Sketchnoting: Visual Notetaking with Mike Rohde

Do you think you’re a terrible artist? You probably do, and that’s a limiting belief so stop saying that about yourself. That’s an episode for another day. Today we’re going to help you see yourself as something different… maybe not an artist, but certainly someone capable of having more fun taking notes, engaging in information, and learning.

We’re thrilled to have Mike Rohde on the show today, the originator of the Sketchnote. New to sketchnoting? No worries! Mike walks us through what a sketchnote is, how to develop a practice and how to use sketchnoting to embrace and engage information with pen and paper and get it into your head.

For Patrons, Mike will be delivering this month’s workshop live on Wednesday, March 11, at 6pm US pacific time.

Links & Notes

Thank you for supporting The ADHD Podcast on Patreon!


Episode Transcript

Brought to you by The ADHD Podcast Community on Patreon

Pete Wright:
Hello everybody, and welcome to Taking Control, the ADHD podcast on RashPixel.FM. I’m Pete Wright, and I’m here with Nikki Kinzer.

Nikki Kinzer:
Hello everyone, hello Pete.

Pete Wright:
Oh Nikki, how are you feeling today? Are you good?

Nikki Kinzer:
I’m doing great.

Pete Wright:
Your hair is different. Everybody thinks you look like a millennial.

Nikki Kinzer:
I know. That’s a really nice compliment.

Pete Wright:
You’ve fooled the masses. Very excited about you. Do you want to say just briefly what you’re doing tonight, why you look so good?

Nikki Kinzer:
Well, I don’t look good. I’m preparing to go out on the town with my friend, and we’re going to go have a three course meal with whiskey, and we’re going to be in the presence of a mentalist.

Pete Wright:
That is just delightful.

Nikki Kinzer:
I know, I can’t wait.

Pete Wright:
That is just delightful. You need the whiskey for that kind of an event, so I’m very excited to hear the report next week about how that goes.

Nikki Kinzer:
I know, it’ll be fun.

Pete Wright:
We’ve wrapped up mostly our ADHD at work series, but we do have this one last thing that I am very excited about. We are going to talking about sketchnoting today, and we have the originator of the sketchnote army with us on the show. Before we dig in, head over to takecontroladhd.com. You can get to know us a little bit better, you can listen to the show right there on the website, or subscribe to the mailing list where you can get an email each time a new depside is released. And of course, you can connect to us on Twitter or Facebook at TakeControlADHD.

Pete Wright:
And if this show has ever touched you, if you come to this show and think wow, Nikki and Pete have amazing guests, like the guest today, then we invite you to head over to patreon.com/theadhdpodcast, and support us. Support us directly. This is listener-supported podcasting. If you value the work that we do, we appreciate you paying for it. For just a few bucks a month, you can join us in the livestream. You can join our fantastic online discord community where you can access the channels like ADHD accountability, and support, and technology, where people are having these fantastic conversations. And don’t forget, the brain playground, my own personal favorite place on the internet. ADHDPodcast at patreon.com. We appreciate you.

Pete Wright:
Hey everybody, this is Pete from the future, and I need to apologize before we dig into the episode proper. Mike had some catastrophic audio challenges, and if you joined us for the livestream, you saw all of it. We had a microphone change about halfway through the episode, you’re definitely gonna notice that. We had some serious internet issues, and yet, I really believe that Mike’s message and what he and the sketchbook army are doing and creating and creating, it’s important stuff. And for our brains, I think it’s important to understand how this stuff works, and if it’s a skill that connects to you, and you find that it works for you, at work, at home, then I want you to hear this stuff.

Pete Wright:
Now, I will say if you are a Patreon member of the ADHD community, we have scheduled a followup workshop. It is coming up, when is it coming I’ve already closed my notes. Wednesday, the 11th of March. March 11th at 6 pm, US pacific time. He’s going to walk us through on video what it takes to sort of learn the very basic skills, the sort of building blocks, of sketchnoting. Even if you’re not an artist, how can you use some of these tools to better engage with material that you’re trying to jam in your brain, and remember it for the long term.

Pete Wright:
So I think it’s really valuable, it’s really important stuff so I am sorry for the audio issues that we have in this particular depside, and I invite you to wade through it, visit the resources in the show notes, and share your sketchnotes. Let us know how you’re doing. We want to hear from you. That’s it. Enough out of me, and now Mike Rohde.

Pete Wright:
Mike Rohde is a designer and illustrator. By day, he works, he’s like a superhero this guy. He works at Johsnon Controls on human centered design, research innovation and service design projects. When he’s not there, he puts on the mask at night and he talks real dark. He’s an illustrator, his work adorns the pages of a number of best selling books, and he is the guy behind sketchnoting. An author of two best selling books of his own, The Sketchnote Handbook, and The Sketchnote Workbook. He teaches workshops teaching sketchnoting and the value of visualization, and he is here today to do the same for us. Mike Rohde, welcome to the ADHD podcast.

Mike Rohde:
Hey, this is really fun to be here. Thanks for inviting me on.

Nikki Kinzer:
Welcome, Mike. It’s nice to meet you. This is the first time we’ve had contact, so thank you for being here.

Pete Wright:
It’s one of these, I love the opportunity that we get to meet people who truly inspire me, and change the way I do my work. As a guy who just loves process, and loves the idea of connecting with how I create, I can say unequivocally that sketchnoting has made an impact on my life. The way I think about capturing ideas, but something I never asked you because I don’t think it matters, but I never asked you in the planning, do you have a connection to ADHD personally?

