steps

The next step is a revised pencil sketch of chapter 1, to fix things, refine ideas and get the layout and imagery pretty well set for the inking stage to follow.

My goal is to completely finish chapter 1 all the way to final production with InDesign files and high resolution scans. Once we have the process settled, I believe it will help streamline the production of the 5 remaining chapters.

I'll be starting the video production with Brian Artka soon. Brian is working hard on the video test we did a month ago, which I'll post here when ready. In the mean time, you can check out the out-take video he's already created.

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The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 3: San Francisco

Under the Golden Gate

I'M BACK from San Francisco, and I'm working hard to get caught up with life and my book writing, after a brilliant, valuable week spent in The City by the Bay.

I was able to give 3 talks last week: at Wednesday evening, at Peachpit Press in Berkeley on Thursday afternoon and at Duarte Design in Mountain View on Friday for lunch. Each talk was a fun and rewarding experience.

For Salesforce, I prepared a new talk focused on sketching as a visual thinking power tool, based on my A List Apart article of the same name. The Eventbrite RSVP page sold out — we estimated about 80 in the room, which was full enough to have some people standing and some sitting on the floor.


Refreshments were provided for all attendees, along with Salesforce-stamped, Moleskine Cahier booklets and pencils to make sketching easy during the sketch exercises at the end of my talk. The room was happy and ready to sketch by the time I was introduced.

Presenting with an iPad 2, I shared the idea of using sketching as a way to quickly explore ideas, then share them with others as an object which can be more easily discussed than an idea existing only in your head.

Next, I showed samples of my own work with commentary, shared two exercises I'd prepared for the attendees to sketch in their new notebooks. First, we drew items from the memory of our kitchens (like coffee pots and spatulas), then I had everyone pair up to sketch UI/UX concepts for the station screen and music playback screen for the Pandora iPhone app.

Many of the attendees were designers, so for them, sketching interfaces was a fun exercise. To show sketches to the group, I simply lifted the iPad 2 with camera above the table and whatever was below appeared on-screen. Win!

My favorite moment? Watching a room of 80 people as they sketched and discussed ideas for Pandora screens, then inviting several of those teams to presenting their ideas through the iPad camera to the group.

Presentation: Sketching Visual Thinking Power Tool (2.4 MB PDF)

Thank you Salesforce's Jill, Yuri and Marcus for the opportunity to speak to Salesforce and other interested people in the San Francisco area. I had a wonderful time and was pleased to share my passion.

Peachpit Press

On Thursday I caught a bus and a train out to Berkeley, to visit with the team at Peachpit who are helping me write and create The Sketchnote Handbook.

North Berkeley Station

I had a fun adventure figuring out the route on Muni busses to the Bart entrance on 5th and Market downtown, then riding the train under the bay to North Berkeley. I was glad to have a Bart app and Google maps on my iPhone.

Amy from Peachpit picked me up at the station and brought me to Peachpit offices, housed in a converted industrial building. Once I had the iPad 2 ready, I gave a brief talk about sketchnotes to Peachpit staff, explaining the details of my book and taking questions from about a dozen staffers.

It was fun to share book details with the larger team, and hear their comments and questions they had about the book. I think everyone at Peachpit is excited about the Sketchnote Handbook, which makes me fired up to write it.

I was treated to lunch at a tasty and secret Mexican restaurant around the corner by Lupe and Amy, while we discussed the video portion of the project. Back at the Peachpit office, Amy shot video of me for an upcoming promo video.

Thanks Nancy, Amy, Lupe, Scott and Nikki for helping setup my visit to Peachpit. It was great to see almost everyone — missed you Glenn & Nikki!

Duarte Design

My final presentation for the week was on Friday, at Duarte Design in Mountain View. I reserved a Zipcar for the drive from our hotel down to Duarte offices. It was a great experience using a Zipcar for the first time, though we hadn't known or planned for San Francisco Giants' opening day — we were 30 minutes late.


Fortunately, we arrived in time for me to say hello and give Nancy Duarte a quick hug before she had to leave for the day.

In the presentation room, I hooked up my iPad and shared a variety of advanced sketchnoting techniques with the staff, while my wife and kids watched from the back of the room.

Part of the presentation included live sketchnoting of two videos: The Distiller and The Milwaukee Leatherworker. I did my own sketchnoting on the iPad with a stylus, which worked well, but had limited detail versus paper and pen.

Duarte's staff did a great job on the sketchnotes, making use of the advanced techniques I'd shared just minutes before. It was especially great to see non-artists creating wonderful sketchnotes and sharing them with the group.

After Q&A time, several Duarte staffers and I geeked out over my iPad styli collection and shared favorite sketch apps for the iPad. Everyone loved my Stylus Socks and I learned about Procreate for the iPad.

Presentation: Advanced Sketchnote Techniques (5.9 MB PDF)

Thank you Nancy, Katie and Emily for the opportunity and help in making our brown bag lunch session such a fun time for the staff and for me.

Book Writing & Illustrating

The first draft of chapter one was completed before I left for San Francisco, so the next challenge is to sketch out in detail how the text from the chapter will look when illustrated in sketchnote style.

