Visual note taking is back and it has a cool history
October 27, 2015 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Sketchnotes, Graphic Recordings, Visual Notes, you may have seen them at the last conference or big corporate meeting you attended: beautifully hand drawn notes that summarize big ideas using simple visuals. This Web 3.0 generation has adopted the term "sketchnotes" which was coined by interface designer, illustrator, and author Mike Rohde. The field is actually called Graphic Recording which is "capturing everyone’s most salient points and making them stick", as described by experts at ImageThink. Practitioners call themselves all sorts of things, Sketchnote Artists, Visual Note Takers, Graphic Recorders, Scribes, Visual Notes Artists, Live Sketch Artists, Group Graphics Practitioners and more.

There are tons of excellent posts about how to do it, how to do it better,

Disney developed the idea of storyboarding in the 1930's and a whole bunch of things happened after that to result in Sketchnotes.

Here are some highlights in the history

In the 1970's Michael Doyle and Peter Strauss, former architects, launched their Interaction Associates consultancy and wrote the seminal ‘yellow bible’ for the budding facilitation field, called How To Make Meetings Work. Their work was stimulated by research being funded in the education and social change realms, particularly a project called Tools for Change sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation and creativity work conducted by Stanford Research Institute.

At the heart of Doyle & Strauss’ work, they advocated the creation of ‘facilitator’ and ‘recorder’ teams to manage the personal dynamics and thinking of groups. Believing that people learned best when facilitated to focus on one thing at a time and working on it in a logical sequence, they pushed for the creation of extensive visual documentation, which they called ‘group memory’:

“The human brain is essentially a massive parallel processor. But for a group to work together, the group brain needs to be a serial processor. The group memory is the consciousness thread that is used to keep the group focused on working on one thing, and working on it in a logical sequence. Group memory is the stuff you post on the walls or otherwise collect where everyone can see it. It is where you keep all comments, ideas, discussion, agreements, thoughts,
votes and decisions, so each person can see what we’re talking about now.”

At the time that Doyle & Strauss had set up shop in San Francisco, several other early pioneers were experimenting with the merits of visual approaches. Geoff Ball and Doug Englebart of SRI had been years into a project examining ‘explicit group memory’.

Another former architect (and SRI contractor), Joe Brunon, created an approach called ‘Generative Graphics’ and an art and philosophy student from Stanford, Fred Lakin, began creating tools to assist the new visual experimentations (peg boards, magic marker holders, and a wall scroll that supported up to 16 feet of large butcher block paper …

In the midst of this creative vortex, a young new face arrived on the scene just down the hall from IA’s San Francisco office. David Sibbet, a journalist grad with an artistic flair, was taken with IA’s methods and was inspired one afternoon to borrow Fred Larkin’s wall scroll to map out a city-wide picture of the internship experiences his students were having throughout San Francisco.

Instead of sticking to IA’s smaller, 2-foot wide strips of paper, Sibbet went for the larger panorama, and in the process,inadvertently spawned a new way of working. From that first exciting afternoon, Sibbet caught the ‘Group Graphics’ bug “Group Graphics” is a
registered trademark of Sibbet’s, although there is some debate as to who first coined the term.

He continued to learn from the researchers around him and to explore with his students, eventually in 1980 holding his first public workshop (co-lead with Sandra Florstedt and Geoff Ball).

“Sibbet recognized that the power of group memory could be increased substantially by adding a specialized set of icons or graphic images to the structure sketch. Sibbet, who had both strong artistic and conceptual abilities, developed a series of templates that could be used to structure ideas”. - Geoff Ball, former SRI Explicit Group Memory Researcher

Another visual innovator, who was steadily active during this period, although across the ocean in England, was Tony Buzan, the creator of Mind-mapping. Buzan’s method combats the linear; left-brain education system that has taught to start in the upper left-hand corner of a page … his method begins in the center instead, and works the human brain’s natural tendency to organize things in branching patterns.

In the 1990's San Francisco Bay area graphic designers Leslie Salmon-Zhu and Susan Kelly founded IFVP. They host an annual conference and are a great resource for finding a practitioner.
posted by bobdow (13 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
This is a marvelous post! Thank you!

This is serendipitously *exactly* the thing I was looking for when I got frustrated and turned to MeFi as a brief break before resuming work.
posted by DGStieber at 2:30 PM on October 27, 2015

You just gave me an entirely new skill I'm really interested in secretly developing and then casually amazing people with at my new job!
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:32 PM on October 27, 2015

Alex Cagan is a master at sketchnotes. He's been drawing scientific conferences for a while now:
posted by infinitemonkey at 3:34 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

This doesn't look like something someone could just do on the fly. This looks like something that has to be prepared ahead of time, to accompany a canned speech.
posted by rebent at 3:37 PM on October 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

I just cracked the cover on my copy of The Sketchnote Handbook this very morning, so this post is felicitous! Thanks for this.
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:54 PM on October 27, 2015

This is a great post--and, as someone who often reluctantly volunteers to take the notes during rambling brainstorming planning meetings, something I will absolutely use--thanks!
posted by box at 7:01 PM on October 27, 2015

I'm fascinated by the way this is actually a pen-and-paper, analogue activity, but the language used around it borrows so heavily from the digital, especially user-interface design.
posted by lollusc at 7:43 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I’ve seen dozens if not hundreds of these at various events, and it’s always little triangle people with exclamation points, light bulbs turning on, and “innovation” in big block letters.
posted by migurski at 8:52 PM on October 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

Lord save us all from visual thinkers...
posted by pompomtom at 9:28 PM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've watched people do this at conferences, and it's pretty impressive to watch them to do it live. I take vociferous notes and I still get the levels of bullets wrong all the time, I'm still trying to figure out how they derive the structure of the slide deck in real time.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:41 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've never been able to take notes "normally" without loosing track of the lecture *and* the notes (gave up long ago) -- this looks basically impossible except for someone who is already artistically inclined.
posted by smidgen at 11:06 PM on October 27, 2015

We had an eighty-person offsite meeting once where a crew of these people came up from New York City to do this.

As a fellow liberal arts grad I was glad to see them working, and it was neat, but I was curious about what parts of the conversation were sacrificed because they didn't fit into the cute cartoons.

And worse, these sketches are still haninging up on the walls, years after the event -- and the actual policies they describe -- have been left behind.

(And also: yes, many light bulbs.)
posted by wenestvedt at 3:24 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm still trying to figure out how they derive the structure of the slide deck in real time.
They really don’t. The material that makes it to the sketchnotes tends to be the shallowest, tweet-length aspect of the talk or session. Typically a pithy, imperative blurb that’s been said a thousand times before by a thousand other people, plus a little screen-bean gesticulating wildly at it.
posted by migurski at 8:38 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

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