Mike Rohde:
I actually do. My 17 year old son has ADHD, and we’ve gone through a variety of things to help them. I’ve never been checked to see if that’s something that I have, but I suspect there’s probably a little bit in there, but I’ve never been formally diagnosed. I think maybe if it’s there, it’s probably in a limited capacity, but that would be really interesting for me to know. Never thought about that.

Pete Wright:
Well, I think this will make for an interesting conversation for us in particular, in that light. My thinking here is that I believe, for me, that sketchnoting has had an impact I live with my ADHD and the way I create, and I want to explore that idea, both here, and in our community afterwards. So my effort here is to plant the seed. This is another tool that people can use, and explore, and see how it works for them in the way they create. To get us started, though, for those who are uninitiated, can you walk us through what is sketchnoting, what is your objective with sketchnoting? I know that you, having read the book, I know that you were solving a note taking problem for yourself. What was that experience like?

Mike Rohde:
Well, sketchnoting it’s, in a really quick way, the idea that you can use visualization in addition to writing words. So we’ve all been taught how to take notes with words, whether you’re typing, you’re writing by hand, and often that’s sort of an emphasis, especially in education, although that is changing which is exciting.

Mike Rohde:
For some reason, I drew as a kid, and I somehow managed to keep that ability as I grew older, and I got deep into technology, and sort of lost the idea of doing visualizations and drawing with my notes. When I looked back in college, it turned out I was actually doing a sketchnoting like thing. I didn’t have a name for it then, but when I took notes in my design education, I was drawing things to understand them, as well as writing about them. It was a combination. I didn’t think of those two things as clashing or different, it was just different parts of my brain.

Mike Rohde:
So when I rediscovered that, by challenging myself at a convergence many years later, I rediscovered the idea that visualization is actually just another way of thinking, and another way of capturing what’s in my mind that often take lots of words to produce. You know the old adage a picture’s worth a thousand words can often be true, because I think a lot of times you can visualize and show relationship, and there’s space and context that you can more quickly get to with a drawing that might take paragraphs, or pages of text to describe.

Pete Wright:
You’ve built up an incredible community of people who are not just taking notes, but sharing their notes and exploring how they do their notes. You have the sketchnote army that is a fantastic sort of online community. What is it that you think folks are inspired by to the point that they embrace just sort of new models of note taking?

Mike Rohde:
I would sort of break it in two, and there’s sort of more variation in this. One, are people who were doing this all along but didn’t have a name for it, or they didn’t have sort of the blessing to do it. So they were doing this visualization, they were doodling on their notes, as well as writing, and they found that that helped them. And they never had a name for it, and so someone comes along and says, “This is sketchnoting.” And now they have authority to do it because a book has been written, and there’s many other people in the world that are doing it, and they’re finding their ability to remember stronger and more lasting.

Mike Rohde:
And I think, on the other side, are people who want to be able to visualize, but they feel that their skills just aren’t there. They’re not a good artist. And so they feel like if I can’t do drawing, then I’m just never going to begin. So those are another group that I mainly address in my workshops when I go out, and it’s to different degrees. And I think the thing I remind people who are in that camp, generally speaking, is well you can draw, you just can’t draw quite as well as you wish you could.

Mike Rohde:
And so it’s really a process, and a point of accepting where you are, and knowing that you can get there, and I think my addressing people specifically is let’s break drawing down into a more simple way of thinking about it, more like legos. So that was really key to the message working. I felt like if I couldn’t convince people they could draw, I probably wouldn’t sell many books so I had to come up with a solution to that. And fortunately, that was a big component of the way I approached sketchnoting.

Pete Wright:
What is the effort like? Because I’m one of those people. I can’t draw. I’d say that, and of course I can’t draw, and I know that that’s a limiting belief that I carry around on myself. It’s a thing that I have said because I habituated it. And then I discover sketchnoting and my process, I started doing this because I do a movie podcast, and I need to really invest in the movies that we watch for the show, and I started sketchnoting for the movies, and I found so much delight in my experience of going back and reviewing those notes, so much more so than I ever had in reviewing outlines. Those are delightful notes.

Pete Wright:
Those are delightful notes that showcase the explosive value of symbols. When I can sketch out an ideogram of something, I remember so much more about the concept I was thinking when I wrote it, but I don’t remember the transition that I made somehow between I can’t draw to you know what, I can sketchnote.

Mike Rohde:
So one of the first questions I ask in a workshop is who can’t draw? They raise their hands, so now we’ve admitted that we can or can’t draw. Then I sort of remind them, well you can draw, it just maybe not to the degree you wish it was, and then for those of you who still feel you can’t draw, I am going to break this down in a simpler way that will give you access to drawing in this way as a beginning point. Some of it is feeling like maybe if you stopped drawing in fourth grade, or something like that, that you may still draw like a fourth grader. And so much like public speaking, there’s a little bit of embarrassment, right. If I draw like a fourth grader, and I’m a successful CEO, or I’m a such and such, or so and so, that reveals that that part of me is not developed, and there’s something wrong with me if that’s the case.

Mike Rohde:
That’s maybe the deeper thing that I’m sensing is going on. By providing sort of a basic way into it that’s a little bit simpler, and I sort of sneak it up on them, for lack of a better word, by doing, I do drawing and I invite them to follow. I keep it very simple, and the very first exercise is we typicalLy draw tree houses. So there’s a really soft entry point into using the skills that gets them a little confidence. I really think it’s important that you can’t focus too much on theory, and never have practice, because you’ll just never apply things.