The trip was well timed, because as I spoke about sketchnotes and sketchnoting, ideas began to form around how I could illustrate the chapter's ideas. This weekend I'll use templates to sketch out illustration concepts, so I can keep the book creation process rolling.

Font Update

One of the evenings last week was spent with the incredible Delve Withrington of Delve Fonts. We had a great time hanging out, talking shop and then Delve showed me progress on my handwritten sketchnote body font.

Let me just say the font is looking amazing. Delve was even able to add multiple characters to the font, allowing apps like InDesign to rotate alternate versions of letters into the typed text to make it look more natural.

I can't wait to see how the entire body font looks when he is done working his magic with vectors.

Travel Observations

Here are a few observations after last week's trip to San Francisco:

  • My iPad is my new laptop. The hard drive on my MacBook went belly up the first day in SF (it's OK now, after disk repairs). I had to rely on the iPad 2 as my main computer and it worked great for email, surfing, RSS reader, presentations, as a document camera and keeping the kids busy on the flights there and back again. Unless I need to design, my MacBook is staying home from now on. Read more from Andy Ihnatko and Shawn Blanc on iPads as a laptop replacements.
  • iPhones rock for travel. Having an iPhone along made all the difference for on-my-feet mapping, directions and finding things, and was my main camera, email and social media device for the week. Having a backup battery along was super handy too. Read Boston to Orlando with an iPhone by Dave Caolo for more on iPhones for travel.
  • Walking, Busses & Zipcars are Great! Like our trips these days, we decided to walk and rely on public transportation for our visit to San Francisco. Having a CityPass worked great for the week, giving us unlimited access to Muni busses and streetcars, as well as cable cars ($6 per ride). When we needed to drive, Zipcar worked perfectly.
  • Embracing Tourist Mode. When I wasn't meeting with people or giving talks, our family embraced our inner tourist. Staying on Fisherman's Wharf, exploring tourist attractions like Alcatraz and Chinatown, shopping for souvenirs and eating sourdough bread. We loved it all.

I'm fired up and can't wait to see the book start to take some real shape next week. Until the next update…

Alcatraz Tower  Powell-Market Line
Embarcadero  Chinatown Alleyway

Photos: San Francisco 2012: Flickr Photo Set

Salesforce photo: Marcus Nelson


The Sketchnote Handbook: Video Outtakes

I HAD A GREAT TIME today, shooting video tests for the Sketchnote Handbook with Brian Artka. We thought it would be fun to share a few outtakes.

If you're curious why we're talking about Zeldman — it refers to the Zeldman doll we received at the party for Jeffrey's induction into the SXSW Hall of Fame.

The shots Brian got are looking really good, especially the closeups of my sketchnoting. These three interview clips are using onboard audio which will improve when Brian stitches his high-quality video into the promo.

Once his promo is ready I'll post it here.

Check out the Flickr set of photos I'm collecting from the Sketchnote Handbook writing, illustration and video process:

Sketchnoting Detail  Sketchnote Handbook Video
Shooting Sketchnotes & Type Interview Sample
The National: Final

The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 2

I'VE BEEN VERY BUSY getting book tasks rolling, while planning my upcoming trip to San Francisco. Thought I'd take a moment to share what's up:

Sketchnote Handbook Video

I'm pleased to officially announce the video component of The Sketchnote Handbook! I've just signed the contract to produce a collection of short videos related to the book chapters with my good friend Brian Artka.

Check out the great work Brian does, including his Milwaukee Leatherworker video and his other short films. I'm very excited to have Brian on my team.

Writing Chapter 1

Last week I started writing chapter one of The Sketchnote Handbook. Sketchnote Handbook Chapter 1 in raw form. Using an iPad, Bluetooth keyboard and iA Writer is ideal for this draft stage of the work.This chapter will set the tone for the overall book, so it's critical. I've created several drafts and plan to have a final first draft to Peachpit for review this week.

My writing toolkit — an iPad, bluetooth keyboard and iA Writer have worked well for creating words for chapter 1. It's very convenient to have access to the same text file via Dropbox on he MacBook, where I can make further edits.

I'm experimenting with the Mac OS Lion's versioning in iA Writer. Feels strange to see 'Save a Version' instead of 'Save' but having rollback may save my bacon.

Sketching Structure

My next task: take the first draft of chapter 1 and sketching out the structure of the pages — sorting out where text, type and illustrations might go. This will help me get the balance of writing and illustration right.

These sketches of each spread will also help show Peachpit where the book is headed, since it features so much illustration.

Font Building

A font created from my handwriting is a key part of the book Drawing characters for The Sketchnote Handbook fontand I've made progress here as well. The text-weight version of my handwriting with full character sets has been drawn, scanned and sent to my font-making partner Delve Withrington. He will trace the letterforms and create a font from them.

I still have to create a bold and italic version of the handwritten body text font along with a new, larger font to be used for the book's subheads. We plan on offering the complete set of fonts for sale as well, once the book is released.

San Francisco: Duarte & Salesforce Talks

We're now less than a week away from our visit to the Bay area. A private mini-worksop is scheduled for the staff at Duarte where I'll tell my story of sketchnoting and show their team advanced sketchnoting techniques.

