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Sketchnotes say more than a thousand words

January 11th is "World Sketchnote Day". From the technology to the tools: All about these ingenious visual notes.

Arrows and frames in the biology notebook, sailing boats and railways in the geography atlas, the iconic Albert Einstein grimace in the physics book: Chris Shipton was constantly drawing around in his teaching materials as a pupil, embellishing page after page – like many others. "And like many others, I was scolded for it throughout my school years," recalls the Englishman, who now works as an illustrator. It was only as a young adult that Shipton discovered by chance on the internet that there is a name for such "doodling" – and that it stands for a cultural technique that is as creative as it is practical. "Imagine my surprise when I learned that sketchnotes are actually a tangible thing!"

From to-do lists to recipes: Everything can be sketchnoted

Sketchnotes, a composition of the English words for "sketch" and "notes", are visually prepared content – a mixture of text, symbols and structures. That it is indeed a "tangible thing" is proven just by looking at the meanwhile imposing, very communicative fan community: Sketchnote pioneer Mike Rohde, who also inspired Chris Shipton at the time, and other professional bloggers and coaches may be in charge in the literal sense, but when the "World Sketchnote" is held again on 11 January 2021, it will be a very special event. January 2021, World Sketchnote Day will once again be celebrated, countless others will have their say (and their picture) –with classic sketchnotes, drawn recipes (sketchipes), charming travel memories in sketch form, to-do and shopping lists... in short: simply with everything that makes a sketcher's day.

The eye thinks with us: Our memory loves pictures

No matter how different the topics they deal with: All sketchnotes work according to the same principle, which, for all its amusing appearance, is based on scientifically proven facts. The somewhat unwieldy German term "Bildüberlegenheitseffekt" (English: "Picture Superiority Effect") refers to the phenomenon that around 80 per cent of what we recognise and store of our surroundings is supplied by the eye. 
Among the five human senses, visual perception is clearly the dominant one – and it reacts much more strongly to images than to words. Visuals touch us more intensively than written words, generate deeper emotions and therefore remain in our memory longer. However, we are even better at remembering content that is conveyed by images and words, because it is stored in two different areas of the brain, i.e. twice. This "dual coding" theory is also used in other techniques related to sketchnoting, such as graphic recording or visualised text accompaniment. Although not scientifically proven, the participants of these modern lectures enjoy the double benefit: While their grey cells are performing at their best in terms of memorising, they feel very entertained – because the charming symbols, the colourful accents and the dynamic design lift their spirits from minute 1.

Ensure clarity with sketchnotes – on the page and in consciousness

It is not only the viewers of the creative sketches who feel good humour, but above all their creators. Mike Rohde, star of the scene, recalls in his "Sketchnote Handbook" earlier frustrating efforts to meticulously write down all contents on large, lined sheets of paper at meetings and conferences: "The stress escalated because I desperately tried to record every detail". So he lost track of what was said – and unfortunately also the desire to fight his way through the sea of lines later. "I never looked at my notes again after they were finished". Since he discovered sketching as an alternative to taking notes, the designer has been able to get the best input for himself at every event: Because you already have to filter the information and recognise connections while drawing, you focus much more intensely on the material. "Finally I concentrated on the essentials!"

ABC of the sketch scene: the Visual Alphabet

To make this happen quickly and smoothly, Rohde, Shipton & Co. have developed numerous tips and tools. With their mantra "Sketchnoting is not an art, but a craft", the experts also encourage beginners and laypeople – and provide the tools with the Visual Alphabet. This refers to a collection of shapes and symbols that can be used to create a wide variety of sketches, similar to how letters are joined together to form words. Basic shapes such as dots, circles, lines, waves, triangles and squares serve as a basis, which can be rotated, distorted and combined as desired. This is enough to develop the most important elements of the sketches – frames and containers for structuring the stories, symbols and faces for content and protagonists, speech bubbles and arrows for core statements and dramaturgy. 
It is worth trying things out and making associations: Do people associate a book (three squares and fine lines) with a handout – or do they see it more as a symbol, e.g. for law and order? Is the face with glasses (three circles, two dots, three lines) a general image of a clever head – or is it reminiscent of the speaker from the last meeting? Little by little, your own drawing gallery is created, supplemented by fonts, letterings, flags, banners and action elements, so to speak, the text parts of the sketchnotes.

The best material, the right twist

Sketches & writings: For this you need paper and pens, nothing more. Many sketchnoters first use a fineliner for the most important symbols and keywords; then pencils, felt-tip pens, brush pens, highlighters or other personal favourites are used for hatching, reinforcements, colour accentuation, etc.
The structure of the sketchnotes, i.e. the division of the page, is also a matter of individual preference: some start at the top left corner and then line up the content in a clockwise direction, others start in the middle and move outwards in a spiral, while still others follow the linear narrative style of the cartoon aesthetic. The main thing is that the chosen variant makes a "tidy" impression, i.e. follows the visual hierarchy: the title must be eye-catching, important things must be larger than less important things, the topic areas clearly separated, the transitions clear.
Tip for beginners: Sketchnote practice should not necessarily be started in a meeting with limited time. After all, the sketching technique is just as suitable for recounting experiences in peace and quiet or for preparing content for an upcoming presentation. Just as countless teachers are now doing for their lessons, whether online or in person. Because the doodles of yesteryear have long since become important pedagogical material: sketchnotes are making their way into schools.

Inspiring sketchnote templates are availabe for download here:

Template "How to sketchnote"

Click here

Template "Visual Library"

Click here