Mike Rohde:
So I feel like I teach enough to get them interested, and then hit them with some practice, some kind of real thing. I that’s the moment where they get it, where they’ve followed along and they get a chance to apply it, it sort of clicks in many cases, in their minds. And from that point on, nobody talks about not being able to draw anymore. Its really interesting how that shift happens. And then you start going into what you’re experiencing, where you’re remembering a lot more information, and I think research that’s happening now, there’s starting to be research around the use of your hand, so there’s a physical aspect. There’s also the mind part of it, and the research, I think, is still pretty early, but it’s this idea that by, because we perceive and operate in two channels, one would be the written, and one would be the visual, and the visual is very old, right You think of caves in Lascaux, and people wanting to mark.

Mike Rohde:
They didn’t write anything down, they drew pictures. That was a very elemental skill, and that these two channels maybe developed next to each other, but they maybe access different parts of the brain because of the way we have grown up over time. And then if you focus only on just writing, you’re sort of writing into one area of your brain, but if you’re drawing, maybe you’re spreading those ideas in different parts of your brain, and you start building almost a mesh, a mix of writing and letters that spreads all over the place, and then allows you access. If anyone here is an old school computer person, they have something called RAID drives, R-A-I-D, and there’s different ways you can set up your raid drives, right.

Mike Rohde:
You can have one that just mirrors, so you can have two drives and the same stuff gets written to both, and the concept there is if one fails, you’ve always got a backup. There’s another one, and I don’t remember there’s different code numbers for each one. I think it’s a little bit like the second one, where you’re sort of using more of your brain, because you’re using visual and text at the same time, or in different sequences, but you’re leveraging all the skills that you have and not just one portion. Does any of that make sense?

Pete Wright:
Well, it does. And I know that Nikki is right with me when I say isn’t it great to have a proper nerd on the show who explains these incredible contexts by describing raid striping. [crosstalk 00:15:35]I am very excited about that.

Nikki Kinzer:
It is wonderful.

Mike Rohde:
Was that RAID zero, RAID zero [crosstalk 00:15:41]

Pete Wright:
Yep, RAID zero.

Mike Rohde:
There was multiple levels, you could push together three or four, and.

Pete Wright:
Yeah, I love it. Well, and that was a question I was going to get into. I mean, Nikki, this is one of the things where when you think about how you coach and how you engage people, the idea of accessing both the kinetic and the oral and the visual learning, that’s how you make these new connections. And so I think this is an opportunity to embrace that, and take action over it.

Nikki Kinzer:
well because most people, when I ask them what their learning style is, they’ll say visual. Very little of them will say auditory, and so even though people listen to podcasts, they also like the transcripts of the podcasts, because they can read along, and be able to write notes and things like that. Yeah, the visual aspect of it, and connecting the concepts I think is really important, and I coach college students, too, as well as adults, and I can see this working really well in a lecture type of environment as well.

Pete Wright:
Well let’s talk about that a little bit, because one of the things I bring up sketchnoting and talk about just sort of what it is for me, and when I am talking to somebody who is we’ll say uninitiated, my wife, the first question that comes back is, it’s a bit skeptical. It’s this how could you possibly draw that fast? How could you possibly engage in the material, and also be able to track what’s going on while you’re dictating it, or while you’re documenting it on the page. So there’s this concept of the mental cache that we have to address. For me, that’s the elephant in the room, right.

Pete Wright:
It’s being able to track what you’re hearing while you’re drawing something else, and somehow engaging in the material, and for our purposes, living with adhd. Understanding that the mental cache is limited. The value, the gas tank, it doesn’t have maybe the capacity that others are used to. Can you talk a little bit about how you approach material in a lecture situation, or a live event? You’ve done some fantastic live events, and how that works in the real world.

Mike Rohde:
That’s a really great, you went right to the heart of it, I think. A lot of people misperceive, I believe, that sketchnoting is all about drawing, or drawing well. But I believe sketchnoting is really about listening. So listening and making decisions. I mean, that was the realization that I had when I stumbled into this myself back in early 2007 was in the past, I would write everything down and had the assumption I would just go through the jungle, and hack through and find the gems in the jungle.

Mike Rohde:
But the problem was I never wanted to hack through the jungle, right. I had all these big piles of notes, and I just had no desire to go through and search. It felt like doing the work twice. So my concept there was well what would happen if, let’s experiment, what would happen if I simply listen very intently, and I make the decision while I’m listening what’s important, and what isn’t important and then I just put down the things that are important. So that, I think, led to this idea of a mental cache.

Mike Rohde:
And there are tricks that you can do if you’re starting and your mental cache is limited, which is definitely true. There’s a concept I call staking, where if you’re working along in your sketchnotes, and you have the start of an idea, but you’re concerned that you’re not going to be able to capture it all, is to simply write almost like a placeholder, or a stake in the ground for that concept, enough for you to come back to that and fill it in. Kind of do a guesstimate as to how much space you’re going to need to capture it, however your page is structured, and jump ahead to the next part and continue going.

Mike Rohde:
And the beauty of the staking is that you could actually stake all the way down the page, so you can get the start of the concept, enough that you can revisit it, leave a little space, jump, do a stake, leave a space, jump, and then just make sure and come back while it’s still fresh, and sort of as you’re listening and analyzing, fill in that information, or worse case scenario, go to the speaker and say, “Hey, you talked about these three points. I put a little stake in the ground, I want to revisit with you because you’re moving really fast. Your information is so valuable that I don’t want to miss what you said. Please tell me about this. What’s this concept?” And while they’re talking, now you’ve got an audience you can fill in that stake.

Mike Rohde:
Okay, now number two, what about his one? Okay, and then you’re drawing, writing, whatever and that could be a way to approach it, either with your memory if you feel like it’s strong enough, or you could approach the person and ask them to refine. So that can be a help for someone who is beginning, or you’re in a situation, it’ll happen to me from time where information is just coming so quickly but I do want to make a place for that, and I’ll just leave almost like a placeholder or stake in the ground.