On Wednesday the 11th I'll be speaking at at 6:30, talking about "Sketching - The Visual Thinking Power Tool". I'll share my own work process, tell how sketches help us think and solve problems and have the audience do few sketch exercises. Should be a blast!

The Eventbrite tickets are free, so come on down. The reception starts at 5:30. I'd love to have you with me at Salesforce's HQ Wednesday night.

I believe my lecture will be recorded and shared by Salesforce on YouTube — if so, I'll post the video here on the blog.


I still have a long way to go, but I'm excited to really be going full steam ahead on this project. Talk to you again in a few weeks.


The Sketchnote Handbook: Update 1

WHILE IN AUSTIN FOR SXSW, someone asked me if I would be writing about the Sketchnote book process as it went along. I hadn't thought of this before, but after hearing Austin Kleon talk about "research in the open" and being reminded of his fabulous Tumblr, I've decided to give it a go.

Having a record of the writing process, or at least an overview of it could be interesting for readers and for me. It may even guide others considering a book of their own. Below are thoughts on my mind as I start the journey.

SXSW 2012

Austin and SXSW were a great experience, as usual, and I was honored to meet all kinds of writers and thinkers, like Steve Krug, Sunni Brown, Tom Nagle and Jeffrey Zeldman, who gave me excellent advice about writing a book.

Whomever I shared the idea of the book with seemed very exited about the concept of an illustrated book about sketchnotes. This was very encouraging.

I had a fun experience at a party meeting a fan of my REWORK illustrations, who requested an impromptu sketchnoting session. I accepted the challenge and shared a few basic techniques — 15 minutes later he returned with sketchnotes!

At the start of my week in Austin, I was actually a bit worried about the 6 months I have to write, illustrate and design this book. However, by the end of the week, I was excited about the time ahead after taking with many people, authors and friends who encouraged me.

A New Title

After signing the contract, Peachpit editor Nikki and I talked a bit about refining the title of the book before requesting an ISBN. THe old title didn't seem optimal for describing the book itself, so we kicked around several ideas.

One of the terms we talked about was "Sketchnote Journal" which I found problematic. While it does describe the personal, one-to-one nature of how I'm writing the text and drawing the illustrations, I don't want the "journal" term to suggest a personal memoir, as this is intended to be a functional handbook.

Another problematic term was "for visual notetakers" which I feel limits the audience and could cause some to tune the book out. My goal with the book is to see regular people adopt one or many sketchnoting techniques I'll share to improve their comprehension and have fun taking notes again.

After some discussion, we've settled on this title:

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking

Both handbook and guide are excellent terms to describe my intention for the book's goals. I've also admired Jon Hicks' wonderful Icon Handbook, which inspired me to follow a similar approach to teaching sketchnotes.

Planning The Book Visually

I've started mapping the Sketchnote Handbook's table of contents to a visual map of the book as way of figuring out how many pages each chapter will take and how much to write and illustrate. It's working great!


I've also created a template for spreads, where I can sketch ideas and add notes for each 2 page grouping, as I'm writing. Having these visual maps has been very helpful in giving me a broader view of what's to be done and how much needs to be written and drawn at the page, chapter and book levels.

I'll be interested to see how these maps evolve over the life of the project and if there are other ways I can make use of visual thinking tools to aide my work.

Research is Underway

I've hired two assistants, one to gather information on the sketchnoters I have in mind as candidates for the book, and the other to find research related to sketching, drawing or doodling benefitting note-taking and thinking.

I felt this was a good way to optimize my time — freeing me to think, write and plan the content of the book, while researchers find relevant information.

Deadlines and Writing

Of course there are deadlines to meet — next week I'll submit my book map to Peachpit and in 2 weeks the first chapter draft needs to be completed. The cover design is also due about a month from now.

I'm quite fired up to write the first draft of chapter one, which expresses how and why I discovered and coined the term sketchnotes and offers a welcome to non-artists, encouraging them to give these sketchnoting a try.

Writing Tools

I've decided to try writing this first chapter with my iPad and bluetooth keyboard in iA Writer. I used this combination of tools to create the book proposal and table of contents and it worked supremely well.

I plan to use this setup to write drafts of the entire book text, though I know all of the text will eventually move to Microsoft Word — a publishing standard.

Might as well enjoy my favorite writing tools while I can. :-)

San Francisco

In about 3 weeks I and the family will be heading to San Francisco for a week. I'm planning to share sketchnoting over lunch with a the staff at Duarte and a visit to my publisher, Peachpit. I'm also planning an evening talk on sketching as a design thinking tool at This will be fun!

We'll be enjoying our son's spring break to have family fun during second week of April — Fisherman's Wharf, Alcatraz, Chinatown, cable cars and more. My wife and I love the city and can't wait to share it with our kids.

Thank You

I want to wrap this update with a thank you to everyone I met and talked with at SXSW about the book, to the Peachpit/New Riders crew who were so encouraging and to everyone who has emailed, commented or tweeted encouraging words to me. I appreciate your support.

I'm excited to create this book for you, and for everyone else out there who would love to have more fun taking notes.

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