Mike Rohde:
When you begin, your cache is a little bit smaller because you’re just not used to that activity. It’s like anything you practice you will improve upon, and there’s probably an upper limit in humans in general. A lot of it, I think, comes back to making good decisions, and listening closely to what you’re hearing. What is the person, what’s the message they’re trying to say? If I could encapsulate this, if I could… Maybe a student in school you’re told rewrite this in your own words, that’s sort of what you’re doing. You don’t have to be verbatim and get them, because it’s for you. You don’t have to get an exact quote, but you do want to get the concept. Because it’s personal, you might even challenge the concept and say, “I don’t know if I believe that.” And maybe write in the notes you say you have a symbol for don’t believe, and then you can later on you come back to that so it’s action oriented, right, so you can come back to that point and say, “I’m not sure I believe in this. I’m going to dig a little bit more.”

Mike Rohde:
Maybe in the staking, that can be the symbol right. I’ve got this empty space and they talked about this concept, I’m going to look around and form my own opinion, and put information in this spot. So it gives you some flexibility that way, but it definitely is something that you train for. Its something that you start small and expands. So your capacity gets better. And then you just start picking up on what the speaker is saying. I think if you start sketchnoting, you get pretty critical of speakers, and you find who are good speakers and who are speakers that maybe don’t have a good outline or they tend to ramble. All those things start appearing. You can’t avoid them anymore. So be aware that you’ll be a good critic in that sense.

Pete Wright:
What you notice when you start sketchnoting is how adept speakers are at presenting their ideas clearly, and essentially, in a form that makes it easy to sketchnote. You say in the book that the key to a sketchnote is the logical organization that makes sense and captures the ideas. Think of good structure as meat and potatoes, and fancy art is the gravy on top. I think that gets to the methodology of sketchnoting that I like. That it’s not a one time thing. Most of us see pictures of sketchnotes, they’re finished. They don’t address the messy middle part that exists when you’re staking ideas, when you’re engaging actually actively machining the material. When you are approaching an event, can you talk a little bit about how you strategize page layout? How you plan the sketchnoting process?

Mike Rohde:
Yeah, so I mean a couple things that I recommend for people who are new to it is in the book, I talk about these seven layouts that as I started looking at lots and lots of sketchnotes as part of the research aspect of the book, I started noticing mainly about seven patterns that kept emerging. Seven was a nice number, so I chose seven. There’s probably more, and there’s just different ways to think about it, and each one, I cover it in the book, as having benefits. Everyone has an advantage and a drawback, right. So my fallback tends to be linear, which is sort of if you think about a book. Right left page, right page, top left, bottom right. And that’s pretty to start with.

Mike Rohde:
The next one is a lot like mind mapping, where you might start in the middle with a title and structure, and then work out from the center maybe in a clockwise fashion starting at 12 o’clock and working your way around the page. And then there’s a variety of other ones, modular where you break the page up into sections. There’s one that I call skyscraper, especially for panels of people where at the beginning of the panel you can draw the peoples heads at the top, or your best shot at their heads. Or maybe you save it until later when you can research them on google images. But you have a column for each person, and as they say things that are interesting, you just log it on their column. And then you sort of work the page with this structure in mind, slowly adding their commentary until the page is full.

Mike Rohde:
And sometimes if someones more talkative, it’s pretty clear who’s talking and who’s not. So it’s in a way it’s sort of a visual way to identify who’s dominating the discussion, or maybe even connecting the dots between two people who are talking together. And then there’s a variety of others, popcorn is one where you don’t have to have a structure, you can just sort of go your own way. One of the things that I discovered, specifically around layout, which can be, like you said, terrifying or scary for someone is in school settings when I’m teaching teachers, I bring or I send ahead templates, and I can definitely give a link to this teacher resource that I’ve created. It’s basically a pdf where you can print thins on your home printer that basically blocks, area blocks that have bold, black shapes around them, and you slide it under your sheet of paper if that’s what you’re using, and then you have a template that’s behind the page that you can see through and then you can follow the pattern. Then when you’re done, you slide the template out, and nobody knows you had that secret template behind you.

Mike Rohde:
Another way to achieve it would be with pencils. So if you want to lay it out with pencil, like how you think this thing is going to go or maybe you want to try a layout, and see how it works. You could pencil it in. Do your inking, if you’re doing it analog, and then come back after everything’s dry and use a good eraser just to erase the pencil, and then you wouldn’t see it.

Mike Rohde:
A third way, which provides interesting effects if you’re using ink, or even on an iPad, is to use two colors, like a black color, a bold color, and then a bright color that’s sort of subdued a little bit, so maybe a bright blue or a bright yellow, and then you can sketch the structure out in that light color, and then go over it in the dark color. And oddly enough, it’s satisfying the way the two colors work together, especially if you’re drawing circles and trying to shape the face and then on top of it, you’re drawing the bolder face. It sort of gives you that structure. It kind of looks cool to have this underlying thing going on, because it sort of reveals where you were heading in an odd way. I don’t know why it’s so satisfying, but those are three ways that you can deal with structure.

Mike Rohde:
And I think it’s sort of like an experiment. So I would say everything about sketchnoting to me is experimentation. Don’t think of it as what you’re producing is absolute truth, and can’t be changed, and it’s right or wrong. It’s like well, we tried it. This part of it worked, reflect on it, find out what works, and then things that don’t work you just don’t do those again, and you keep trying until you find your thing.

Nikki Kinzer:
I think that’s really important for the ADHD mind, to keep that idea that it doesn’t have to be perfect and you’re practicing it. I can see it getting really easy for somebody to get so lost in the details, and not really capturing what they need to capture. So I’m glad you say that. It’s a practice, they need to keep practicing it and see what works for them, and what pattern works, and I like that.

Mike Rohde:
That reminds me, to maybe use that as a term when we talk about what is this thing we’re doing? It’s the practice of sketchnoting.

Pete Wright:
Yeah.

Mike Rohde:
Doctors practice, lawyers practice. There’s other professions who… You practice as a doctor, you hope that you’re doing good practice, right, because somebody could be dead. In this case no ones going to die you just throw the thing away, and do it again. Especially, I think the other thing I would say, for someone who’s really concerned about that is to do your practice privately until you feel really good about, and then start trying these things that you’ve proven to work in a more stressful situation. So you’re not putting yourself, unless you’re really into that, I’m sort of weird.

Mike Rohde:
Sometimes I’ll put myself in a situation, maybe not for a paid client, but if someones expecting something out of me, and I might to try and experiment, but they tend to be small bets, little experiments where they may not even know that I was experimenting unless I told them, right. So even little experiments could tell you things, and you determine if that worked or didn’t work. There’s a, I’ve mentioned this in another place, I can’t remember where, there’s a TV show my wife and I have started watching about these cheerleaders, I think, in Texas, or something, it’s called Cheer, it’s on Netflix.

Nikki Kinzer:
Yes, I’ve seen it.

Mike Rohde:
[crosstalk 00:28:47] We only started watching it, we haven’t finished, but the quote that the coach says, and I guess they show the good side of her, they haven’t shown the bad side of her that we’ve seen because apparently she’s got a bad side. But I really liked one quote she said, it was practice we until we get it right, and then we practice until we can’t get it wrong. So it’s all the experimentation until you nail this is how I work, and then you just keep on repping it until it feels so natural that you don’t think about what you’re doing. That’s like professional woodworker and other athletes and things, [inaudible 00:29:19] how does it look so fluid to them. It’s because you don’t see the hours and hours and hours of practice that got them to that point to make it look effortless. Because when you try it, you totally fall over yourself and you can’t pull it off, it’s because you don’t spend 500 hours practicing that thing. That’s the difference and often I think, especially in our visual culture is the good side of visual is we have a lot of visual input now.

Mike Rohde:
Instagram and videos and those are great things, but I think we can also be lulled into the idea because we see it, that somebody just did that. Well, all the practice is hidden from us. We don’t see all the hard work that went into getting to that point, we just see the end point. And that’s really where the meat of it is, is in the practicing of it, and getting it a little bit wrong and refining it, until you get it right the way you want it to.

Pete Wright:
The act of engagement, it’s the messy middle, right. It’s the part that, as much fun as it is to watch your time lapse videos of sketchnoting at conference, it’s great you can see a conference come together over 8 pages in 30 seconds, it belies the fact that you are an expert at this particular craft, and for most of us, we have to embrace the uncertain messiness of not being good at it, of having the taste to appreciate when we see it done well, but the practice of not being able to create that yet, and the gap is so enormously frustrating, because we want to things like Mike does them, right.

Pete Wright:
I want to be doing that now, and instead I’ve just mastered maybe a block letter dollar sign. That is so frustrating, but I think the act of trying, of trying to turn scratch notes into sketchnotes, it’s not, and this is the message that I really feel is important for this audience, is it is the act of going back to the messiness and trying to turn it into something better that isn’t about the art, it’s about engaging your brain with the material.

Mike Rohde:
I sort of mentioned it before, small wins. So if you can do something, and 90% of it didn’t go like you wanted, but that 10% did, we have a tendency to focus on the 90% that’s bad.

Nikki Kinzer:
Very much so.

Mike Rohde:
And overlook the 10%. Like man, I really nailed that. That one little piece right there, I love how that looks. How can I make two of those things next time? Now it’s a two to eight ratio, and then it’s three to seven, and then it’s four to six. You’re sort of working towards, and sort of not just throwing the whole thing away as all bad, but to identify the things that you feel like I really like that.

Mike Rohde:
And then I think the second thing, too, is by watching other people work. I know in my life, an example I can tell you is a professional designer I worked with a tool than Photoshop, and I joined a company several years, about eight nine years ago, and my friend was an expert in Photoshop, and I was not. I was using a different tool called Fireworks, which now no longer exists [crosstalk 00:32:24]

Pete Wright:
Yeah, it does no longer exists. It’s sort of an anachronism now.

Mike Rohde:
Yeah, it is. I mean, it’s sort of come to life in other tools in some ways. So I joined the company. I was probably a couple months in. We worked on a project and I had to adapt to Photoshop. There wasn’t an option to do it in this other tool because we had to give it to clients, and it had been discontinued. There was all these reasons I couldn’t, and I was like “I wish I could.” Part of me wanted to still use the tool that I knew. But I also knew that by expanding myself into other tools, it makes me stronger, and it makes me question, and rethink, and learn. Apply the principles I know, but in new ways.

Mike Rohde:
Anyway, this is a long story to say basically I watched him take elements from one Photoshop file and use, like he brought down a menu, and it said copy, and then he goes to a dropdown, and it shows another file. And suddenly he went to this other file, and those things that he selected were suddenly, magically in this other file in exactly the right place, in a layer, ready to go. And I was like, “My brain just exploded in that moment.” All he did was that little thing, and it totally changed my relationship with Photoshop, and I think that’s true in this kind of thing, right. There could be one or two things that could blow your mind, right. Oh, look what they’re doing that little cheat they did. I could do that. And that could open you up to trying new things.

Mike Rohde:
So I don’t know what those are for other individuals, but if you sort of look at it like what could I find that could be that little trick, or that little thing that gives me encouragement, and find the little wins so that you can keep yourself going. That’s super important for everybody, ADHD or not, right. Everybody’s got challenges around performing, and feeling like they’re qualified and competent, so it’s just building little bits of confidence over time.

Pete Wright:
Does your son sketchnote?

Mike Rohde:
He does a little bit. I think it’s weird because I’m the sketchnote guy, so he feels like it’s not cool to, or something. I’m not totally sure what that deal is, but-

Nikki Kinzer:
He’s 17.

Pete Wright:
Yeah, also he’s 17, right.

Mike Rohde:
My wife and I talk about [inaudible 00:34:25] adhd, it’s like, “Okay, what part is the adhd, and what part is teenage boy.” Because they overlap, and it’s not always clear which is which, or maybe they’re a little bit of both. But he’s a great kid. We did a Kickstarter campaign for a notebook, so I designed this notebook that I thought was, I felt like ideal for a sketchnoter, and we had a big batch of them at home, so I gave one to all the kids and he got one, and he immediately started doing stuff in there. I flipped through the other day and he’d done several pages.

Mike Rohde:
So I think he thinks that way. I think it helps him, and I don’t know if it’s just because he’s a teenager and it’s just not cool because his dad. He’s sort of admires what I do, but he doesn’t come out and say it, so it’s this interesting dynamic going. But I think he does think that way, and I think it helps him visualize. So I’m hoping, I’m crossing my fingers that overtime he will find that as a valuable tool and stake me out to do a little bit more.

Pete Wright:
Take the wind, man. Take the wind. I want to come back to the Kickstarter though, just to give you a chance to pitch it. The sketchnote idea book, it’s fantastic. I missed the Kickstarter, I am bereft at that. I mean, polymer wrap, brilliant white paper, lay-flat binding? Two ribbons? What more do you have to ask for, for a brilliant sketchnote book. It funded in five hours, how are you feeling about it now? Are you getting them out to everybody?

Mike Rohde:
Yes, so it funded in five hours. I think we made $41,000, so it went way beyond our expectations. My partner who’s working on it with me, Mike Schiano’s just an amazing expert at production, and logistics, and all that stuff, as well as getting stuff made. He’s been in a huge help, and I think we’re in the week or two of all the books delivering to different places. The challenge of logistics that nobody knows about is that it’s a lot harder than you think it is.

Mike Rohde:
Amazon makes it look really easy, and it makes it harder for everybody who delivers, especially amazon is delivering from localized warehouses to your localized location. You don’t see the travel from china or other countries. We had to bake all that into all our process, and there were storms, and other delays that we were able to solve for the most part. But they’re just uneven, and there’s a ship in the ocean somewhere, and I can’t make it faster than it’s going to go, and I can’t make the storm stop so they can unload the stuff. But we’re really close, and so far the feedback has been really great. And the good news is we ordered more, anticipating that it would be successful, and we’re going to open a store at sketchnoteideabook.com where we’re going to sell them, and see how they do, and then decide what kind of order we would do after that, but we will sell them. Once the Kickstarters are rewarded, they really put their money down first so they get first dibs, and then once that’s done and they’re satisfied then we’ll proceed to making them available publicly for everybody else.

Pete Wright:
Oh, fantastic. Wow.

Nikki Kinzer:
Congratulation

Pete Wright:
Absolutely congratulations

Mike Rohde:
You didn’t totally miss, yeah.

Pete Wright:
Yeah, just sign me up, man. Where can I go? That does get us to, I think, the practical question of the sketchnoting tool set, right. Somebody who wants to embrace the sketchnote lifestyle, what do you use, what do you need, what do you carry?

Mike Rohde:
It’s interesting, when I did workshops at first, I gave away fancy notebooks and a selection of pens and all this stuff, and overtime I’ve come to realize that can often be a limiter. If you’ve got a fancy notebook and haven’t learned anything, you might not want to write anything in that notebook because you don’t think you’re worthy, right.

Mike Rohde:
So overtime I’ve come to basically, I show up at a school district or wherever the place is, I say, “Bring me a ream of paper and a box full of flair pens, one for everybody, and I don’t need anything more than that.” And then some kind of a projection, a way I can project my iPad, because I draw for a good portion of the workshop. So everybody gets a couple sheets of paper and they get a flair pen, and we do drawing. We really give them lots of options, and I think because it’s a sheet of printer paper, it reduces the pressure to feel like you hae to be perfect, right.

Mike Rohde:
So that’s another aspect of it is if you already don’t feel like you’re a good drawer, and I’m trying to convince you of that, giving you a really fancy Moleskin and a fancy pen is not going to encourage you to go for it, because you feel like you’re going to screw things up. So by using this really basic paper, and a flair pen which brings people back to junior high, they just have a blast and it’s real fun, and there’s no friction there. And so I would say if you can get any pen that’s around you, flares are great just because they’re really fun and they fel good and just crack open a ream of paper and start with that and let yourself go there.

Mike Rohde:
The beauty also of using a ream of paper is if you get this resource pack that I’ll provide and print out those templates, you can slide it under the sheet of the paper, and use it as a template and then you take it out and people think you’re amazing. Like, “How’d you get that layout?” You don’t have to tell them that you slid a template behind there and that helped you. So I think that there’s other advantages to that, but it’s really cheap. And you can go all the way to fancy notebooks. You can do iPad pros, and there’s a variety of apps if you’re into the iPad that work, too.

Pete Wright:
And that is the next big curiosity for digital sketchnoting. What do you use? It looked like, when you brought your screen up, was that Paper?

Mike Rohde:
I’ve been a Paper fan for a long time, and the reason I like it personally is because it’s a little bit opinionated. So opinionated software is basically a developer has a vision and they give you the options that they think are best. The other alternatives is where it’s like kitchen sink, where they give you every option, but it can be quite daunting. I can imagine for some who’s easily distracted to get lost in fiddletown, messing around with the settings instead of just doing the work. So I kind of appreciate Paper in that way.

Pete Wright:
We don’t know anything about that.

Mike Rohde:
Yeah, I didn’t think you would, so. Paper, by WeTransfer, is really great. It’s free. I do the pro version which is like $12 a year and it gives me some advanced features that maybe most people wouldn’t care about. Another great one is Procreate, I mean I think it’s like eight or nine dollars. I still don’t totally get the math on how that actually works for those guys, but they do amazing work. They’re constantly working on it, there’s tons of brushes, a huge community. That’s a really good choice if you have an iPad pro. A third one to consider is Concepts, which is really interesting because you can do nearly unlimited canvases. It’s got a couple of other neat features. One is that it uses vector technology to do your drawings, so you can actually select things, resize them. You can change it from ink to pencil, and there’s tons of control there. It’s also got a cool thing where if you switch tools, it will actually put those drawings that you do on appropriate layers for you.

Mike Rohde:
So if you’re drawing in pencil, it’ll stay on the pencil layer. If you switch back to ink, it’ll go on the ink layer, and so later on when you haven’t been thinking about it, you can just turn those layers off, and see the different parts so that’s kind of cool.

Pete Wright:
I tried concept, and I-

Mike Rohde:
Is that working for you?

Pete Wright:
Well, I’m curious your opinion on it, especially after getting through the book, and using it as such a reference. You have such a model of constraint, right, and that’s a lot of what you’ve been talking about here in terms of pen and paper, and creating the layouts and doing all those things. I tried sketchnoting in concepts, and the infinite canvas was, it just destroyed me. My brain, it was just too much. It was too much, too big, and I found that I personally use GoodNotes, go back and forth between GoodNotes and Notability, and those because it’s a page, even though it feels a little bit arcane on a digital device to be having an 8.5×11 effective guide, that has proven to be really helpful to me, to just stay here. Stay here. I need a fence.

Mike Rohde:
Yeah, I do too, and I think that’s partly why I like Paper, because it does have a limited canvas.

Pete Wright:
Yeah.

Mike Rohde:
And so the solution I’ve heard from friends who are deeper into Procreate is another challenge, because it has all kinds of doodads and switches if you wanted to get lost in that. My friends who use those tools, and I think this applies to Concepts as well, because they’re really designed they’re more like art tools. They’re designed for making art, and you’re sort of trying to do notes, which is sort of a weird blend in between functionality of a GoodNotes, maybe there’s a GoodNotes or any of those note taking tools that are more note taking, but maybe they have limitations that someone who’s a little more artistic might push on, but the solution for Procreates and Concepts is to establish your tool set. So choose your page size, I think all tools that won’t let you choose a page set, it’s defined.

Mike Rohde:
And then my friend [Rob Demio 00:43:23], he sort of built, he spent a weekend sort of building his. What canvas do I want, how big do I want it? How many layers do I typically do? He might even build his layers in the way he likes them, and then he builds brushes. There’s three or four brushes that he uses and then a color palette. So you sort of put the upfront work into establishing your framework, and then you stick with that. And then you don’t run into unlimited canvases, or 10,000 colors, or any of those things unless you really want that.

Pete Wright:
Well, I think in concepts in particular the idea of having an infinite canvas with overlaid art boards is a challenge, cognitively, if you just want to sit down and take notes.

Mike Rohde:
Yeah, I think that’s… Oddly enough, that’s really attractive for apparently interior designers and architects, right, so maybe it was build from that perspective and we just don’t realize that, and so there’s some traction there to have the space. Some people really like that infinite canvas where they don’t feel constrained and others need the constraint. I like having sort of a canvas to work with, so you certainly need to figure out what works for you, and establish those settings that are going to work, and just start working it.

Pete Wright:
Well, I’ll tell you. This is, as I mentioned earlier, it’s just a delight to have you join us on the show. Any other recommended reading or resources that you like to offer folks in your lectures? Things that can help you get a leg up on the process, how to think about visual note taking that you recommend?

Mike Rohde:
Well, I can definitely talk a little bit about the Sketchnote Army Podcast that I do. It may be for someone who’s at least trying it out, and I think the value of it is so when we started the podcast, we thought well who in the world is going to listen a podcast about drawing? Isn’t that crazy? But people actually really listen to it, and what they’re listening for is philosophy. How does this person approach the work? Where did they come from, and how did they end up in this space, because not everybody came from the same place. We talk a little bit about tools, sort of like we’ve just done now, and then I typically ask those guests to give tips.

Mike Rohde:
So even though it’s a listening format, I think if you’re driving around, you’re doing the dishing, or whatever you do if you [inaudible 00:45:40] the podcast, it can provide sort of information in a little different way while you’re doing something else that may give you a tip when you’ve come to actually physically doing something. So that’s one resource. I do have a variety of resources online. One is if you want to see the real basics of this, if you look on YouTube for, I think it’s Mike Rohde Sketchnote Mini Workshop, and I’ll give you a link to this, it’s basically what happened was I was going to go to Brazil and things didn’t work out, so I just recorded a video with my iPad to teach the 45 minute course that I do to introduce everyone to the concepts of drawing. So you can literally play this youtube and then draw along with and do the tree house exercise.

Pete Wright:
Oh, fantastic.

Mike Rohde:
And experience sort of on your own what it’s like to be in a workshop.

Pete Wright:
Sure.

Nikki Kinzer:
Great.

Mike Rohde:
So that might be a really good entry point. Yeah. And then there’s some other things that I’ve done in the past that were related to the books. There’s a 10 part video podcast that I did where i did just drawing on an iPad on screen, so I would take queries from people on Twitter, like what do you want me to draw? Throw me your artist concept, and I got to solve this thing. So I would think abut it during the week, and then come up with an idea, and then draw that for people. How do you draw the icon for collaboration? So I could draw that a few ways to give people ideas.

Mike Rohde:
On a few of those episodes, I would critique other peoples works. So I would show the work and say, “I like this, here maybe this is an area you could work on.” So it’s a mix of those kind of things. There’s 10 episodes and I can send you a link to those, they’re all also on YouTube as well.

Pete Wright:
Beyond what you’ve created, what do you read for inspiration? What inspires you?

Mike Rohde:
Well, I’m excited because there’s lots of other people in this space that are doing books on the subject. So I have a friend who’s in Australia, Ben Crothers, who’s got the presto drawing, which is his approach which is sort of all these things sort of overlapped. If you think of a Venn diagram, there’s overlaps on all these people.

Mike Rohde:
So Ben’s book is really great because it gives you another perspective on simple drawing and application. And then there’s a variety of other friends who have books that they’re starting to release. If you’re a german speaker by chance, there’s a huge community in Germany, and lots of book that are coming out in that space that could be valuable. But even the good thing is that they’re visual, so even if you get the german version, you can figure out what’s going simply by looking at the imagery, and understanding, and maybe a little google translate, or something.

Mike Rohde:
I’m starting to move into more conceptual stuff, and trying to understand how people think. Culture is a really important thing, because I’m moving to the place where we have a culture that’s being built up around sketchnoting and community. We have a, this will be the fourth year of the international sketchnote camp which started in 2017. It’s going to be in belgium. I think there’s 200 slots available. So I mean it’s a community that’s out there. A lot of it happens on Twitter and Instagram. Its super welcoming so if you post up there and ask for a little encouragement, the people will definitely jump to it and give you encouragement.

Mike Rohde:
We also do, sketchnote army has a Slack channel that we’ve been playing with. Some of the guys who I work with run that, and every day they have prompt and say draw this thing, and then another channel you put your image. So if you’re into that, if you like structured things, it will give you something every day. You can check into slack, figure out what that is, and see if yo can draw it in 30 seconds and stick it up on the channel. And then of course there’s announcements, and you can talk with people in that space too.

Nikki Kinzer:
Lots of great resources.

Pete Wright:
You got a lot to be… Yeah, this is an incredible community.

Mike Rohde:
I’m really proud of the community. I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud of beyond. I’m excited that I have a best selling book. When we made the books, we didn’t know that it would sell anything, so it’s really satisfying to know that it was doing that. And there are two things I’m most proud of. One is the way the community is formed, and sort of the attitude of the community. A lot of communities can be really critical, and we talk about confidence, and building confidence. There’s no way you’re going to build confidence if someones going to come and rip your stuff apart. And I think there’s lots of understanding, because everyone’s come to that process, that they’re very encouraging in the community, and if you ask people for advice and help, they’ll give it.

Mike Rohde:
So I’m really proud of our community, and the way their attitude has maintained itself over the last 10 years, or whatever in welcoming new people, and not being… There’s a tendency for communities to be sort of inward looking, and I think I’m really encouraged that our community tends to be outward looking and welcoming which is not easy to do.

Pete Wright:
Yeah.

Mike Rohde:
And then the second thing is the attraction of sketchnoting to teachers. So teachers are really getting into it and I think they realize kids are excited at the prospect of doing visualization in the form of sketchnoting to understand the things they’re learning. Instead of being forced to type it on their Chromebook or only write the text, to be able to draw and bring in their whole selves is really attractive. And then on the flip side, teachers love it because they can remember more and they can understand more, and so they see the benefits.

Mike Rohde:
So there’s lots of positive stuff happening in that space, that’s typically where most of my workshops are happening, ar with teachers and school districts. And then teachers themselves are just going to these conferences, and teaching what they know. That’s the mark of, or the concept that’s moved beyond. I never wanted the concept to be me doing my little thing, and only I could do it. It was this is this concept that worked for me, how can it work for you? And enough principles that it’s transferable, but core enough that you got something to work with, and I think it’s exciting to see teachers really jumping on that and applying it in their classrooms and curriculums in practical ways that kids can approach it and use it.

Mike Rohde:
And then it becomes a tool that kids have. Instead of having to relearn it when they’re 30 years old in a workshop, they got it as part of their toolkit when they go to college and they go onward. Now it’s a strength for them. And then when they get to a company to this, they’re not afraid to step up to the whiteboard and explain their concepts, and draw and collaborate, and listen, and turn that into something that the whole group can work on, instead of assuming that you agree, and actually not agreeing and then having arguments and nothing happening. So that’s the longterm vision that’s exciting.

Pete Wright:
Well, it is really exciting and it is a real treat for you to share all of this with us on the podcast today. And I just can’t tell you how much we appreciate your time and your generosity to hang out with the ADHD podcast group here.

Mike Rohde:
Well, this has been a blast other than my computer crapping out at the wrong time. [inaudible 00:52:27] You guys are great.

Pete Wright:
You know what, no one will ever know. Besides that, no one will ever know.

Nikki Kinzer:
That’s right.

Mike Rohde:
Exactly.

Pete Wright:
Thank you so much everybody for downloading and listening to this show. We deeply appreciate your time and your attention. On behalf of Mike Rohde and Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll catch you next time right here on Taking Control, the ADHD Podcast.